Since opening its doors in Duarte in August 2017, the California School of the Arts-San Gabriel Valley has created opportunities to develop a career in a wide array of performing arts for middle and high school students far from the heart of Hollywood.
This weekend, the school will be presenting its most ambitious production yet, bringing the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Newsies” to life in an “all-school musical,” featuring a cast of 40 student actors and an all-student orchestra at Glendale Community College’s Mainstage Theatre.
The family-friendly musical tells the story of the 1899 Newsboy Strike in New York City, providing an inspiring story of friendship, hope and strength in numbers. Initially created as a movie musical released by Disney in 1992, the film bombed, but it developed a huge cult fan base on home video before eventually being mounted as a smash-hit Broadway production. According to Jay Wallace, who serves as both the play’s director and the chairman of the school’s theater department, “Newsies” will serve as the school’s biggest unveiling of its talented student body yet.
“This is the second version of an annual event we call the all-school musical, which opens the production for auditions by students from all 10 of our conservatories,” says Wallace. “Last year, we did ‘Pippin’ as our first, and that was more dark and serious. This show is probably something that our students are more familiar with since it’s originally a Disney product, energetic, athletic and a tremendous amount of fun.”
“Newsies” is renowned for its highly creative and athletic dance numbers, requiring endurance and hard work from all performers. The performance is helping students to grow across disciplines, according to Alson Dambach, the show’s choreographer and CSArts-SGV chair of dance.
“I always encourage our students to develop their skills in dancing, singing and acting, knowing how difficult it is to do all three at once,” said Dambach. “It takes a lot of breath support and stamina to get through a typical musical, and in ‘Newsies’ there’s no holding back on the dancing. The cast dances through scenes, through transitions, on top of tables. You name it, they do it. Our students are so superb that they’ve stepped right up to the plate from the first day of auditions and have built the confidence to perform this very physical show.”
The fact that this is such a huge production inspired Wallace to mount the show at GCC’s Mainstage Theatre, since its 400 seats will enable a much larger audience to see the show than in CSArts-SGV’s own facilities. But putting on the show outside the Duarte campus is also a reflection of the show’s relevance to the outside world.
“As a theater director, we always strive to find relevance in any production we mount,” says Wallace. “It’s important for students to reflect in a way that they gain perspective. It’s more of a parallel to look at ‘Newsies’ from a sense of power and oppression over people of lesser status who are marginalized, and the power of community and brother/sisterhood and how that can band together to make an impact.
“There were actually girls who were part of these newsies, kids living on the street selling newspapers to survive, being taken advantage of by these powerhouse companies,” he continues. “They got tired of it, decided to take a stand and went on strike. They went on strike as children and forced the hand of publishing companies for higher wages. There’s a relevance to society in general, plus falling in love, finding yourself and your place in society, and your voice.” n
“Newsies” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Glendale Community College’s Mainstage Theatre, 1500 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale. Tickets are $25 in advance, or $30 at the door. Visit sgv.csarts.net/boxoffice.