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Draper Journal

Extra! Extra! Draper Historic Theatre presents the musical ‘Newsies’

Feb 29, 2024 02:20PM ● By Katherine Weinstein

Jared Gaskill and Hanna Saunders-Smith play Jack Kelly and Katherine Pulitzer, respectively, in the Draper Historic Theatre production of “Newsies.” (Photo by Ashley Loewer/Draper Historic Theatre)

The stage musical “Newsies” is arguably one of the most popular shows in Utah. Just last year it was performed as part of the Broadway at the Eccles series in Salt Lake City and again at Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy. The version presented this month at Draper Historic Theatre will be a bit different from those larger productions. As actor T. J. Thomas explained, “Seeing this show in an intimate theater like this one lets you get swept up in the energy of the story. You can feel the heartbeat of the show when you’re so close to the audience.”

Director Derrick Cain said that mounting this production in a smaller space has been a challenge, but also rewarding. "It's a big show with a lot of moving parts," he said. "But it's been fun because it requires creativity and problem-solving to make a bigger show work on this stage.”

Thomas, one of the actors who plays the lead role of Jack Kelly, added, "You have this really young core group of people, everyone working together to make this big thing. It's a scrappy little production, kind of like the newsies."

As most productions at Draper Historic Theatre are double-cast, Jared Gaskill also plays Kelly. "The story itself is based on a true story," he said. The stage musical version of “Newsies” is based on the 1992 Disney film which was in turn inspired by the historic Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City. 

"Newsies" or “newsboys” sold newspapers on the streets of New York City in the 19th and early 20th century. Most lived in poverty and had no recourse when newspaper publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst decided to increase the amount they had to pay for the papers they sold. When the newsies organized and refused to sell the papers owned by Pulitzer and Hearst, the publishing giants were forced to agree to buy back unsold papers from the newsboys. 

In the musical, things get even more complicated when Pulitzer’s daughter, Katherine—who aspires to be a reporter herself—falls in love with strike leader Jack Kelly and joins the newsies’ cause. “She plays a big role in the strike and their victory,” Gaskill said. 

Hannah Spencer, who plays Katherine, said of the character, “She is very strong and very sure of herself. She understands she has a lot of work to do to prove herself and she is willing to do it.” 

When the wealthy Katherine meets Jack Kelly, her feelings take her by surprise. In the end, though, “he helps Katherine find a way to channel her purpose,” she said. 

Spencer described the overall theme of the show. “It’s about how a group of individuals can come together for a cause,” she said. “It’s about youth coming together and demanding a place at the table.”

“The big overarching theme is the importance of family,” Cain said, referring to the newsies coming together as a chosen family. 

Several of the actors spoke of how the cast members also feel like one big family. Jagger Weichers, who plays Jack Kelly’s friend and fellow newsboy Davey, has performed in over 12 shows at Draper Historic Theatre over the years. “It feels like family every time I do a show, it’s amazing,” he said. 

“I’m enjoying the camaraderie we have as a cast and in the incredible direction from our production team,” Spencer said.

Cain explained that the Draper Historic Theatre production of “Newsies” is unique in other ways, namely in its choreography. “We’re telling the story through dance,” he said. “I’m also more of a comedic director. We try to find the comedy in a scene.” 

Weichers added, “This show is a lot crazier than other shows we’ve done here. There’s a lot of tap dancing in this show, a big cast, a lot of singing, dancing, romance, drama—it’s awesome!” 

Draper Historic Theatre presents “Newsies: The Musical” March 10 through 30. Performances are on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday evenings at 7 p.m. with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. The theater is located at 12366 S. 900 East. For tickets, visit λ