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Elkhart's Premier Arts Preparing To Stage First Amateur Production Of Newsies

Jennifer Weingart


After winning the rights in an online contest, Premier Arts in Elkhart is set to open this weekend on the first amateur production of Disney’s Newsies.

At the beginning of tech week the cast and crew are pulling together Newsies only a week after The Little Mermaid. They’ve only had the rights since March.

“The Little Mermaid was a gorgeous show with the lights and the sound and the sets and everything and this is a complete departure and we certainly worked hard to make it look nothing like last weekend. It’s very important to me that people don’t walk in and say ‘yeah, well we saw that last weekend,” said Premier Arts Executive Artistic Director Craig Gibson.

And Newsies is a big deal in theatre circles. The Disney movie came out in 1992, it became a broadway musical 20 years later.

The show is based off the 1899 New York newsboy strike. Newspaper publishers raised the cost of papers, so the news boys who sold the paper formed a union and went on strike.

In the musical, with much singing and dancing and help from a reporter, the newsies get the publishers’ attention.

Credit Jennifer Weingart
The newsies line up on stage to sing during the beginning of the show at the Lerner Theatre in Elkhart

With so much time between the movie, broadway musical and amateur rights, a lot of musical fans, including Gibson, wondered if they’d ever get a chance to perform it.

“I loved it from always and then when I started working in a professional capacity in theatre I was like, this would be such a great show and I wanted to do it and wanted to do it and they kept saying no, no, no," Gibson said he wrote Disney once a week for a while. "And then finally just said 'stop writing us!'”

So having the first amateur production of a show like Newsies is exciting for Premier Arts. Grace Deaton plays Katherine Plumber, the reporter that helps the newsies.

“When I was younger I watched Newsies every time I spent the night at one of my best friend’s house, every single time we watched it because we loved Christian Bale, obviously," Deaton recalled. "So it’s crazy to be in it now. It’s really exciting.”

That excitement comes with pressure. Zak Harrington plays the lead, Jack Kelly. “If anything it’s very exciting but extremely, kind of nerve wracking at the same time," Harrington said. "Because you have that word of the ‘first’ an awful lot and so you don’t wanna be the one that screws it up.”

In addition to being the first amateur production, Premier Arts also won the free rights to Newsies in a contest by Playbill. They made a videoand mustered up a huge group of people to vote for them.

Tanner Smale plays Davey in the show and is Premier Arts’ social media coordinator.

“We made a facebook page the ‘Michiana Newsies Vote Warriors’ I checked today, it still has 966 members in the group," Smale said. "That thing exploded. And out of the two million votes that the entire contest received, Premier Arts received over one million of those.”

Gibson said one of the reasons they staged it so quickly was because of the contest.

“It was definitely something that we won and then we decided very quickly that we would put it into this year’s schedule because we could have waited until next year and made it something but getting all the energy from those voters that Tanner was talking about and the synergy around the win and we felt like we needed to do it, strike while the iron was hot kind of thing.”

He said even with the pressure of being the first and the contest, they’re treating it like any other musical.

“It’s obviously a great honor to be the first license in the country and all of that, but really we’ve not approached it any differently than we do any other show in the line up here and so we just continually set the bar, try to set it higher each time and become more professional looking and more polished.”

Newsies opens on Friday at the Lerner, with performances on Friday and Saturday at 7, and matinees Saturday and Sunday at 3.