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Superior Arts Youth Theater’s production of ‘Newsies Jr.’ delivers

The Superior Arts Youth Theater’s production of “Newsies Jr.” runs at 7 p.m. today and Saturday with two matinee shows at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It takes place at the Forest Roberts Theatre on Northern Michigan University’s campus. (Courtesy photo)

Under the brilliant direction of Susan Candey — with assistant Taylor Koski — 60-plus children dance, flip and leap across the stage telling the story of Jack Kelly (played by Sam Billman) and friends, most of whom live on the streets and live only from the pennies they earn selling newspapers in turn-of-the-20th-century New York in “Newsies Jr.”

The show opens with a beautiful duet between Jack and his best friend brother Crutchie (Asa Naigus) dreaming of moving to Santa Fe. Both Billman and Naigus are no strangers to the stage and boy, does it show. Billman does a fantastic job portraying the complex character of Jack Kelly, who is lovable yet cocky. He sings effortlessly and beautifully. Naigus brings some comedy to his character, which is very appreciated and necessary as his nickname refers to his gimp leg. Both of their voices pair exquisitely, making this duet the perfect way to begin the show, waking up the city — and the rest of the newsies.

The energy onstage immediately sky-rockets as everyone partakes in a string of awe-inspiring, dance-intensive group numbers. Jill Grundstrom does another magnificent job in choreographing this challenging production, with the help of Liz Caputo. The choreography at times left me speechless, wondering how Grundstrom and Caputo manage to get 60-plus people — let alone children — all perfectly aligned doing such entertaining choreography.

The story follows the newsies as they begin to form a union to combat the modern-day Goliath, Joseph Pulitzer (portrayed by Daniel Politi) as he selfishly raises the prices of papers for the newsies to sell without so much as a word to the kids. Politi embodies Pulitzer wonderfully. His voice and physique make this child-playing-adult not only believable but enjoyable. As the story continues, Jack and his friends, Davey and Les Jacobs (played by Camden Larson and Jack Johnson respectively), form an unlikely alliance with reporter Katherine Plumber (flawlessly played by Karen Ludwig), who is ultimately searching for something to believe in. Camden Larson was an all-around showstopper and Jack Johnson will melt your heart with his one-liners. Ludwig’s confidence and maturity connected perfectly with her character. She looked and sang just beautifully, and her sarcastic appeal made her all around very likable onstage. Medda Larkin (Mariah Bonner) was another character whose scenes steal the show and you will quickly fall in love with. Bonner is charming and her vocals are very impressive.

Not only did the show look fantastic, but musically the entire production sounded fantastic. Jeff Bruning, as always, works wonders on musical productions and this is no exception. From Jack Kelly down to the tiniest newsie, every child onstage sang with passion and precision. One of my favorite songs from Newsies is “One for All and All for One” and that phrase rings especially true in this cast. A few standout performers include: Baux Truckey as Finch, Alexxus Taavola as Mush, and Tatum Larson as Specs. Both Samuel McKnight (Albert) and Canyon Medina (Racetrack Higgins) were also a joy to watch. Medina, specifically entertains with his comedy and wows with his voice. The cast as a whole was very polished and their energy is really tested as they dance and run up and down the streets and staircases of New York. The set design by Steve McClain is very interesting and intricate. The use of scaffolding and staircases really made the city come alive, especially when lit by Kim Hegmegee’s lighting design. The entire production looked very sharp and stellar, including Suzanne Shahbazi’s costume design, which is no surprise.

As in all Disney movies, the story is a happy one that you will not want to miss! So Watch What Happens and Seize the Day, get your tickets before they sell out! “Newsies Jr.” runs at 7 p.m. today and Saturday with two matinee shows at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are on sale now online at https://tickets.nmu.edu, by phone at 906-227-1032, or in person at all NMU EZ Ticket Outlets.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Eliisa Gladwell is a local actor, choreographer and director.