There is a buzz around Lancaster about the Fulton Theatre’s production of Disney’s Newsies. I cannot stress this enough, if you have not seen this show yet go get your tickets. It is an amazing and high energy production, and one of the best shows I have ever seen at the Fulton. It is a show that draws you into the story, and lifts your spirits at the same time. In addition, this cast is exceptional, it is my favorite cast I have seen so far in this show.
I had the opportunity to speak with Matt Farcher (Jack), Kate Fahrner(Katherine) and Justin Schuman (Davey) about the show and what it is like doing this first regional production of Newsies. In addition, I spoke with them about the popularity of the show and why regional theatre is important.
Kelli Curtin: Could you tell me a little about Newsies and what audiences can expect?
Matt Farcher: The basic story is that it is 1899 and it is the first time kids have fought for any type of rights or labor union laws. It is basically this brotherhood that is just taking on the rich people of the time even though the kids have just pennies in their pockets. It is a very David and Goliath type story. It is a show where you get to watch these kids try to fight those who are doing them injustice and triumph.
Kate Fahrner: These kids show strength and are standing up to others.
Justin Schuman: When people from Lancaster come out and see this show they will see something by definition that is spectacular and exciting with all the dance and talent that Marc [Robin] has assembled. Marc put a lot of work into specifying storylines for everyone in the show, which really forced us to do our homework with our character’s backstory and figuring out what happened to us arriving in this place in New York in 1899. I really think that as an audience member you get to sit and watch every single person whether it is a principal or ensemble member grow and develop throughout the course of the show. I even enjoy having the opportunity to watch fellow cast members specify and live in their stories. I really think this is a very specific experience the audiences in Lancaster get and that may not be the case everywhere.
Kate Fahrner: It is interesting because the people that I personally know that come to see this show they do come for the spectacle – they come for the dancing and the brilliant talent and visuals of it. People leave saying how surprised they are that they are emotionally moved so much during different parts of the show, and they are surprised how much this show touches them. This is what we want. This show is a really important story about standing up for what you deserve and fighting for that even when you are the lowest on the totem pole. Currently, we are at a pretty important time in the United States right now with what we are going through, so Newsies is very timely and it is exciting to tell the story about kids fighting against injustice. It is a different time, the kids depicted in this show are living on the streets and fighting to sell newspapers and for their rights.
Kelli: Newsies is a show that many people know rather well. How do you prepare to play a role that so many people are so familiar with? How do you put your own spin on your characters?
Matt: I would say for myself and probably the Newsies, we spent a whole afternoon just talking about myself as Jack and the rest of the Newsies and our relationship, and how everyone came to be. We closed the doors and isolated ourselves and talked about these characters. It was all about creating our own take on these characters and creating a backstory. No one tried to emulate things that have been done before, and it is great we had the chance to create our own take on these characters.
Justin: The way I approach this and any type of text is by looking at myself, how I was taught and what always made sense to me. You have to come from yourself first you have to look at some of the similarities between you and your character. For example, with Davy I know what it is like to feel like an outsider, and I apply that to the character. In addition, every night I have the opportunity to watch Matt who in real life I admire for his charisma and confidence, and in the show we get to portray that we are building this relationship, and every night it feels real. That is because I actually really identify with Davy in the same way that Matt identifies with Jack.
Matt: Another thing too, especially with this show, is that the three of us here are so good at being ourselves and adding little characteristics that the journey onstage is similar every night, but every moment is a little bit different or a little bit new. We are very good about listening to each other and being present and bringing realness to the story and our characters.
Kate: It is interesting for me because I grew up obsessed with the original movie. The one character I did not like and the songs I did not like were from the reporter, and here I am playing the same character. It is interesting for me because I did not really know the show, I did see Newsies at Paper Mill Playhouse before it went to Broadway. At first, I could not get passed that it started differently than the movie and that the words were different. However, I did not see the show again, and I never thought I would actually be in it. When I auditioned for Marc for a different show he asked if I knew Katherine’s song from Newsies, and at the time I did not. I was shocked he wanted me to play Katherine. I had fun through the audition process and we continue to have fun throughout the show. I love the songs I get to sing.
Kelli: Newsies has a huge fan base. What has the response been like from the audience?
Matt: I would say it has been an interesting mix of energy. The final result is always great. Some audiences get hooked in from the beginning with the dancing and energy, and the applause is nuts after every song because they are right there with us. And, then there are other audiences that are very reserved because they are just taking it all in and following the story. They are following the story, but those audiences are quiet because I think they are so immersed in the story. At the end though the applause is nuts, and everyone loves the show.
Justin: The end result is usually always the same – huge applause and people are up on their feet. At the end of the show there is always massive energy from the audience.
Kate: It never feels like the audience is missing. Sometimes you can do plays and you can get the feeling that the audience has checked out. It never feels that way from the audiences of Newsies.
Justin: We never break the fourth wall during the show, but we sort of utilize the audience to remind them they are not just there as this passive spectator. For example, during Medda Larkin’s song they get to be participants in her burlesque number. The audience is right there with us during the show.
Kelli: Newsies is based on the 1992 Disney movie and the musical premiered six year ago. Why do you think this show is so popular?
