Actors at the Faith Christian Home Educators program take a break during rehearsal for “Newsies.” (Submitted photo)
Stillwater Gazette – March 26, 2021 “Newsies,” a rollicking Broadway musical, will hit The Zephyr stage in May. It has been a long time coming.
The 26 students, in grades one through 12, are bringing the1900s rough-and-tumble streets of New York City to life through song and dance. They have been learning their parts at North Presbyterian Church in North St. Paul since September.
The theatre class for Faith Christian Home Educators (FCHE), a cooperative resource for parents who are homeschooling their students, is one of several in-school programs offered by Zephyr Theatre professionals.
What makes this particular production unusual is its rehearsal schedule. These students have been attending the in-person drama club for one hour per week since fall.
“It’s a challenging schedule and a new format for us,” said Calyssa Hall, The Zephyr’s executive director and co-director of “Newsies.”
Theatre professionals are used to compact hours-long daily rehearsals for a few short weeks prior to opening night. This drawn-out school plan has been a mixed blessing — time between classes to practice, but also time between classes to forget.
And those one-hour practice sessions have to be very focused, said Mike Tober, a Minneapolis-based actor who came onboard in October to co-direct. Planning practices that minimize the sit-and-watch time has been crucial to keeping the young actors engaged, he said, as they learn speaking parts and 20 songs for the 2.5-hour production.
In “Newsies,” cheeky street kids who hawk newspapers stand up to The Man, in this case newspaper tycoon Joseph Pulitzer.
That take-charge spirit rubbed off on the cast, Hall said. The actor portraying 17-year-old Jack Kelly, the newsies’ ringleader, embraced his role and asked to lead vocal warmups. Another actor portraying reporter Katherine Plumber volunteered to choreograph part of a tap dance.
“I’ve been impressed by the initiative these students have shown,” Hall said.
“Newsies” will be presented May 7, 8, and 9 at The Zephyr Theatre. Because of limited seating, the audience will be mostly parents, siblings, and relatives of the young performers.
This is the first production The Zephyr has directed for FCHE, but it won’t be the last. In September, the drama club students will start rehearsing “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” to be presented in May 2022.
Other school productions
Zephyr Theatre pros have been a presence in Stillwater Area Public Schools Community Education programs since 2017. That group includes actors Jaclyn Mack, Mike Tober, Stephen Ness, and Jessica Thiennes. And, thanks to them, thousands of kids have learned to sing, act, and dance.
Even during the covid-compromising 2020, the theatre helped elementary school-age kids perform in “James and the Giant Peach” and “Seussical Jr.”
Starting in March, with help from The Zephyr, all seven district elementary schools are offering an extracurricular class called “In the Spotlight: Hollywood Drive-in Musical.”
During the two-hour-per-week classes, about 14 students at each school have been mastering one song from each of these four popular musicals — “Newsies,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Jungle Book,” and “Mary Poppins.”
The production will be held in mid-May on the outdoor stage at The Zephyr Theatre, where the audience members will watch from their cars — like a drive-in theatre.
Solve a mystery
Calling all amateur sleuths. For some interactive at-home fun, Zoom into “New Neighborhood: Welcome to Running Springs,” a Clue-like murder-mystery production hosted by The Zephyr Theatre in partnership with StoryArk.
The murder-lite script, more humorous than gritty, focuses on a neighborhood get-together of new residents. The one-hour production stars six actors, but thanks to the interactive magic of Zoom, all audience mem
These gumshoe wannabes will have other hints at hand, too. Each ticket holder will receive a box of clues and a cocktail kit to open and puzzle over during the live event.
“New Neighborhood: Welcome to Running Springs” will be aired at 3 p.m. April 18. Tickets, which will include Zoom access and a box of clues, are $75 per household. Deadline for ticket sales is midnight April 9. To order tickets, go to stillwaterzephyrtheatre.org.