Disney's "Newsies, The Musical" is 16-year-old Alex Armstrong's dream show.
Inspired by the real-life "Newsboy Strike of 1899," "Newsies" follows Jack Kelly, a charismatic newsboy and leader of a ragged band of New York City teens who sold newspapers on the street under the worst circumstances and pay imaginable.
When titans of publishing raise distribution prices at the newsboys' expense, Jack Kelly rallies the "newsies" from across the city to strike against unfair conditions and change the course of the nation's history with development of child labor laws that still protect children today.
When Armstrong found out Capital City Productions had secured rights to present the two-time Tony Award-winning show a Central Missouri premiere June 14-16, 21-23 and 28-30, he knew he had to be in it.
"I thought, 'I am setting everything else aside for this,'" Armstrong said with smile.
Having performed in five other CCP shows and countless other school and community productions, Armstrong was anxious to get the lead role of Jack Kelly. So was Tim Bommel, a Capital City Productions newcomer but a 22-year-old veteran area actor and singer.
"When I saw him audition I was like if he gets Jack, I can't be mad because he is so good," Armstrong said with a laugh.
Armstrong was cast as Jack and Bommel as Davey, a young man who along with his little brother, Les, played by Jonah Lanigan, become newsies through Jack's encouragement to support their family after Davey's father loses his job. Director Rob Crouse chose those two lead roles for distinctive reasons.
"If you meet Tim, he is — not that Alex isn't — a kind, nurturing, caring person. When he read this, I thought I could see him taking care of a little brother on the streets," Crouse said. "Alex has a different sensibility about him and is a true leader."
Building their friendship off and on stage through their fight for what's right, Armstrong and Bommel see how their characters reflect their personalities as strong, young men.
"When people watch him on stage, you are drawn to him. I want to be his friend," Armstrong said. "Tim is also so nice and so cool and genuine as a person; you want to be his friend."
"Conversely, Alex is such a good fit for Jack because he has taken that role of getting people to show up, stay on track and is a very charismatic person off stage as well," Bommel said.
With a cast of 70 strong, Armstrong and Bommel take on those same leadership roles to help guide the immense number of young actors who are constantly rehearsing dance routines, classic songs from Alan Menken and Jack Feldman like "Carrying the Banner" "Seize the Day" and "Santa Fe," and elaborate Broadway-quality moving set complete with a 19th-century working printing press secured from The Legacy Theatre in Springfield, Illinois, and parts recreated locally to match.
"With a cast of 70, I told them I am going to have to depend on you all to be leaders and help with everyone," Crouse said. "It is a very high-energy, acrobatic, athletic show; and the set is a character of its own. There are so many moving parts to this, if they are not focused for a second, they could smack into a set, they could not be where they need to be and not be able to get down. But it is amazing how they have taken on that role."
Crouse, a longtime director, actor and supporter of Capital City Productions, was delighted to return to directing at the local theater after overcoming health problems.
"I couldn't have been more blessed to come back to a production that I couldn't love doing more and with a cast I love doing it with," he said, noting girl and boy "newsies" join the local cast, which varies from the 1992 film and Broadway musical that debuted in 2012.
Armstrong and Bommel agree, working alongside other lead characters like Katherine Plumber, played by Andrea Baker, and one of Jack's best friends, Crutchie, played by Troy Ludwig, as well as many other actors, gymnasts and dancers that round out the cast.
Each of the characters goes through their own journey in "Newsies," and Crouse said many learn something about themselves and others.
"Tim and Jonah's character had a family. At first, Davey didn't want them to have anything to do with these scum from the streets. But then he learned and became educated about them, finding out what neat people they are and vice versa," he said.
"It is beautiful if you watch it. They have done a great job in how you have the knowing of their lives have been miserable but the show is such a celebration of joy it is a beautiful combination. That is why I love this show so much."
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Crouse, Armstrong, Bommel and everyone involved also feel this show has a timeless message but one that has significant relevance today, as children are rising up to make a difference.
At the end of the show, Teddy Roosevelt says, "Each generation at the height of their power must make way for the young and let them share the day." You are not going to get anything done focusing just on who is in power now," Armstrong said. "You have to teach the young people how to take charge. We are young and it is empowering."
Evening performances begin with doors opening at 6 p.m., a buffet dinner from Argyle Catering served at 6:30 p.m. and the show starting at 7:30 p.m. Saturday matinee performances begin with doors opening at 11:30 a.m., dinner served at noon and the show starting at 1 p.m. The theater is located at 1200 Linden Drive in Jefferson City.
More than half of the tickets for the production of "Newsies" are sold out with fewer than 500 tickets remaining. For more information or to reserve tickets, call 573-681-9612 or visit capitalcityproductions.org.