Osceola Arts in Kissimmee, Florida is closing out its 2018-19 theater season with a bang as it brings Disney’s hit musical “Newsies” to its stage July 12-Aug. 4.
“Newsies” is based on the true-life story of New York City’s Newsboys Strike of 1899. Disney first brought the story to the big screen in 1992 with the musical film of the same name, directed by Kenny Ortega and starring Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, Ann-Margret and Robert Duvall.
The film was panned by critics and bombed at the box office upon its initial release but developed a cult following on home video. It eventually developed a large enough fan base that Disney decided to revisit the Newsboys Strike story by adapting it to Broadway 20 years later.
“Newsies” was brought to the stage by a powerhouse team of legends, from both stage and screen. The music is by Alan Menken, best known for writing the scores to some of Disney’s most beloved animated classics including “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “Pocahontas.” Those four films alone fetched Menken a total of eight Academy Awards.
The lyrics are by Jack Feldman, who not only wrote lyrics for many hit films and television shows, but is also the lyricist behind Barry Manilow’s classic “Copacabana.”
The book is by Harvey Fierstein, the Tony Award-winning actor is responsible for writing hit Broadway shows “Torch Song Trilogy,” “La Cage aux Folles” and “Kinky Boots.”
“Newsies” the musical made its Broadway debut in 2012 and was a hit from opening night. The show has played more than 1,000 performances and was nominated for eight Tony Awards, winning two of them—Best Original Score and Best Choreography.
Osceola Arts looks to bring that same magic Disney brought on Broadway to a Central Florida audience. Director Del Brocco leads a cast of nearly 30 performers, headlined by Osceola Arts newscomers Anthony Callender, who plays Jack Kelly, and Amanda Breivogel, who plays Katherine Plumber.
Callender, an openly-gay performer in Central Florida and one half of the musical team The Stonewall Duo, will be making his musical stage debut with “Newsies.”
“This is all a new and exciting experience for me,” he says. “I was involved in musical theatre when I was in high school up in Michigan, and it was always a dream of mine to continue professionally in music theatre, so I moved to Orlando and worked for Disney.”
When Callender got to Central Florida his career path veered off from entertainment to healthcare.
“I ended up getting my massage therapist license and started to focus on a path of healthy lifestyle habits,” Callender says. “But there was always this unspoken truth, dream and drive in my heart. So over the last few years, I’ve started to dedicate more of my time and my passion toward entertaining.”
In 2014, Callender started performing with various acapella groups in some of Orlando’s theme parks and then he met Sandra Hess. Callender and Hess hit it off and they began to perform locally under the name of The Stonewall Duo.
“I love her,” Callender says of Hess. “She is so talented and it is so amazing to get to work with her.”
Callender almost didn’t end up auditioning for “Newsies” because of a gig for The Stonewall Duo.
“I knew the director and he asked me if I would be interested in coming in to audition for a role in ‘Newsies,’ but at the time we were waiting to hear back about the final contract of our cruise line show,” Callender recalls.
The Stonewall Duo was going to be hitting the open seas as performers for a cruise line and didn’t know when they would be leaving.
“Our dates were up in the air and we could have been leaving sometime in May or June, which would not have worked out for me and ‘Newsies’ or we could be leaving in November,” Callender says. “I didn’t think it would be fair to dedicate my time to a production because if I got the crew contract, I would not be able to fill my role. I was not willing to burn any bridges doing that, so I respectfully told the director that I would not be able to make the audition.”
Luckily for Callender, the stars lined up and The Stonewall Duo was told they would be onboard the Celebrity Constellation leaving Venice, Italy in November. After getting to audition for Brocco, Callender was told he not only got in the show, but would be the lead character.
“It was a bit surreal. I feel like the universe just opened itself up to me for some miraculous reason I don’t know how to describe it,” Callender says with a laugh. “At first when I got the news I felt excitement over nerves, but then reality set in that I was going to be in a major role and that I was going to have to dance and some of those nerves started to creep up, but I really am just so overwhelmed with excitement to get to do this.”
Callender admits that prior to taking on the role of Jack Kelly he knew very little about the musical “Newsies” or what it was like at the turn of the 20th century for newsboys.
“Most of the real-life Newsies were orphans living on the streets, scraping by to make ends meet just so they could feed themselves,” Callender says.
Newsboys—children who were essential to the newspaper industry at the time—worked under harsh conditions and had to purchase the newspapers from big publishers like Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst to sell them to the public. Any papers not sold were not purchased back and the loss was left to the newsboys. Callender recalls reading about some newsboys who turned to drastic means when they didn’t have money to eat.
“The papers they didn’t sell, some of the newsboys would turn to literally eating them because they couldn’t afford food after having to buy the papers they couldn’t sell,” he says. “The poor conditions and the mistreatment led them to stand up for themselves. They started to strike and it became a revolution for them.”
Even though the true-life events that inspired “Newsies” were more than 100 years ago, Callender says the story of underdogs standing up for themselves against oppression is still very relevant today, especially as we just passed the 50-year anniversary of Stonewall.
“When a community is being attacked and mistreated, they are going to reach a point where they will not be pushed around anymore,” Callender says. “That’s what happened at Stonewall, and that’s what happened with these newsboys. There’s a musical number in ‘Newsies’ called ‘The World Will Know’ and that’s exactly what they’re singing about. They will no longer be pushed around and left with nothing. They are taking a stand and the world will know. It’s such a powerful message for any community that as long as you have each other’s back, you watch out for one another and you do it with a sense of love, that you will come out on top.”
That message of love and community will also be on display in Osceola Arts’ main and lobby galleries with an art exhibit that will coincide with its “Newsies” performances titled “Extra! Extra! ‘Newsies’ Fan Art.” It will remain on display through the end of August.
The exhibit will feature a collection of “Newsies”-inspired pieces from Students Pursuing Leadership in Arts and Technology, or SPLAT. SPLAT is a group of local creative youth living and making art and exhibits in public spaces throughout Central Florida.
“Newsies” runs July 12-Aug. 4 on the main stage at Osceola Arts, located at 2411 E. Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway in Kissimmee. Tickets start at $22 with senior, student and group rates available. “Extra! Extra! ‘Newsies’ Fan Art” exhibit will be on display July 12-Aug. 30 with an artist reception to be held at Osceola Arts on July 27 from noon-1:30 p.m. The exhibit, as well as the reception, is free and open to the public.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit OsceolaArts.org or contact the box office at 407-846-6257.