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The press stops for ‘Newsies’

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Way Way Off-Broadway’s youth production earned a standing ovation. This year 41 children performed in Disney’s “Newsies — The Musical.” The kids are seen here pointing back at the audience and their families. (Christina Stock Photo)

Youth production of ‘Newsies’ showed power, talent of Roswell’s kids

Way Way Off-Broadway Theatre Company showed off the talent of its youngest members on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon to an almost sold out Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell Performing Arts Center.

The cast of Disney’s “Newsies — The Musical” are part of Way Way Off-Broadway’s Broadway Bound Kids program. They are seen here listening to actor and WWOB treasurer, Tony Souza, before parents, family and friends are invited on stage to congratulate the young actors. (Christina Stock Photo)

Before the curtain opened on Saturday, WWOB director Summer Souza addressed the audience. “These kids have been rehearsing this show the past six weeks, Monday through Thursday every day,” she said. “They have been working very hard on this production.

“Something is pretty special about this production,” Souza said. “Last year we did ‘Lion King, Jr.’ It was actually a youth production. ‘Newsies’ is not a junior production, but we chose to make it our youth production this year. We had the ability to add some adults into the cast this time around, we thought it would be cool for the kids to interact with the adults and experience that.

“We had 41 kids in this cast,” Souza continued. “They are incredibly talented; they blow me away. Especially those who are coming back. It’s fun to watch them grow, not only growing in age, but in their talents.”

After Souza thanked her production team, Saturday’s show started.

Unusual for this Disney production is that it is based on true events, in 1899 New York City. Newsboys and newsgirls led a campaign to force change in the way newspapers owned by media titans Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst compensated the children who sold the daily papers on the street. The children formed a union and most of the working children of New York City joined, shutting down businesses more efficiently than any adult could have.

According to the New York Daily News, in July 1899, the city’s largest papers were in trouble. “The newsboys’ strike has grown into a menacing affair,” the managing editor of Pulitzer’s New York World wrote to his boss in a memo. “Practically all the boys in New York and adjacent towns have quit selling … The advertisers have abandoned the papers … It is really a very extraordinary demonstration.”

The riveting story enfolded on ENMU-R PAC’s stage. The audience was treated to a high-quality performance that went beyond any children’s production. Especially the dance scenes, and a ‘dance-off’ had the audience cheering, hooting and clapping their hands. Kendrick Davis, who played the charismatic leader of the newsboys, Jack Kelly, stood out with the quality of his performance.

Playing the straight-laced newsie rookie Davey was Caden Lethgo, a perfect counterpart to Davis.

Another actor who stood out with perfect timing and humor was Rose Thorsted. Thorsted played the sympathizing reporter, Katherine Plumber.

As soon as the last tunes of the final song ended, the audience jumped up to give the kids a well-deserved standing ovation and — as is tradition for WWOB — everybody was invited on stage to congratulate the actors and take photos.

The children performing are students of WWOB’s Broadway Bound Kids program. Most of them have performed before, either at the Roswell Community Little Theater or in the youth productions of WWOB.

There was a sentimental moment when Tony Souza, who played the abusive warden of an orphanage, announced that this will be the last production of some of the young actors who are moving away from Roswell to continue their education. One of them is Spencer Willden, who was accepted at the University of New Mexico. The audience laughed when Willden was pushed to the front of the group and Tony Souza took advantage of it, shaking his hand and thanking him.

Summer Souza said that she is going to miss Willden’s support. Willden had evolved from actor to assistant director for WWOB’s productions. He was recently seen in WWOB’s production of “Mamma Mia!” Willden and four other Broadway Bound Kids students will be presenting their first play at WWOB’s Southeastern New Mexico Playwright Festival this Saturday at 2:30 p.m., at the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art, 409 E. College Blvd.

Summer Souza said that the next Broadway Bound Kids class will be beginning soon. It will be announced at waywayoffbroadway.com/broadway-bound-kids and its Facebook page.

Christina Stock may be contacted at 622-7710, ext. 309, or at vision@rdrnews.com.