Just as the newsboys united to demand their rights in the show “Newsies,” Reservoir High School and its community of students, staff, parents and neighbors came together last year to bring the award-wining musical to life this spring.
After collecting and donating musical instruments to children and also providing gifts for low-income families during the holidays, Reservoir became one of five finalists in Playbill’s “Seize the Day” challenge — a contest that awarded the rights for the first amateur production of “Newsies.”
Numerous votes were then needed to win and the school advertised far and wide with the community responding.
In the end, Reservoir lost in a race so close, Disney and Playbill took notice, according to Jessica Binder, theater director at Reservoir High.
“They were so blown away by our dedication and our commitment, we were given the rights to the show,” Binder said. “It was a gift to be given that generous gesture.”
That community spirit has continued, as alumni, parents and community members have been a part of various aspects of the upcoming production, from building sets to playing in the pit orchestra or working the sound system.
“It’s great proof that this is important to them,” said Colin O’Bryan, orchestra teacher at Reservoir. “It’s amazing. There is a huge community presence.”
About 100 students are involved with the production, said Binder, who is in her 11th year at Reservoir.
Auditions were held in early December and rehearsals started shortly after.
“It is a huge commitment,” Binder said, of the time students devote to the show. “This is a dance show. There is a lot of movement.”
Set in New York City, “Newsies” is based loosely on the Newsboys Strike of 1899. With music and dance sequences, the show reveals the lives, dreams and spirits of the newsboys as they strive to create a just working environment for themselves.
“They are not the Lost Boys of ‘Peter Pan’ but they kind of are,” Binder said. “They are a force together. A family. There are some powerful moments.”
Angelo Harrington II, who plays the character Crutchie, considers “Newsies” to be his all-time favorite musical.
“There is an energy about it,” the 16-year-old said. “The story is really uplifting.”
While Harrington’s character is limited in his movements because of a bad leg, he and the rest of the cast are always moving.
“This show is very physically demanding,” Harrington said. “It is really like a roller coaster.”
During a recent rehearsal, students danced and skipped through the auditorium’s aisles while numerous sets and props were rolled on and off the stage as scenes shifted seamlessly from the top of a skyscraper to the streets below or to the inside of an office.
“There’s a lot of little things that have to happen,” said Jose Gutierrez Jr., 17, who is the stage manager. “There are five different sets of newspapers alone. “
Several students play multiple characters, requiring numerous costume changes.
“I have to do a lot of accents,” said Hunter Hendrix, 17, who plays three characters — a nun, a newsboy and Ms. Jacobi.
The cast also includes students from the elementary schools as well as alumni performers with both groups leaving an impression on the high school troupe.
‘Being around little kids gives you energy,” said Naqiya Zaki, 18. “Working with them has been an enjoyable experience.”
The alumni actors inspire.
“It’s exciting to see people who were here before us and how they act and interpret things’ said Darryl Suber Jr., 17.
In a show full of big production numbers and multiple set changes, Binder and crew aim to provide a memorable performance.
“To know it, is to love it,” Binder said. “It is a beautiful story.”
“Newsies” will be performed March 29 and 30 and April 5 and 6 at 7 p.m. and March 31 and April 6 at 2 p.m. at Reservoir High School, 11550 Scaggsville, Fulton. $12-$14.