Rose's Reviews: Barclay College's 'Newsies' was an amazing production to behold

Rose Beilman
Pratt Tribune
The 'Newsies' of the musical stand up for more just pay, as they sing in the musical playing at Barclay College.

A teeny town in Kansas with a population of around 700 is about the last place you’d expect to find great theatre, but Haviland and Barclay College with their musical production of Newsies, exceed expectations and then some. Led by two phenomenal actors, sophomore Ethan Bogan and freshman Kahrie Stegman, the musical does what good theatre should do, which is to inspire, to pull the audience into the world of the show, and at its best, to nudge the audience along in thinking deeply. 

The astounding part about Barclay’s Newsies is that it, uniformly, inspires. In small-town theatre, often directors deal with the constraints of volunteer or student talent, budget concerns, time conflicts for rehearsals, and a myriad of other issues, but here, director Randi Shetley overcomes all of these with a cast and crew that brought the show to vivid life on Saturday, April 10th when I attended. The cast is full of strong actors, from Gale Rose who has acted in Pratt shows for many years to the amazing supporting cast full of college and community actors.

In particular, the group of “newsies” — boys who would deliver newspapers to the populace of cities in the early 20th century — creates a well-rounded, energetic, fun-to-watch family of orphaned or neglected waifs fighting for survival on the streets of gritty New York. That they dance with verve and punch, all the way through the show, is a testament to what Shetley is able to pull out of these young actors. It’s also the result of hours of choreography under the direction of Traci Ballard, who creates dance moves that had me amazed and smiling all the way through the musical.

The two leads stand out in their conflict with the real, but fictionalized, character of Joseph Pulitzer, the media mogul of his day, played by Gale Rose. Bogan, playing newsie Jack Kelly, acts with the angst and intensity of a person torn between two competing moral choices. In his stance, he changes to meet the needs of the role, from flirting charmer to angry striker to tormented leader. Stegman is on fire as Katherine, the female reporter fighting to be heard in a world of male journalists. Her voice soars, and she excels at the difficult vocal demands of the part, from handling the quick-paced language to singing with a strong range. She kept every eye riveted on her throughout the show.

Technically, the strengths of the set and costumes were wonderfully evocative. The costuming designed by Deb Folkerts and Lori Binford, especially, brought the time period to life, while the moving set, welded and constructed to arc around the stage, was a delight of engineering designed by Shane Shetley. While the mics glitched a bit on Saturday night’s performance, they were fixed quickly. I also would have preferred to have the orchestra accompaniment leveled lower, so that we could have caught more of the wonderful word play during the songs. Still, the overall technical design was beautifully designed and executed.

On a personal note, I am connected to several of the performers who work with me or who have been in my past shows or in my classes when I’ve taught, but the overall production standards remind me of the intensity, focus, and joy of performance from my Broadway visit two years ago with Pratt Community College’s community travel to New York. As I watched Newsies, the force of performance was as intense and as lively as anything I watched on Broadway. Of course the two differ in level of professional training, but still, these actors and crew of Newsies create an awe-inspiring show with high-energy dancing, vivid portrayals of character, fast-paced delivery, and profound insight into human nature.

We are blessed in both Pratt and Kiowa Counties with good theatre, including Greensburg’s Twilight Theatre productions, Pratt Community College’s spring musical and children’s theatre, Pratt High School’s fall musical, and Kiowa County’s high school one-acts. In this past year, it has been mournful for me, as a lifelong theatre professional, to see theatres closed and shuttered across the country. Perhaps the most awe-inspiring part of seeing this show, for me, was seeing the community of audience and theatre practitioners back in force. The audience seemed almost giddy with being able to be at Barclay’s Ross Ellis Center. The audience was nested in groups throughout the theatre, with social distancing by group. 

In this experience, akin to what I felt in seeing Pratt Community College’s Godspell two weeks ago, the gathering of community to see live theatre inspired the audience even as it pulled the best from the actors on stage. What a joy it is to celebrate the best of community once again!

The two-and-a-half-hour show was lively, entertaining, and thought-provoking, well -worth attending!