St. Charles-based group presents 'Newsies' in Elgin
In 2011, youth theater director and educator Connie Flores founded the 501c3 performing arts studio, Marquee Youth Stage, in St. Charles with the mission of "empowering youth through the arts." Eight years and 60 productions later, the group is expanding its reach by starting a branch called Marquee Mainstage that will include adults -- even some paid professionals -- in its cast and orchestra.
And to accommodate what is expected to be a resulting greater audience, these Mainstage productions will be staged in the same 1,200-seat Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin that has hosted the likes of Glen Campbell, B.B. King and Bob Newhart.
The first Mainstage production, the musical "Newsies," goes on Friday through Sunday, Aug. 9-11 at the Hemmens.
Based on a Tony-winning Broadway play that in turn was based on a 1992 Disney movie, this uses song and dance to tell how a group of child newspaper hawkers went on a labor strike in 1899 to protest unfair treatment by newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer (yes, the guy the prizes were named after).
"Marquee Youth Stage will still always be our main mission," explained Flores, of St. Charles. "But we wanted to try something new and took a leap of faith with 'Newsies.' If we are able to sustain the Mainstage model of including adults, we may look into doing another show, perhaps once a year under the Mainstage name.
"'Newsies' has always been on my shortlist of shows to do and when the rights came out just this year, I wanted to seize the opportunity," Flores said. "'Newsies' is the story of the revolutionary newsboy strike and a love story that defies social barriers, packed full with a showstopping musical score and beautiful dance numbers.
"It seemed the right time to do a powerful show about a youth-led revolution empowering people to stand up and rally for what's right, no matter where they stand in society."
"This is an incredibly difficult show," said stage manager Jamie Dowat, an 18-year-old 2019 graduate of St. Charles East High School who will major in musical theater at Viterbo University this fall. "It requires a lot of our cast to be triple threats -- singing, acting and dancing."
To recruit several such triple-threat adults, Director Colin Bokowy put out an open casting call to the entire Chicago-area theater community in June and picked the best after competitive auditions.
Meanwhile, all the teens who wanted to participate were able to join the cast that grew to 42 actors. Pit manager Monica Corbett and music director Matt Bishop also assembled an orchestra of 21 people, most of them adults.
The leading male parts will be played by Michael Metcalf of Elgin, a 27-year-old showbiz veteran who has been in so many professional plays that he's a candidate for membership in Actors Equity; Mitchell Barrett, an 18-year-old Algonquin native who was nominated for best actor in this year's Illinois High School Musical Theater Awards before graduating from Jacobs High School in May, and will major in music education this fall at DePaul University; and Trey Thompson, an 11-year-old from Carol Stream who's still in elementary school, but has his eye on an acting career. The leading lady, Camille Theriault, also is a professional Equity member candidate.
"I'm not exactly fearless. But my mom says not many people my age could go on stage in front of 1,000 people," Trey said as he sat on the floor of a rented St. Charles gym, stretching his legs before joining the crowd of "newsboys" rehearsing athletic dances.
The preteen said he got the showbiz bug after one of his mom's friends told her that the Paramount Theatre in Aurora was looking for children to play small roles in "The Wizard of Oz." Trey landed a role as a Lollipop Guild member "and I enjoyed it so much I wanted to do more," he said.
After "Newsies" he will be acting for pay in "Oliver" at the Marriott Lincolnshire Theater this fall.
"I saw the movie version of 'Newsies' on TV and fell in love with it," Trey said. While he never got the chance to deliver newspapers from his bike, much less hawk them on a city street like the "newsie" he plays, he said that "my cousin is 22 and he delivers papers with his car. And at school we learned about child labor."
"There is a love story but this play is about standing up to The Man," said Barrett, who plays a disabled newsie named Crutchie. "You see the power of young people standing up for what they believe in, just as people today are speaking out for many things -- for equal rights, against gun violence."
"He's the team mascot. Everybody loves Crutchie," laughed Metcalf, who plays Jack, the strike's ringleader.
When Barrett admitted that he has never seen the movie "Newsies," starring a young Christian Bale, Metcalf seemed shocked.
"I grew up on that movie!" he said. "It was always on the Disney Channel and I loved Jack totally. I never imagined that some day I'd get to play him."
If you goWhat: "Newsies," a comedy-musical-drama produced by Marquee Mainstage Productions
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10; 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 11
Where: The Hemmens Cultural Center, 45 Symphony Way, Elgin
Tickets: Available online at www.marqueemainstage.org. For a limited time, use the promo code marquee2019 for $10 tickets. Otherwise, online advance sales are $14 for students and seniors, $16 for adults. For group sales of 10 or more, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets at the door will be $15 for students and seniors, $18 for adults.
Details: www.marqueemainstage.org, email email@example.com or call (630) 762-0354