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'Seize the Day' at Summerstock’s production of Newsies

Great Mills, MD - The St. Mary’s County Recreation and Parks is in the midst of preparing for their annual Summerstock theater production. This year, the large and ambitious field of talented cast and crew set out to tackle a challenging and just recently amateur-licensed show: Disney’s Newsies.

TheBaynet.com had the privilege of sitting down to get some perspective from actors and crew members, as well as getting to preview the show at one of the final dress rehearsals before opening night on July 19. Show Director, Wade Thompson, was especially excited to talk about having the opportunity to produce the show that he had long awaited to direct over his 20-plus years of directing.

“When the original movie came out in 1992, I saw it with some of my college theater friends and I came out of the movie saying ‘I want to direct that on-stage,’” Thompson said. “It has taken 27 years, and I am directing this show on-stage. Part of [my] frustration is Disney, in the process of taking from film to stage, made some changes to the structure of the show, got rid of some things, got rid of two songs that I absolutely love. [But] watching the kids develop their talents and helping them develop those talents… is one of the reasons I love [summerstock].”

While Thompson brings an overwhelming amount of directing experience to benefit the production, Assistant Director Brandon Maher helps to bring a younger and more interactive role to the show’s management. At just 21-years-old, Maher, a Chopticon High School alumni that was also cast to play the lead-antagonist Joseph Pulitzer, brings years of acting experience and a passion for theater that only compares to that of Thompson.

“I’ve never assistant directed before, I’ve directed small pieces before but never as an assistant…” Maher explained. “It is a new experience for me to want to have that director brain of mine but then have to consult with somebody, I can’t just make decisions and say what I want to. Last summer, I did a little bit [with the production], but this year, Wade decided to bring me on and give me that title and let me do more with it… I’ve done theater pretty much all of my life, I didn't do my first show until I was in fourth grade but I have consistently done at least three shows every calendar year since [and] I did my first show with summerstock in 2013.

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It’s a lot of fun though… I wouldn't trade it for anything, I thoroughly enjoy doing this.
I hold newsies as the musical that really helped me fall in love with musical theater. I grew up watching the movie on VHS and I watched it all the time and I absolutely loved it, but the first time I listened to the [Broadway] soundtrack is the moment I fell in love with the play… and fell in love with what I want to do with my life.”

Maher, currently enrolled at Salisbury University says that he one day would like to become a theater teacher so that he can “help give people the passion that he [received] from doing theater in high school,” and potentially become a stage director.

As if Maher and Thompson’s experience wasn't enough, the show’s choreographer brings in almost ten years of involvement with St. Mary’s County’s summerstock productions. Originally working as a cast member in summerstock nine years ago, Richard Lepper has in recent years become renowned locally for his choreographing prowess, staging acts for Spring Ridge Middle School, The Newtowne Players, and leading choreography last year for summerstock’s production of Mary Poppins.

“It is incredible that we have a cast of 70 on-stage,” Lepper said. “The size of the stage compared to the capacity of the students has been overwhelming at times… It has been fun, the set was complete [from the beginning] so I got to envision what I could do with the dancing through the set which was really useful to have. Honestly, I have been impressed with what they have been able to come up with themselves just to help pull this show together.”

The impressing reaction of bringing together everything on stage not only appeared to surprise Lepper, but both leading actors appeared to be pleasantly surprised with how far they have come. Bradley Oosterink, a musical theater major at Rider University, who is playing the male lead of Jack Kelly, clearly was impressed with how well the show had come together.

“If you would have seen it a week ago,” Oosterink said jokingly. “I'm really glad we were able to pull it together… This is such a different show, it’s a new show that’s available to the public for communities to do so it’s a really big honor to be able to do a show like this, but that means your resources on finding inspiration is limited. You kind of have to do everything yourself. We are getting it together.”

Oosterink found agreement with this writer after saying his favorite part from the show was the “Seize the Day” number, which could best be described in his words as “a very powerful musical number.” With his rich history of being on-stage from the early age of 4, he hopes to one day be “acting, singing, and dancing professionally,” a dream he shouldn't fall short of with his well-rounded talents.

As for the juxtaposed female-lead role, Meaghan Travis has found herself taking over her first named role as the young newspaper reporter, Katherine Plummer. The St. Mary’s Ryken High School alumni who is now a “piano performance” major at James Madison University wasn't shy to talking about the stresses that have come along with playing a major role.

“The show is a lot of choreography,” Travis explained. “With long stretches of choreography and a large cast it takes a long time to get through things… This is the first time I have had a named role, and a big one at that. It has been a lot more stressful but a good kind of stressful. Newsies is such a fun show, it’s very uplifting, a lot of fun music, and gives a lot of power to the little guy so that makes me feel good about doing it.”

Travis said that she hopes to one day still be involved with theater and shows, “just more from the music side.” Both leads mutually agreed, as someone might assume most of the cast would, that the best part of being in summerstock is the family-atmosphere that is created amongst the cast members. Not only can that sense of community be seen by audience members, but that closeness is felt radiating through the rafters.

Summerstock has clearly created an impact on the community over the years. Starting back in 1971 when the first St. Mary’s County summerstock cast produced it’s very first show, Gypsy, the community support for theater has clearly taken off since then according to the Recreation and Parks Event Coordinator Gary Reed.

“This is just like any other program we run in the county,” Reed said. “Other times the community itself will contact Recreation and Parks and suggest ideas for things… it was just people in the community wanting to do something for the kids through theater, and Recreation and Parks said ‘yea we could do that’… we pretty much take on anything asked of us.”

Now entering into it’s 34th consecutive year, the economics behind the show have thoroughly evolved from those earlier productions.

“Summerstock [now], depending on the show, is about a $35,000 to $40,000 venture each year,” Reed explained. “We do have some staff that is payed, but we don't have to run programs through the commissioners anymore… [The show] is very self-sustaining.”

Newsies is set to open on July 19 at 7pm at Great Mills High School and will be running for two weekends only. To purchase tickets in advance, go to this link.

Contact Zach at zach.hill@thebaynet.com.

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