reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

T.C. Howe High School served as the venue for Agape Performing Arts Company’s latest production – Disney’s Newsies – which opened last evening.

The show portrays the 1899 newsboys’ strike in New York City. A conflict arose when publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, among others, raised the price of the newspapers they sold to the boys and girls who peddled them on the streets. The “newsies” refused to pay the increase, subsequently joining together against the publishers and striking.

This story was the basis for the eponymous 1992 film and that effort was adapted into the 2012 Broadway musical from which the Agape production derives.

The cast of Agape Performing Arts Company’s “Newsies”

To start, large kudos must be offered to the show’s director, Kathy Phipps, who somehow manages to regularly transform the raw talents of what must be 50 or so middle school, high school and college thespians into an entertaining undertaking. She shared the effort here with assistant director Ann Lewis. Also, the company’s choreographer, Joel Flynn, deserves high recognition for putting all these young performers through their paces in more than a few rather complicated large production numbers! From what I saw, I’m betting they did not disappoint him. The hard work paid off.

There is so much to love about this show – let me start there:

The Newsies take off in a scene from Agape Performing Arts Company’s “Newsies”

I loved the energy and strength of purpose that lived in every single member of this cast – from the leads to the chorus/ensemble. To wit: choreographer Flynn introduced the cast to some fierce and powerful dance combinations, illuminating their resolve to do their jobs right, or to fight against the injustices they faced, or to celebrate their victories. Each performer gave their all to every note and dance step. And, they all showed us that they were having the time of their lives – which I know they were.

I loved the big production numbers – the vitality of the choreography was matched with fine vocal work, especially when that aspect took on a chorale quality. The blending of these strong, young voices – many compliments to music director April Barnes for this – was most often flawless. I count the Act 2 opener, a tap dance extravaganza, as a full cast highlight of the production – very impressive.

at center, Katherine (Audrey Scrogham) makes a point to Jack Kelly (Jacob Brant) in a scene from Agape Performing Arts Company’s “Newsies”

I loved the quality of acting in the young leads – (I saw the Queens cast in action, one of two crews) – Jacob Brant played a confident Jack Kelly, Alex Bast was vulnerable as Crutchie, Elijan Beasley is a wise, focused Davey, Audrey Scrogham offers up a sweet, smart, and purposeful Katherine, and Claire Scrogham is spunky and cute as little Les. They all work together to good effect.

I loved the versatile set and the plethora of costumes – both the work of Ms. Phipps. The simplicity of the set design was both functional and expedient in moving the story along. And a pat on the back goes to the very busy set crew.

Katherine (Audrey Scrogham) and the Newsies celebrate their success in a scene from Agape Performing Arts Company’s “Newsies”

I loved collegiate music major Audrey Scrogham’s entire, very professional performance. As Katherine, her solo “Watch What Happens” was knocked out of the park and was a definite highlight of the show. Ms. Scrogham’s later duet with Jacob Brant, the tender “Something to Believe In”, was also a high point. She shined in her acting scenes, as well.

Likewise, I loved the solo by Alex Bast as Crutchie – a moody piece which showed off his well-trained vocal talents.

Now – given all the notable highlights of the show – there are still some areas for improvement, I believe. Many words in songs and/or dialogue are lost – not understandable. Whether it is a function of the Howe High School auditorium acoustics, equipment usage, or the expertise of the performers – sound quality and balance are an issue in this production. It is some of each, I am supposing, and these problems are largely correctable.

Several performances were untouched by the dilemma. Audrey Scrogham’s first solo can through loud and clear. Alex Bast’s solo was another example of an understandable effort. There are some performers whose enunciation could be much better – there are some who choose at times to speak at an unprojected level and those words are entirely lost. The mikes certainly are an aid to communication, but they are not the only tool that needs to be employed. Diction, projection, intonation – all could be improved by most of the company. In my mind, the primary purpose of being onstage, in a cast, telling a story, is to make that telling clear and understandable to the audience, especially when you have such a wonderful story to tell! Okay, nuff said…

Locked out Newsies in a scene from Agape Performing Arts Company’s “Newsies”

Bottomline: The wonderful stage activities these young people are experiencing are far and beyond what many may have an opportunity to relish with other endeavors in their youth. The pure joy of accomplishment, the endearing friendships and exposures which are such a large part of the undertaking, plus the thrill of performance – all these things will guide these cast members toward confidence, culture and capabilities. I applaud Dr. Phipps and her entire company for what they give the Central Indiana community.

Newsies continues at the T.C. Howe High School auditorium through July 21st. For tickets and information go to https://agapeshows.org. Tickets may also be purchased at the door.

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