Area children learn from professionals in ‘Newsies’

Local children rehearse for the musical “Newsies” at Masuk High School in Monroe.
Local children rehearse for the musical “Newsies” at Masuk High School in Monroe.

Nine-year-old Aislyn Reilly of Redding said she is “really good” at accents.

Aislyn was able to demonstrate her New York accent last weekend, and will do so again this weekend, starring as a Bronx newsie in the musical “Newsies.”

“Newsies,” which debuted last weekend, will run Friday, Aug. 10, at 7 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 11, at 2 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 12, at 2 p.m., at Masuk High School, 1014 Monroe Turnpike, Monroe. To purchase tickets, call 352-639-2782 or visit newarts.org.

More than 100 children and young adults from ages 5 to 23 are in the production. They come from Newtown, Sandy Hook, Brookfield, Monroe, Southbury, Bethel, Berlin, Ansonia, Woodbury, New Milford, Ridgefield, Redding, Middlebury and New Fairfield, as well as New York City.

“Newsies” is based on the actual newsboys’ strike of 1899, which helped protect future young workers through the initiation of unions and child labor laws.

Redding residents at a rehearsal for “Newsies”: Finnean Swedrock, bottom left; Siobhan Reilly, top left; Matthew Farina (teacher at Redding Elementary School) center; Phoebe Swedrock, top right; Aislyn Reilly, bottom right.
Redding residents at a rehearsal for “Newsies”: Finnean Swedrock, bottom left; Siobhan Reilly, top left; Matthew Farina (teacher at Redding Elementary School) center; Phoebe Swedrock, top right; Aislyn Reilly, bottom right.

The original choreography for “Newsies” was adapted from Christopher Gattelli’s Tony Award-winning Broadway production of the musical.

Children in the performance are taught by professionals from all over the country including music director Jim Abbott, who was the dance music arranger for “Wicked.”  

“Newsies” is the 11th production by Newtown’s NewArts and the 1214 Foundation.

NewArts is a nonprofit organization that provides students with interactive learning experiences.

The 1214 Foundation was formed by Newtown doctor and father Michael Baroody in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy, to offer the children of his community a safe place to be creative and become empowered.

The first show was in 2013 and there have been 11 productions in total. Everyone gets a role in the productions but auditions are required in order to determine who gets what part.

Empowering children

According to NewArts Producing Artistic Director Michael Unger, the goal of the productions is to “empower children and make them great leaders through high level performing arts activities and character development workshops.”

This is Aislyn’s first year in a NewArts and 1214 Foundation production.

At a recent rehearsal at Masuk High School, she said she likes all the singing and dancing she gets to do in the chorus — both of which she has done previously.

“I was in the chorus at Redding Elementary School so I did singing before,” Aislyn said. “Also, I used to do ballerina dancing in Georgetown.”

However, she said the dancing in “Newsies” is very different from what she’s done before. “It’s more like hip-hop,” she said.

Another “fun” part of being in “Newsies,” according to Aislyn, is “getting the chance to play a boy,” since boy roles far outnumber girl roles in the production.

“I think it’s kind of cool being able to dress up as a boy,” said Aislyn, who wears her brown hair tucked into a cap for the show. “It’s not every day that you get to be a boy.”

“Newsies” is the fourth production by this group for Redding resident Phoebe Swedrock, who is also 9.

Phoebe said she looked forward to coming to rehearsal every day.

“Most people think summer is about the beach, but I like spending my summer where I’m still getting my energy out with all my friends,” she said. “I get to make something I’m proud of and I like.”

With each production Phoebe has been in, she said her confidence increased.

“Until this year, I was scared of talking to kids who are older than me, but now I’m not,” she said.

Aislyn’s sister Siobhan, 7, said while “Newsies” is her first production, she “definitely” wants to be in more in the future.

The part Siobhan found the most difficult while rehearsing was getting on and off stage quickly.

“I have to run to a spot in five seconds, from another spot,” she said, adding that others have to do this as well.

Siobhan said she has gained so much experience from being in the production that she can be a “role model” for “kids younger than me — kids who are 5 and 6.”

Phoebe’s brother Finnean, 6, said he knew he wanted to be in “Newsies” after watching his sister’s performances.

The scene in the show where “people are going on strike” was Finn’s favorite.

“They want to go on strike because the price of the papers was raised,” Finn said.

He added he wants to be “an actor on Broadway” when he grows up.

Avery

Avery Siburn, 12, of Ridgefield, plays a “main” newsie named Henry, who is a teenager.

She said she likes what the show is about and the effect some of the songs have on the student actors.

“‘Newsies’” is about all these kids demanding a place at the table,” Avery said. “It’s cool because there is one empowering song called Once and For All, and whenever we hear it, all of us start crying. We are all so emotional.”

Avery has also starred in School of Rock, A Christmas Carol, Willy Wonka, A Christmas Carol, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

She said she was happy to get the chance to train with professional actor Chaz Wolcott, who was in “Newsies” on Broadway.

“He came in and taught us some of the dancing,” Avery said. “He was always so enthusiastic about the dances, and if we didn’t get a step he wouldn’t get mad at us and he said let’s take it slow.”

Monroe resident Delia Cass, 15, who plays a nun and is in the ensemble choir, said NewArts productions such as “Newsies” show the “power of teamwork.”

“It teaches us that working as a group makes us stronger, like in the song ‘Brooklyn’s Here,’ where all the neighborhoods in New York City come together to build a strong and powerful force that helps them win in the end,” Delia said.

Redding resident Catherine Vecchiarelli, Finnean and Phoebe’s mother, said both her children have gained a lot of confidence from being in the NewArts productions.

“These shows are going to lay a foundation for them, no matter what they do in life,” she said. “The children are held to a very high expectation for the performance.”

She said while mistakes happen all the time in theater, such as missing a cue or line, a fire alarm going off in the middle of a scene or someone getting sick backstage, “the kids come right back and pick up where they left off.”

“It’s been an amazing experience for them, and it’s great that we have this opportunity in our little community,” Vecchiarelli said.

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