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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — While it is always a unique experience to attend a Colfax High School musical, this year’s production of “Newsies” will be an even more unique experience.
“It’s a brand new show. This is the first year it can be performed. River Falls did it. Stevens Point or somewhere around there. And us. Menomonie is going to do it next year, I think Mabel Tainter. It’s really new, and it’s a show I think everybody is going to like. It’s family friendly,” said Gene Gibson, co-director for the musical.
“Newsies” originally was produced as a Disney film in 1992 and was based on the Newsboys’ Strike of 1899 in New York City. The film performed poorly at the box office and received negative and mixed reviews.
Later on, the film developed a large following on home video. After that, “Newsies” was adapted into a Broadway stage production and opened on Broadway in May of 2012. The musical won two Tony Awards.
The Newsboys Strike of 1899 lasted from July 20 to August 2 and was a campaign to change the way that Joseph Pulitzer (“New York World”) and William Randolph Hearst (“New York Journal”) compensated the child laborers who sold Pulitzer’s and Hearst’s afternoon newspapers.
The “newsies” on strike demonstrated on the Brooklyn Bridge and brought traffic to a standstill for several days. News distribution also came to a halt for many cities in the New England area.
Pulitzer’s “New York World” newspaper went from 360,000 newspapers sold per day to 125,000.
The newsboys started their strike because the publishers raised the price of the newspapers they sold to the newsboys, from 50 cents per 100 to 60 cents per 100. The newsboys sold the newspapers for one cent each.
While the newsboys were not successful in convincing Pulitzer and Hearst to reduce the price of the newspapers, they were successful in convincing the publishers to offer full buy-backs to the sellers of the newspapers. Since the newsboys did not end up with newspapers they could not sell, they made more money.
The buy-back also contributed to newsboys not working until after midnight to sell newspapers they still had on hand.
The snowy weather has presented particular challenges for this year’s Colfax High School musical production.
So far, the Colfax school district has had nine snow days off from school, and when school is cancelled because of inclement weather, so are after-school activities — including play practice.
Gibson said it was an understatement to say rehearsals for “Newsies” have been a challenge because of the weather.
“A lot of (the students) have been doing a lot of work. They take it home,” Gibson said.
“This is a veteran show this year. We’ve got some good young kids coming too. We have a few young kids taking on Newsies roles. Seventh and eighth graders. And they are doing a good job,” he said.
Students begin rehearsals for the spring musical in December.
Gibson said while it might have been tempting to delay the performances by a week because of the missed practices due to the weather, “there’s no way to do it.”
“I would have loved to have moved us back an entire week. But there is baseball, softball and track. Our coaches have been really good to us, but if I took another week, I don’t think they’d be real pleased with me,” he said.
“These kids are in a better place, even with the time we’ve missed, than any cast I’ve ever had,” Gibson said.
Gibson attributes the success of the Colfax High School musicals to the hard work of the students and to the other people on the production team.
“Everybody around me knows more about what I do than I do,” he said.
Kobi Shaw is providing assistance with directing, along with her husband, Steve Russell, who says he has been assisting “behind the scenes.” Connie Gibson, Colfax High School English teacher, is the co-director for the musical. Craig Greenwald built the set.
Gibson acknowledged Tom Ferry as well for all of his years of building sets.
Gibson and Shaw are making the costumes for the production.
“Kobi is a better director than me … They all know more in every direction than I do, so then all I have to do is supervise,” Gibson said.
“It’s so much easier when I have so much competence,” he said.
“Mostly it’s the kids, though,” Gibson said.
“I tell them every year. I was always a singer, but I did ‘a’ high school show. We were horrible … so I tell them every year, I couldn’t have done, I was not capable of doing, what they do. And they don’t believe me. It’s not that I couldn’t have eventually gotten there, but it was not a part of our culture,” he said.
“They do something special, and I think they expect to,” Gibson said.
The music program in the Colfax school district also is very much a part of the success.
“Without what Derrick, Carrie and Jim give them, we would be out of luck entirely,” Gibson said.
Derek Westholm teaches elementary and middle school music. Carrie Christensen teaches vocal music at all levels. Jim Woodford teaches middle school and high school instrumental music.
