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Your donation will support The Ithacan's student journalists in their effort to keep the Ithaca College and wider Ithaca community informed. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

Watch what happens when Dillingham’s ‘Newsies’ seize the day

Disneys+Newsies+seizes+the+stage+in+the+captivating+musical+based+on+the+1899+Newsboy+strike+as+a+result+of+paper+prices+being+raised.
Courtesy of Simon Wheeler for Ithaca College
Disney’s “Newsies” seizes the stage in the captivating musical based on the 1899 Newsboy strike as a result of paper prices being raised.

The Ithaca College School of Music, Theater, and Dance’s main stage fall production is Disney’s “Newsies.” The show runs from Oct. 27 to Nov. 1 with a preview held Oct. 25 at the Horener Theater in Dillingham. 

The college has close ties with “Newsies,” as two of its alumni played leading roles in the original Broadway show — Jeremy Jordan 07 who played Jack Kelly and Ben Fankhauser 11 as Davey. Now, as the show hits Dillingham’s stage, the two have made themselves involved with the production.

During production, the cast had a Zoom call with Jordan to discuss character work. During this Zoom, he also gave advice about vocal work and rest, which Alexander Ross, the sophomore musical theater major playing Jordan’s former role, found helpful considering the large vocal strain of the show.

“He offered a lot of insight from his extensive experience with the show as well as practices for maintaining vocal health, which I found particularly useful considering the demand this show has on the voice,” Ross said.

Fankhauser did a talkback with the cast and audience after attending the preview of the show on Oct. 25. He fielded questions about how he was cast in the original Broadway production and spoke about reading with Jordan at a callback. 

“He told a lot of really great stories,” sophomore Samantha Burns said. “I love the casting story. It was really funny when [Fankhauser] was like, ‘Jeremy Jordan is reading for this part, that’s so fun,’ before he realized that Jeremy was cast in the show.” 

Besides speaking about his time on the Broadway production, Fankhauser also discussed vocal work and finding jobs in the musical theater field after graduation. Senior Jordan Hayakawa, playing the role of Crutchie, said that having the two involved in the production was exciting.

“Those names have a lot of weight and throwing them around, at least for me, personally, is a little intimidating,” Hayakawa said. “It’s also really exciting because the show is really closely tied to the school.”

While the larger than life Broadway production has been a direct source of inspiration because of its connections to the college, the creative team has leaned into a slightly more grounded version of the show. Work has been put in by all members of the cast and crew to create a living world on stage that plays to the historic elements of the show. They have incorporated elements from the turn of the 20th century when the show takes place. 

“There’s a part of ‘Seize the Day’ that I refer to as pistons,” Daniel Gwirtzman, assistant professor of dance and choreographer, said. “And the idea is, again, linked to what was happening historically, of this time period, specifically in New York and seeing how our challenge and objective as choreographers is to find a way to take a conceptual idea and give it a concrete form.”

One of the fully original elements that grounds the show is the scenic design, done by senior theater and production design major Fabiola Alvarado Berrios. As soon as she was informed of her role in the production last spring, she said she knew she was not going to let the sets of previous productions influence her vision of the show. 

Having never seen any iteration of “Newsies” before, she said she chose to keep it that way throughout the whole production process to keep her ideas fresh. 

“It’s a completely fresh take on the set,” Alvarado Berrios said. “It has some things of the original production like levels and movement, but it really is not kind of like a copy paste of what most people do for Newsies. … The set is not the original production, but the heart is very much bringing that.” 

In contrast to the realistic vision of the director — Cynthia Henderson, a professor and chair of the Department of Theater and Dance Performance — one of the less realistic parts of musical theater comes with the music and dancing. 

Gwirtzman and assistant choreographer Xan Hopkins, a senior theater studies and writing double major, used the ideas of the industrial revolution in their choreography to add to the realism of the show, although they kept original elements from the Broadway production within the choreography such as the iconic newspaper dance sequence during the song “Seize the Day.”

“[I]f something can still be both entertaining, enjoyable to view, but also make you think metaphorically, then that would be a job well done,” Gwirtzman said “It’s something that we strive to do. So the inspiration came from New York City, the technological changes, and the social changes that were impacting all of its residents of whatever class they were in.”

The actors said they had to take into account this real world angle for their roles in the production. Hayakawa said that to add to the realism of the show, each of the actors had to create a presentation on their character’s backstory. For them in particular, it was important to get it right because they are playing a character with a disability. 

“[The writers of Newsies] never explained what happened that got [Crutchie] to that point [of walking with a crutch],” Hayakawa said “So there had to be a lot of care put into the specifics of what happened so that we aren’t misrepresenting him. … I was basically given the same choreography as everyone else. And I just chose to modify it in the best way that my character saw fit. So like I am doing a little dancing but not like a lot.”

Although Jordan and Fankhauser have left some large shoes to fill, based on previews, the cast and crew succeeded in creating an exciting new take that pays homage to the show’s origins on Broadway. In anticipation of opening night Hayakawa, Gwirtzman and Alvarado Berrios all expressed excitement at what the audience would take away from their creative contributions to the performance. As an actor, Hayakawa said that while some pre-opening night nerves were setting in, the show was ready for its audiences. 

“I feel like there’s a point in every show where you don’t have an audience yet. And that starts to freak you out,” Hayakawa said. “What if no one’s gonna like it? And once you get that first audience in, whether it’s preview, or like an invited dress or opening night … they’re there and they’re laughing and clapping, and you’re like, ‘Oh, okay, we had nothing to worry about.’” 

Burns, who said they had seen the production three times, said the show has only gotten better with each new audience that graces the theater. “I think from the preview to when I saw it on Saturday at the matinee, everyone’s energy just built and built each time that I saw it and by the last time I saw it, it was really just gelled together,” Burns said. “Everything kind of flowed and was really awesome.”

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