Matt: Newsies is a show that is unique with its high energy dance and a really wonderful storyline. Also, the whole theme of brotherhood is a huge selling point. People can either get lost in the dancing, the set and the music or they can get lost in the storyline of these boys and who they are going to let into their group throughout the show. People root for Katherine, but she is sort of sassy throughout the show, so people wonder if they should be rooting for her or not. Also, Davy comes along and he presents himself as though he is not one of the newsies, he is just there to help support his family. I think the dynamic of it all has people relate to the show.
Kate: I also think there is someone for everyone to understand. There are so my different kind of people in Newsies from so many different backgrounds in this one show. As an audience member you get to look at all these different characters and figure out who you are going to take the journey with.
Justin: One of the reasons this is so popular is the release of the movie, the Gotham film where they taped members of the original cast in California that was released in theatres for a limited engagement made more people familiar with it. Also, Jeremy Jordan has always had this huge following, so people are aware of the show because of him. However, the show was on Broadway and then it toured for a while, so it had the chance to affect all these different places around the country. You also have to look at social media and a lot of the original cast was using social media to promote the show. For instance, people could go look at Tommy Bracco’s [member of original cast] images on Instagram and follow him and like his photos, so a lot of people look at that and feel that he is their friend. We have the ability now to identify with people on social media, so we see what people are doing all the time, and that gives us the illusion that these actors or reality stars are our friends. This show is accessible to a lot of people because of social media, and people are so familiar with this show because of that and that was not the case in many other shows. This show has stayed so relevant, and it still feels topical.
Matt: It is also kind of one of those show similar to Spring Awakening or Dear Evan Hansen where it is the age of the achievable thing where most of the people in that fan group are the age of the newsies or the actors on the stage. People have the revelation that these professional actors onstage are exactly my age. They think to themselves that they can be in a Broadway show or on a tour because they see the ages of the actors in the show. They see the people in the show as peers instead of someone who is older and has a lot of experience.
Kelli: I feel like Broadway shows tend to lack a leading female character who is strong and independent. Kate, what is it like to play Katherine, a really strong female character?
Kate: First, it is awesome to play Katherine. It is true, there are not many strong female leading characters. What is interesting is I just finished doing a play where I was not playing a strong character, I was playing a character who was a church congregant who was on food stamps, and everyone thought I should be weak and unattractive. And I remember thinking, just because someone is on food stamps does not mean that they cannot own nice things or be attractive. However, this character ended up being the person that stood up for herself. Personally, no matter what play I do I try to make someone in the audience think something new. Playing Katherine, it is fun playing her, and I love the way she comes out in her dress in act two with the buttons all fastened like the men of the time do. I never want to go onstage and play a character that is not strong and feels less than the men onstage. I really have been lucky because I either have played villains or people who are strong. That is just part of me, we cannot change who we are as people and as actors we will always be part of the characters onstage even if it is just a little bit.
Matt: I want to chime in on this for a minute. It is fun to watch and listen to Kate play Katherine every night. Almost every interaction that Katherine and Jack have she ends up winning. It may not always seem that way, but she always has the last word and the last say. Even towards the end when she says, “this would be a good time to shut up,” audiences always cheer. Katherine has the best and most thought out plan, and actual victory comes from her idea. It is such a cool way to integrate a female character that is totally dominated by guys.
Kelli: Could you talk a little about the importance of live theatre, as well as why regional theatre is important.
Kate: For me, as an actor, regional theatre is important because it is a full family. We start together, we do the run together and we end the run together. That is not something you get in long running shows. You are taken out of your home, so we create a community in a really short amount of time. As an actor, I think it is exciting to be able to create together, let it grow together, and end together. That version is never going to be again. Also, regional theatre is so great to be able to bring theatre to people who do not see theatre. There are so many people who hear about a show, and those people buy tickets and go see a show they have never seen before because it is being done in the town where they live. With going to a Broadway show people have to decide to buy the tickets, travel there and pay a lot of money to see a show.
Matt: Most people’s first show is not usually a Broadway show unless you actually live in New York City. The first time you are seeing a live musical or play is usually near your hometown. Regional theatre is an achievable access to live theatre. I had a director once tell me that every show is a person’s first show and another person’s last show. You do not know who you are affecting and how you are affecting them. It is important to remember that even though you are seeing a show in Lancaster, Pennsylvania does not mean that you are not seeing a Broadway caliber show, a lot of times there are Broadway veterans in those shows. Regional theatre is access for more people to see more shows that tell beautiful stories, and regional theatre brings Art to everyone.
Justin: Kate and Matt answered this perfectly. The points I would add is that as an actor the opportunity to see other parts of the country and experience other cultures is amazing. I love to try different places to eat, and in Lancaster I have really enjoyed the different restaurants I have had the opportunity to try. In addition, as I am exploring Lancaster I tell people I am in Newsies, and I am frequently asked if this is what I want to do for a living. What people do not seem to understand is that I am doing it and I am a professional actor. A lot of people seem not to realize that they have an amazing regional theatre here. My experience at the Fulton and with this group of people has been so great. If I can explain the importance of regional theatre and being a working actor and change one person’s perception then that excites me greatly. There really seems to be such a misconception about working actors.
Matt Farcher, Kate Fahrner and Justin Schuman can be seen in Newsies at the Fulton Theatre through July 23, 2017. For more information and tickets please visit their website at www.thefulton.org or call the box office at 717-397-7425.
Photo Credit: Kinectiv
Kelli Curtin is founding editor and writer for theatresensation.com. She has maintained a love of the performing arts since a very early age and she is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.