Cast and crew of Newsies are bringing Broadway, and organized labour, to the R.E.M. Lee Theatre Dec. 8, 9 and 10. (Submitted photo)

Cast and crew of Newsies are bringing Broadway, and organized labour, to the R.E.M. Lee Theatre Dec. 8, 9 and 10. (Submitted photo)

Newsies take the fight to high school musical

Caledonia Secondary takes on labour rights in the newspaper business

Based on the Broadway musical ‘Newsies’, this year’s Caledonia Senior Secondary’s musical touches on themes of labour and social justice that student Ann Purita says are relevant to this day. The musical follows the New York City newsboy strike of 1899 by newspaper carriers — newsies, who took on news moguls William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, at a time when child labour was the norm.

Provoked by what Hearst and Pulitzer charged them for a newspaper bundle, the boys, some as young as six and seven, refused to sell their publishers’ papers and went on strike, effectively crippling distribution.

The show goes on at the R.E.M. Lee Theatre, Dec. 8, 9 and 10. Purita, who is described by a classmate as one of the backbones of the production, built sets and props and did a lot of the costuming.

She also plays the role of Pulitzer’s secretary, who is quietly sympathetic to the newsies’ plight.

“I think the message is really important, especially in this day and age, with the civil rights movement theme. I think it’s super relevant to everything that’s happening in the world,” said Purita.

“At risk of sounding like a cliché, it’s the whole state of the economy,” she added, noting that she would “absolutely” go on strike herself if faced with a situation like that.

“The newsies were being paid incredibly unfair wages considering their working hours.”

Halle Classen plays Joseph Pulitzer’s daughter Katherine, who is sympathetic to the newsies, goes by the alias surname Plumber in reporting for her father’s publication, The New York World.

At the time it was common for women to use pseudonyms and even so they were often consigned to the social pages. Hard news was seen as a man’s job. Women, when employed at all, mostly wrote about entertainment.

“She’s trying to find her own way in the world and not just stay in her father’s shadow,” Classen explains.

“She’s trying to be her own person and get out there instead of just going with what society tells women they should be. Men in this time treat them like they’re useless. If women now want to go out and be writers they can. These people back then really had to work hard so that now we can do that.”

Classen is also an accomplished dancer and she is helping with the choreography, while teaching her cohort to tap dance. “You tell a lot of the story through the dancing. You can show a lot of the story without actually saying anything.”

Main choreographer Reagan Ippel also grew up on the stage. Having graduated, she said so it’s really nice to be back “with all the kiddos.”

“This is where I love to be. We have a week and a half to go and things are coming along.”

Keyaira Conway plays four roles, her favourite being that of Pulitzer’s insightful secretary.

“I have a line about Teddy Roosevelt where I essentially challenge my boss who is calling Teddy Roosevelt a socialist, and the line is ‘Teddy Roosevelt is no socialist, he’s an American hero,’ ” said Conway.

“I think it’s really cool to also be doing the play and get to learn about what it was like for those children, who were based off of real people back in the 1890s.”

Miles Hughes plays both supporting antagonist Morris Delancey and one of the striking news boys. Both are roles that help carry some of the other performers in the show.

“I’m more comfortable with my singing now,” said Hughes. “I think it’s really fun to play the bad guy.”

Caledonia teacher and show producer Graham Wojdak said there’s a tradition of musicals at Caledonia going back decades.

“I’m really excited by the meaningful content in it. Lots of lessons there about equality that we are still hearing and trying to solve. There’s a pile of teachable, thoughtful moments in the show.

“We’re working hard and we’re trying to bring Broadway to our Caledonia stage as best we can.”


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