Taking stage at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale Fashion Square for the first time is the musical “Newsies.”
Running through Feb. 16, the musical offers a large cast of 34 teenagers who have rehearsed for over one month — and one that director Lisa Barton-Figueroa hopes has a multi-generational appeal.
“Newsies” tells the story of Jack Kelly, a newsboy and leader of a band of teenaged Newsies, all of whom rally to strike against unfair conditions.
The musical is based on the 1992 Disney film written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White and inspired by the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City.
“What’s awesome about [the musical] is it’s the original music from the movies plus some bonus songs,” said Barton-Figueroa, a southern Scottsdale resident.
“We really are excited to feature our dancers, of course, but also give an opportunity for parents or aunts and uncles who grew up watching the movie to be able to connect with our younger generation,” she added.
A young fan of the musical just so happens to be in the cast: 15-year-old Desert Mountain High School sophomore Jack Yampolsky, who plays the role of Jack Kelly.
“’Newsies’ has been one of my favorite shows since I was 10, so it’s really a dream come true getting to perform in the show,” he said.
Jack said he relates to the character’s zeal, drive, and fearlessness.
“I do get very passionate about causes I have strong feelings about, but there is one more characteristic of Jack that I relate most to, and it’s not my name: It’s his romantic side,” Jack said, adding:
“Jack says a lot of risky things to whoever he’s got his eye on, and he shows no sign of hesitation.”
The vocals, on the other hand, have proved challenging for Jack.
“His vocals are quite possibly the toughest I’ve ever had to deal with, but it’s very fun getting to use the upper part of my vocal range,” he said.
“Newsies” also features its fair share of dance numbers, which was new territory — but a welcome challenge — for Barton-Figueroa.
“I am not a dancer. I never have been,” Barton-Figueroa said with a laugh. “To be able to establish these characters with these teenagers that are so dependent on using their bodies in the musical numbers has been really interesting.”
The musical was choreographed by Lynzee Foreman, who put the cast through what Barton-Figueroa called a “rigorous” dance audition.
“She’s incredible,” Barton-Figueroa said. “Lynzee put them through a two-tier dance audition: The first was regular dancing. Then, the second was tap because there’s a large tap number in the show.”
Barton-Figueroa added that the “stage-ography,” or blocking-based movements, throughout the show tested her own dance chops, too.
“The scaffolding unit we’re using, we use it like a giant jungle gym. It was so amazing to see these teenagers on stage, up and down ladders and stairs and climbing through the scaffolding to really give the audience something visually interesting to look at as opposed to just a more classic stage,” she said.
For Barton-Figueroa, the most rewarding part of directing “Newsies” this season is watching the cast of teenagers push themselves vocally, physically, and emotionally.
“I love working with the teenage groups, specifically. Not that I don’t love the youngsters as well, but being a teenager is hard, and so they come to the theater, which is a place that they feel safe,” she said. “I have a group that loves the show, and they are so excited.”
This season is a particularly exciting one for Barton-Figueroa, too.
She is directing five shows this season — “Disney’s The Lion King Jr. and “The Addams Family,” held last fall; “Newsies”; “A Chorus Line,” running April 24 through May 10; and “Madagascar Jr,” from July 17 through Aug. 2.
All five are also shows she has never directed before.
“It’s really nice to be able to challenge myself as a director with five brand new shows with five brand new groups of people,” Barton-Figueroa said.
Since “Newsies” became available for amateur licensing through Music Theatre International in March 2018, it has become a popular musical among Valley theater groups.
Herberger Theater Center, for example, brought the musical to life on its stage in August 2018; and the Detour Theatre group, more recently, put it on in January.
“One of the awesome things about youth theater in the Valley is that there are so many performance opportunities,” Barton-Figueroa said, adding that DST’s “Newsies” cast is comprised of about 75 percent returning actors and 25 percent new actors.
“New people that just happen to love the show ‘Newsies’ came over to audition with us,” she added. “I think every production at every theater brings its own value. New directors, new choreographers add a little spin to the music and the story that everybody knows and loves.”
“Newsies” premiered at the Paper Mill Playhouse in 2011 and made its Broadway debut in 2012, where it played for more than 1,000 performances before touring.
Following the end of the tour, a limited, three-day filmed theatrical release was announced for February 2017 and grossed $3.47 million.
At DST, Jack hopes “Newsies” audience members will have just as much fun watching the musical as the cast has performing it.
“I hope when people feel that energy, they’ll be motivated to find anything, whether it’s skating or cooking or whatever sparks their interest, and have the time of their life with it,” he said.