Dec. 7, 2021 — Live theater returned to the Rhodes Arts Center with the fall musical Newsies. The show, based on a film inspired by the real-life newsboys strike of 1899 in New York City, tells the story of Jack Kelly, a rebellious newsboy who dreams of a life away from the big city.
The NMH Performing Arts Department’s production was staged in Chiles Theater on Nov. 18–20. Nearly 50 NMH students — and a few faculty — were involved, from actors in the cast to the many who worked behind the scenes on the technical crew, in costume and makeup, and performed music in the orchestra pit. See photos of the performance and of the behind-the-scenes action.
“Nothing is quite like performing in front of a live audience,” said Harper ’24, who was in the ensemble cast of Newsies and played several roles. “We could watch the energy of different crowds on different nights and know that each show is unique.”
Last year, the performing arts department modified its theater program in response to the pandemic, said Theater Program Director Jared Eberlein. Only one play took place in the theater with a small cast and crew, and a very small, very socially-distanced audience. Other productions were done virtually.
This year, all Newsies performances had in-person audiences, limited to families of student performers and members of the on-campus NMH community, and audience members were required to be fully vaccinated and masked.
“Live theater is a conversation with the audience,” Eberlein said. While last year’s modifications were necessary and successful, without a full live audience, he said, “half of the conversation was missing.”
Eberlein said students, some of whom were learning on campus with in-person activities for the first time this fall, brought a great deal of energy and enthusiasm to the musical, as well as discipline.
Craig Sandford, a performing arts teacher and accompanist, said six of the nine musicians in the orchestra pit were students and rehearsed as a full group only two weeks before the show. “The fact that we could pull the band together in a relatively short amount of time is testament to what fabulous musicians our students are,” he said. “One of the most magical rehearsals was the night the singers and band sang and played through the score for the first time.”
Emily Salfity, technical theater director and English teacher, said she feels joy and gratitude about resuming live theater at NMH. “The nervous energy right before a show is electrifying. The encouragement and support you see backstage, even between students who barely know each other, is heartwarming. The nights when we perform for the students’ family and friends are the reasons I come into work every day,” she said.
Eberlein added, “You know you’ve pulled off a good production when on closing night everyone is devastated because it’s over.”
Sophia ’24, who played multiple roles, said the experience helped her make new friends and become closer with other students after spending all of last year learning remotely. “After the last show, we all cried. I don't remember who said, “Newsies forever!” first, but after that everyone started singing. It was beautiful.”