EAST GREENWICH–Over the past few months, students at East Greenwich High School have been hard at work preparing for their opening night of “Newsies”–the hit Broadway Musical inspired by the Newsboy Strike of 1899 in New York City.
While every year is special for Theater Advisor Robert Petrucci, he said this year’s production promises to impress audience members with much more dancing than recent years past.
“We’ve got so many talented seniors that we had to do a big ensemble number to meet where they’re going to be,” Petrucci said. “This is where they are. We needed something big. This is really big.”
This year will feature a double cast with 73 students on stage between them, 12 students performing in the band and an additional 24 other students behind the scenes making the whole production possible in tech, according to Petrucci.
“Our goal is to get as many kids who want to be on sage, on stage,” he said. “If they want to audition, they’re going to get a role. That’s what we’ve been doing here for the last 16 years. If you audition and you want a role, we’re going to find you a role.”
The cast features both seasoned veterans of the stage and some more recent newcomers. For senior Sam Gessman, theater was something he never would have considered if it weren’t for the suggestion and persistence of his sophomore-year English teacher, Tim Kenney. At the time, the class was reading “Le Miserables” aloud.
“He would come up to me every day and was like, ‘Oh, I like the way you read. You sound really good. You should do drama,’” Gussman said. “I was like ‘Oh, Mr. Kenney, you’re so nice, but no.’”
Eventually though, after repeated requests– sometimes multiple a class period–Gessman broke down and auditioned for “Le Miserables.” It was a decision he never regretted. Ever since, Gessman has been returning to the stage every year.
“I just fell in love with the program,” Gessman said. “Everyone here is so accepting. All of them are just coming together in a way that some of the teams I played on never did. It’s really just one big family.”
Gessman will be playing the role of Wiesel, a newspaper distributor to the newsies, who’s often heckled and teased by the boys.
“I’m sort of the henchman for the bad guy,” Gessman said. “When we do have a big fight, I lead the fight. I get to come out with a baseball bat and hit some people–it’s a good time.”
Playing the lead role of Jack Kelly, a closed-off character who eventually ends up leading the newsboy strike, will be junior Jack Larson.
Larson, who’s felt at home on the stage since kindergarten, said he’s excited for people to come out on opening night. For him, the hours the whole cast has spent in rehearsal each day after school and, sometimes even on Saturday mornings, have been a labor of love. The show, he said, is a can’t miss.
“We put a lot of work into this show, and we know you’re going to love it,” Larson said.
Playing the lead role of Jack’s romantic interest will be seniors Sarah Bursini and Ally Carlsten, double casted for the part of Katherine Plumber, a young journalist hoping to be taken more seriously for her reporting on the strike.
Like Larson, Bursini also took part in her first production at a young age, starting in the first grade with “101 Dalmations Junior.”
“Ever since then, I’ve completely fallen in love with it,” Bursini said. “It’s a place where, this is going to sound really cliche, but you find family. You’re doing what you love, and the people around you all love it too. When you’re all doing what you love, you get really, really close.”
In addition to the comradery that grows between members of the cast, Bursini said theater is also an amazing stress relief from the demands of school work.
Although Carlsten didn’t find her love for theater until the seventh grade, the past four years she’s spent in Drama Club have only fueled her passion further. Next year, Carlsten will be attending NYU for Musical Theater.
Senior Ariel Finkle, who’ll be playing the roles of Gov. Theodore Roosevelt and deli owner Mrs. Jacobi, has also been involved with theater since her elementary school days.
“It’s been a huge part of my life at school,” Finkle said. “I’ve always loved performing and I’ve met so many great people through drama. Even if I get a bit role, it’s still fun just to be around so many people.”
Finkle is double casted with fellow senior Savannah Sullivan, who first took the stage in sixth grade in “Fame.”
Helping to fill out the newsies’ roster are seniors Emma Tedeschi, Petra Smith, Delaney Kelley, Abbey McMullen and Ross Simeral.
Tedeschi, who has been a part of every production offered throughout middle school and high school, will be playing Romeo. She’s excited to be going out with a bang for her senior year.
“When I’m on stage, it’s really weird because I feel so nervous before I’m about to go on, but once I’m there I feel at home,” she said.
Smith, who will be playing the part of Race, said plays have allowed her the opportunity to get close with so many of her classmates.
“There’s the physical aspect of it, but there’s also the emotional aspect of playing a character and breaking yourself down emotionally to build that character up,” Smith said. “Doing that with a group of people, you all get really close.”
Although Kelley and McMullen are recent newcomers to the stage, both bring with them years of experience from competitive dance. Playing the roles of Finch and Romeo, respectively, both have felt welcomed into the close-knit fold of the theater community.
“Immediately as I came onto the stage, I knew this is my home, this is where I have to be for the next two years,” Kelley said. “I don’t regret a single hour or minute spent on the stage with this amazing cast.”
Even when the group isn’t in rehearsal together, Kelley said they all stay well-connected through social media. She hopes many of her other friends who are not involved with theater get the chance to come out to the show and support the cast.
“When I talk to a lot of people, they don’t know what Newsies is,” Kelley said. “I say, ‘Think of New York, think of the Newsboys’ Strike.’ The dancing, the music, it’s all upbeat and fun. Definitely something to come see.”
Simeral, who will be playing the part of Elmer, has been thoroughly impressed with the incarnate jumps and tricks pulled out by many of the more experienced dancers. Even those with a limited background will be showcasing their moves though.
“For the rest of the cast, there’s still a good amount of dancing to be done,” he said. “It’s fun and it’s difficult, but all the struggling together makes it worth it.”
“There’s a whole lot of energy and passion that was put into the show,” Simeral continued. “I think that’s really going to come through to the audience and help them enjoy the show even more.”
The production will run this Thursday, Friday and Saturday night at 7 p.m., with an additional daytime showing on Saturday at 1 p.m. Tickets will be sold at the door of the East Greenwich High School Auditorium for $15.
“If you want to see 100 kids in the community work together as hard as they and put on a show, you’re gotta come see this show,” Petrucci said. “You’ve just gotta.”