Some of the athletes also are beginning to be part of the high school musicals, too, Gibson noted.
“There is something with theater, because you cannot instantly be good, and your vision and mine and somebody else’s will not match. You have to work with others in a way you don’t in a lot of other places. I think just like on the sports teams and the classroom, you learn something from this that you may not learn somewhere else. You work under direction. You work with every cast member,” he said.
“They have really learned to rely on each other. Their friendships are good. They bond. The more mature kids allow the seventh and eighth grade kids to come in, and I don’t see them giving any grief, Gibson said.
Hailey Seston and Kayla Scholfield are choreographing the show.
“What would we do without that, I have no idea. Before those girls did it, we brought people in for two nights (to choreograph), and then they’re done. These girls teach them, and then they are around the rest of the time (as part of the cast),” Gibson said.
“They can all sing. We’ve done shows where only six can sing, but these kids can all sing. We have such an embarrassment of wealth, so many riches,” he said.
“They are just all so talented,” Gibson said.
Leadership is important to the success of the musicals as well.
Gibson credited the veteran actors in the cast, such as seniors Tate Russell and McKenna Yingst, with providing leadership.
“These kids are leaders, and they are positive leaders. As we come through and through and through, they are starting to work on the little things,” Gibson said.
“It’s really hard for a kid not to know his seven lines, when Tate knows all 750 of his,” he said.
The last two weeks of rehearsal for any production are always hectic.
“My head spins when we get to the last two weeks,” Gibson said.
“These kids are going to school 40 hours a week. They are playing ball, running track, doing all the other things they do. They have jobs. I don’t know how they do it. I’ve watched three kids [of his own] do it, and I still don’t know how they do it,” Gibson said.
“It’s fun. I look forward to it every year,” he said.
Cast and crew
Here are the cast and crew for the Colfax High School musical, “Newsies”: Tate Russell as Jack Kelly; McKenna Yingst as Katherine Plumber; Kaitlyn Albricht as Medda Larkin, Nun; Trey Hovde as Davey Jacobs; David Paulson as Les Jacobs; Caden Erickson as Crutchie; Drew Gibson as Joseph Pulitzer; Nathaniel Lee as Race; Hunter Larson as Spot Conlon, stage manager and Newsie; Pierce Harvey as Morris Delancy, Newsie; Eddie Doerr as Oscar Delancy, Newsie; Desirae Welk as Seitz, Newsie; Alexis Snider as Snyder, Nun, Newsie; Remi Larson as Wease; Wesley Kallstrom as Bunsen, Newsie; JJ Charlesworth as Theodore Roosevelt; Daniel Zons as Mayor of New York City; Clare Lyrek as Hannah, Nun, Newsie; Nokomis Nosker as Nunzio, Newsie; Haley Seston, Bowery Beauty, Newsie; Kayla Scholfield as Bowery Beauty, Newsie; Hannah Lemler as Nun, Mrs. Jacobi, Newsie; Kyah Quast, Nun, Newsie; Jesse Lyrek as Bill, Newsie.
Newsies/Ensemble: Katie Riley, Trevor Rothbauer, Aimee Fruit, Naomy Xiong, Belinda Loew, Brynn Bergeson, Citori Larson, Catherine Zons, Ashley Solberg, David Lyrek, Clark Taylor, Aydren Beebe, Jared Loew, Josie Doerr, Dennis Sonnentag, Thomas Drees.
Newsies Ensemble and stage crew: Dennis Sonnentag and Thomas Drees.
Technical crew: Rachel Knutson, Cassidy Reitz, Alyssa Dachel, Devan Olson, Jakob Moore, Logan Carstens, Quinn Russell as student director.
Pit band: Derek Westholm, Dakota Mark, Bruce Kamrath, Tanner Nierenhausen, Aza Knaack, Erica Kallstrom, Denise Solberg, Michelle Knutson.
Performances for “Newsies” will be in the Martin Anderson Gymnasium at Colfax High School Friday, March 22, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 23, at 7 p.m.; and Sunday, March 24, at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $5 at the door.