Stop the presses, Newsies arrives in Chanhassen

- In the sentimental world of song and dance newsboys, even the set changes appear more like dance breaks. A simple transition for a Newsie just isn’t complete without a half dozen pirouettes.

At rehearsals for the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ production of Newsies you’ll spot a spirited, feisty crew of athletic dancers—all aiming to make their living hawking newspapers six days a week on the main stage. With a typewriter standing ready in the corner and a prop box loaded with copies of the Star Tribune, these newsboys are not messing around.

Punctuated by flips, cartwheels, somersaults, and a charming score, Newsies tells the real-life tale of the New York City newsboys strike of 1899.  Daring to take on publishing giant Joseph Pulitzer, young heroes were born to eternity.  And in 2018, they can tap, too.

It’s no wonder that choreographer Tamara Kangas Erickson originally pitched the show to artistic director Michael Brindisi—Newsies is a choreographer’s dream.

“I’m more of an athletic dancer and I love tap, tap is one of my passions—this is a show that lends itself to my style,” Kangas Erickson said.

Thankfully, she didn’t have to work too hard to win over her director. Originally a flop at the box office in 1992, Newsies started its life as a film staring Christian Bale and Bill Pullman.  In 2012, Disney Theatricals took a risk, developing the story for Broadway. Intended to run for only 12 weeks, the show surprised the theatre industry, garnering critical acclaim and running for two years.

“I wasn’t familiar with the show,” Brindisi said. “[Tamara] said, ’It’s really cool watch the movie,’ so I did and I thought it was a great show…Then I read the musical and I thought this musical is even better.”

A great show with a unique list of requirements: first up, finding a talented group of more than a dozen young male dancers. The creative team swears this high-kicking cast was a cinch.  Of course, audiences may need to renew their suspension of disbelief before heading to Chanhassen. Children’s labor laws have become a bit more stingy since 1899. Only one member of the cast each night will qualify for the age requirements of a bona fide newsboy. The rest may appear a tad bit over 13.

Once the cast was found, the creative team tackled a much more formidable foe—converting the flashy Broadway musical for the quaint confines of a dinner theater. The work took some artistic imagination.

“We always have the challenge and advantage of a space that requires us to be creative—it’s a small theater. It is going to be our own production based on that,” Brindisi said.

“We make it work so that the story comes through,” Kangas Erickson said. “That’s something I think we do really well.  We don’t get caught up in tricks, but we’re always focused on storytelling.”

Just like the Broadway production, Newsies is a risk of sorts for the Chanhassen—a risk aimed at a changing demographic of ticket buyers.

“We’ve seen our customers change quite a bit over the last couple years,” Kangas Erickson said. “We have more younger families that are multigenerational…15 years ago it was the grandma buying the tickets; now it’s the mom buying the tickets and bringing the grandma.”

Newsies is just the latest in a long line of Disney films turned stage musical to find their way to the Chanhassen. Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins, and The Little Mermaid have proven powerful at the dinner theater’s box office. Once again, the Chan is hoping millennials will bite at a bit of nostalgia.

Newsies begins performances at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ March 2. with opening night March 9. Tickets are available at the box office or ChanhassenDT.com

Abraham Swee is a multi-media producer at FOX 9 covering the arts across central Minnesota. Send story ideas to abraham.swee@foxtv.com

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