- - Sunday, June 7, 2015

“Newsies,” the musical retelling of the newsboys strike of 1899 in New York City, arrives in Washington for two weeks of athletic dancing intertwined with romance and Disney’s signature staging.

After its 2011 premiere at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, “Newsies,” based on the film of the same name, opened on Broadway in 2012 for a limited engagement that stretched for two years. Along with favorite numbers from the film, the theater score is augmented by new songs from the original team of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman. The book is by Harvey Fierstein, and the vigorous choreography was created by Christopher Gattelli.

The cast of the tour that has been crisscrossing the country since October is headed by Pittsburgh native Dan DeLuca as Jack Kelly. Mr. DeLuca plays one of the orphaned and homeless boys who survive on the streets by selling newspapers published by Joseph Pulitzer. When Pulitzer raises the cost of the newspapers to the delivery boys to beat his competitor, William Randolph Hearst, the boys protest.

Jack is the ultimate underdog and a Disney dream role,” Mr. DeLuca told The Washington Times. “He’s tough, calculating and wants to be a ladies’ man, but he’s also a dreamer who lives on the mean streets of the city and dreams of climbing mountains and breathing fresh air. This is the hardest role in the show because he doesn’t leave the stage for even five minutes. It’s a constant marathon of singing, dancing” and acting, and it’s so much fun.

Mr. DeLuca, who performed with the Pittsburgh Musical Theater, calls himself “not that great a dancer.” He attended the auditions anyway and was told that the only role that would fit him was Jack, which required less dancing.

“Of course, I grabbed it,” he said. “The choreographer has been a great help. He puts me in front for the things I do best. The rest of the time, I’m in the back.”

Mr. DeLuca recalls getting hooked on theater as a boy when he saw Cathy Rigby perform as Peter Pan in downtown Pittsburgh. He says he thinks of Jack Kelly as one of that show’s Lost Boys since Jack, too, is an orphan.

“I adore everything Disney stands for, and I feel honored to be in this wonderful show,” he said.

Unlike Mr. DeLuca, Julian DeGuzman grew up training in dance and gymnastics. He has a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance along with a bachelor of arts degree in sociology from the University of California at Irvine and competed frequently with dance studios in the Bay Area.

“Dancers in this show must train constantly like professional athletes,” Mr. DeGuzman said. “That means eating right, getting plenty of sleep, keeping your mind in order, practicing yoga and stretching. It’s a delicate balance. There’s so much physicality that, by the end of the show, we’re all sweating profusely and completely worn out, but we always find time to explore each city.”

Mr. DeGuzman said he enjoys traveling the country to perform in “Newsies.”

“Traveling across the country has been a wonderful experience, especially getting to perform in cities where I’ve never been,” he said. “My favorite number is ‘The World Will Know’ because it’s emotionally charged and is a way for the Newsies to get their frustrations out.”

Fellow cast member and Northern Virginia native Ben Cook began performing locally at an early age. Some of his first roles were as Tiny Tim in the 2007 and 2008 productions of “A Christmas Carol” at Ford’s Theatre, as Tad Lincoln in “The Heavens are Hung in Black,” also at Ford’s, and as young Macduff in “Macbeth” at Folger Theatre. He appeared at the Kennedy Center in “Ragtime” and “The Golden Age” before leaping to Broadway, where he alternated with two other dancers in the title role of “Billy Elliot.”

“My parents gave up so much to send me to [New York],” he said. “Eventually, I was able to move in with another ‘Billy’ whose parents were in the same situation. That allowed my parents to stay at home together for longer periods.”

Ben started dancing at the Metropolitan School of the Arts in Alexandria, Virginia, at age 10. Soon afterward, his teacher suggested that he look for an agent, opening the door to life as a dancer as well as an actor. His performance in Washington while on the national tour of “Billy Elliot” earned him a Helen Hayes nomination. Now he thrives as Race in “Newsies” while traveling the continent.

“We’re such a big family performing to cool, iconic songs in a show that is dancing-heavy,” he said. “I keep reminding myself that getting to see 40 states is the experience of a lifetime, and I’m doing it with friends who have become so close. After Washington, there’s even more to come when we go on to Boston and later to Toronto. This is so much fun.”


WHAT: D.C. premiere of Disney’s “Newsies”

WHERE: National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20004

WHEN: Tuesday through June 21

INFO: Tickets from $48 by calling 202/628-6161 or TheNationalDC.org

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