Midland Center Showcases the Grit, Fire & Passion of NEWSIES • The Broadway Musical June 26-29th

Rising Stars Performances Mark Regional Debut of New Director Trent Soyster

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    icon Jun 13, 2024
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Armed with a freshly cast reputation for staging spectacularly rendered musical productions on their outdoor stage during the summer months, Midland Center for the Arts is busily preparing for what is destined to be an exhilarating series of performances of Disney’s NEWSIES: The Broadway Musical, which is set to run Wednesday through Friday, June 26-29th at 8:00 PM.

Based upon the 1992 musical film of the same name, which. was inspired by the historic real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City, where newsboy Kid Blink led a band of orphaned and runaway "newsies" in a two-week-long battle against powerful newspaper publishers like Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, this memorable musical tapestry features a score by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, along with a book by four-time Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein.

It also features the talents of new Midland Center ‘Rising Stars’ Director & Choreographer, Trent Soyster, a New York-based performer, creative, and theatrical educator who focuses his work on story-driven movement and collaboration. This is Trent's fifth professional involvement with the production of  NEWSIES since the musical made its Broadway debut back in 2012, and he is thrilled to be bringing his passion, energy, and experience with this production to regional audiences for the very first time.

Although the narrative of NEWSIES is set back in 1899 in New York City, when orphans were forced to  choose between fending for themselves or living three to a bed in a rat-infested institution called The Refuge, it’s also a story that feels massively relevant today at a time when the line between poverty and the middle class is rapidly eroding.  Needless to say, this show's protagonists choose freedom, eking out a precarious living selling newspapers on the street. But when dastardly newspaper boss Joseph Pulitzer decides to eat into their meagre profits by raising the prices they must pay for each paper, the boys risk everything by going on strike.

Recently I had the good fortune of interviewing the Center’s new theatrical director Trent Soyster only days after arriving for his first weekend in Midland. Formerly affiliated with regional theatrical companies that include Pittsburgh CLO, The REV, Slow Burn Theatre Co, and Interlakes Theatre; he has also created work for RWS Global Theme Parks, Share Inc, and has upcoming productions at New London Barn Playhouse and Timber Lake Playhouse. 

REVIEW: First of all, welcome to the Great Lakes Bay Region - I bet it’s quite a bit different than waking up in the hustle and bustle of New York City.

TRENT SOYSTER:  It’s gorgeous here in Midland!  I got here late last night and it was still light out at 9:30 in the evening and the crickets were singing, so yeah - it’s a little different than the Big Apple. It’s funny because I was lying in bed thinking ‘It’s so quiet here I can actually sleep without an alarm or fire truck going by my window. I lived on the second floor of an apartment building in New York, so there was always something to hear.

REVIEW: Before we talk about NEWSIES, tell us a little about your background and how you got inspired to pursue the theatrical arts.

Soyster: Originally I’m from a suburb about 20 minutes north of Pittsburgh and fell in love with theatre having seen a production of HONK, which was a musical production of ‘The Ugly Duckling’ story back when I was in Kindergarten around the age of six or seven.  It was so different from anything I’d experienced, and I was so fired-up about the show I was hooked. I’m not from a theatrical family in the sense that a lot of kids in theatre come from backgrounds where their families were involved in show business, but that wasn’t my journey. It was strictly soccer practice and T-ball until early elementary school.

My Mom tells the story of how there was this theatre company in Pittsburgh, but you had to be in the second grade to start. She begged them to let me join early in the first grade, so the deal was that if I could read the script and match pitch with the songs I could join - and low and behold, by the first grade I could read and they let me join early.

After that I went to a big regional theatrical company in Pittsburgh where a lot of shows would come through on their way to Broadway, and started doing a lot of middle school training there to cut my teeth and hone my skills.  Eventually I went to Case University in New York City and moved there at the age of 18, which was pretty crazy but I’m glad that I did it because it helped me get my feet wet in the industry.

Initially I went to school for directing, but have come full circle now that I’m in my mid-20’s and am deeply involved with choreography and directing and being on the more creative side of things. I knew there was more to my artistry than only acting on the stage, so it’s exciting for me to be regionally going back to something like NEWSIES as a director and choreographer that I actually performed in when I was younger as an actor.

REVIEW: Seeing as this is your fifth involvement with NEWSIES, where do you feel it falls on the spectrum of contemporary Broadway musicals  and what do you feel distinguishes it the most?

Soyster: I performed in it twice and directed and choreographed it twice, but this is the first time I’ve done both, which is incredibly exciting. Having rose up through the ranks of NEWSIES, I think what makes it specia is how each of the boys in this story have a fire burning in their belly about what lights them up and what they believe in. You actually see and feel their deepest beliefs, and I believe the core of this show is will there ever be satisfaction in life, or will we always be fighting for our deepest beliefs and will we always be on the front line for the next great uprising that comes, or opportunity that arrives for us to improve our lives - whatever it is.

These characters are all 100% inspired and because the cast consists of young people, it inspires me to instill that fire and light and opportunity into these young actors to seize the day through this show, and seize every day to stand up for what they believe through a musical focused on singing and dancing about what things in life we each truly believe.

There’s something so unique about the musical number, Seize the Day, in this production because there’s nothing like watching 18 people stomping and singing so hard they are out of breath at the end of an 8-minute production number; but for me it’s the personification of that grit and determination that drives the entire show because it emulates struggles spanning time and grounded in reality.

I’ve done versions of this play that are hyper-realistic and some fantastical, but this one feels gritty and industrial and I want to illuminate what these children are going through.  These striking kids were 14 and 15 years old; and the lead character, Jack Kelly, is only 17-years old so not a single one of them are adults, and yet they have this innate fight burning within them because they are all orphans forced to hawk newspapers for a dinner and a dime.

REVIEW: Thematically what are you trying to elicit and emphasize in your role as a Director?

Soyster: As mentioned earlier, it isn’t just the kids that have the fire and grit but every character in the play also possesses it. Even Joseph Pulitzer in his own way has his own fight for what he is standing for, which is to support his family and run a successful business, as does Meadow Larken the theatre owner who brings the kids into her opera house and tells them she will take care of them.

It’s easy to think of Pulitzer as the villain being the rich and selfish newspaper owner, but if you strip away easy judgments and prejudices you see each character has their own fight, their own motivations, and we have to play the truth of what that character feels. I always tell the actors I work with in the cast there is a difference between paying at the characters and playing the characters.

REVIEW:  Having been so deeply involved with this production over the years, what do you feel is going to be big challenge involved with this upcoming one?

Soyster: The thing that comes to mind is that it’s going to be staged outside, so we do have the elements to deal with, which is such a fun challenge creatively. Part of it feels a little like theatre but we are dealing with an exposed setting, which is exciting to me because there’s no place for the actor to hide as there is with an indoor theatre, where you can hide the actors with masking and curtains. Because we can pretty much see anything, I’m striving to achieve a real industrial look to the scenery, which is also exciting but brings its own set of challenges.

Design-wise it’s easy to add very warm tones and bright lights to this production, but I’m looking to show the grit and fight by utilizing black and white and stark angles and lines of the set with lighting design and costumes that are truly industrial - more of a film noir approach, would be a great way to describe it.  _________________________________________________________________

While NEWSIES is undoubtedly a high-energy stage musical full of thrilling dance numbers and a memorable libretto, its legacy has proven to be far more significant and potent, merging the magical language of music and dance with the endless flames of courage that burn within each of us, as it does for each of the Rising Stars performing in this regional ensemble.

Tickets can be purchased by visiting midlandcenter.org.


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