There’s big news at the big auditorium at North Scott High School, Eldridge, as a big cast and crew have come together to break out their new production of the big, boisterous musical “Disney’s Newsies.”

Countryside in Eldridge Shows Power of Community, Art in “Newsies!”

“Newsies” will be performed this weekend and next at North Scott, 200 S. 1st St., Eldridge.

The Countryside Community Theatre performances – by a predominantly young cast of 33, led by director and choreographer Ashley Becher – will be this weekend and next, 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday.

“Newsies” was done in early 2019 at Circa ’21 and just this past May by Double Threat Studios, and is the rousing tale of Jack Kelly, a charismatic newsboy and leader of a band of teenaged “newsies” in New York City. When titans of publishing raise distribution prices at the newsboys’ expense, Jack rallies newsies from across the city to strike against the unfair conditions and fight for what’s right.

Set in 1899 (based on a true story), and based on the 1992 movie, “Newsies” premiered on Broadway in 2012, featuring a Tony Award-winning score by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken (Little Shop of HorrorsSister Act, Beauty and the Beast) and Jack Feldman, and a book by Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein (Kinky Boots).

“I love this show so much; that it’s so centered around community – that people are better when

Countryside in Eldridge Shows Power of Community, Art in “Newsies!”

“Disney’s Newsies” will run this weekend and next at North Scott High School.

they’re together,” Becher said this week. “And just the exciting dance I love, which is really fun as a choreographer.”

She still has the cassette soundtrack of the 1992 movie version of “Disney’s Newsies” and accompanying lyric pamphlet nearly 30 years later. “I was entranced by the strong, athletic dancing, moved to the core by the incredible Alan Menken an­thems, and crushing on a young, brooding Christian Bale,” she wrote for the CCT program. “But the driving force behind this energetic and exhilarating musical, the heartbeat of this intoxicating show, and what keeps calling us back all these years, is its celebration of community.

“Disney’s Newsies” reminds us “that when we invest in our community, we create meaningful relation­ships and can find a stronger purpose outside of ourselves,” Becher’s note says. “The allure of a far-off magical dream life, in this case, Santa Fe, can be a siren call pulling us away from the present, and disconnecting us from those around us. Jack uses this imagery, not only as a way to escape his current circumstances, but as an excuse to not invest in where he is, or in those around him. Once he unites with his fellow newsies, he finds purpose and joy in his own community.

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Additionally, “Newsies” triumphantly shows the power of art, she wrote, noting that striking, fighting, and politicking all fail on their own. “It’s not until the newsies combine Jack’s illustrations, Katherine’s well-crafted words, and their voices raised in song, that their power can no longer be denied,” the program says. “What a powerful reminder that our art and creativity can be an inspirational force for change.”

Countryside in Eldridge Shows Power of Community, Art in “Newsies!”

CCT’s “Newsies” features Eric Teeter, left, Christopher Tracy, Annie Huston and Rachel Hoffman.

“If there’s any testament to the magic of community, it’s community theatre,” Becher (a 2003 Bettendorf High alum) wrote. “So many people give of their time and talents to band together and create something special for the whole community to enjoy! And the fact that it happens in such a short timeline, amidst careers, vacations, and daily lives is a wonder. I am so thankful that CCT has so generously welcomed me back to my home community, and allowed me to create with these incredible people!”

Once the newsies in the story band together under common purpose, they create a huge change, she said this week. “It’s the power of how we work together, and how that togetherness can be a force for change. Also, I love that it centers around the importance of art.”

“It’s a reminder that art is a powerful force for change,” Becher said. While she’s currently in the

Countryside in Eldridge Shows Power of Community, Art in “Newsies!”

Andrew Arevalo and Sophia Kilburg star in CCT’s “Disney’s Newsies” in Eldridge.

cast of Circa’s “Saturday Night Fever,” she worked on the spring musical at North Scott (“Descendants”), has lots of experience working with students and wasn’t intimidated by taking on leading both stage direction and dance instruction for “Newsies.”

“This show, especially, it was helpful to do both, since there’s so much music,” she said this week, noting she saw “Newsies” in its closing weekend on Broadway in 2014.

The two CCT leads are college students, and there are a lot of teenagers in the show (the newsies range from 13 to 26 years old).

“I love working with young people because they have so much energy and are so open,” Becher said. “I love this high-school, college age, it’s kind of a sweet spot for me because you can really dig into stuff. They’re able to understand what’s happening and have more technical skills, while also being very open.”

Identifying with stage roles

Andrew Arevalo, 23, of Platteville, Wis., who attends University of Wisconsin there, plays Jack.

“He realizes that his dreams don’t have to be as far away as he thought they had,” Arevalo said of the exuberant leader. His friends are like family and become his family, convincing him to stay in New York.

Countryside in Eldridge Shows Power of Community, Art in “Newsies!”

CCT’s “Newsies” features Sydney Rosebrough, left, Elsie Campbell, Jenna Willet, Ben Bergthold, and Nickie Callender.

“When he had something to fight for, to confront head on, that was a way for him to realize his greater purpose,” he said.

Arevalo has friends in the Quad-Cities, who he went to college with and suggested he audition for CCT.

“I didn’t grow up doing theater; I started doing theater in college,” he said. His first show was three years ago (in a gap year between high school and college), when he was cast as Tinman in “Wizard of Oz” in Platteville.

“I was like, I heard the audience, saw the lights and it was like, this is my place,” Arevalo recalled. “I immediately went and applied for UW-Platteville’s theater program. I’ve been kind of nonstop; I’ve done 12 shows.” One of his favorite roles was Anthony in “Sweeney Todd.”

Countryside in Eldridge Shows Power of Community, Art in “Newsies!”

The cast of “Disney’s Newsies” at North Scott High School’s auditorium.

“Newsies” has been his favorite show forever. “It’s just very upbeat; the songs are so anthemic,” Arevalo said. “It’s so uplifting and the message behind the show, with everyone standing up for a cause, everyone taking their shot at leadership, is just very inspiring.”

He identifies with Jack, like a lot of young guys in theater would relate to him.

“He’s very much a dreamer,” Arevalo said. “When you think about your dream role, or you’re always searching for someone like that. That’s where it ties in for us guys, you want to play the role of Jack. You don’t realize that’s your dream, so it all comes full circle. The things he’s searching for in the show, you relate to that as an actor – to get this part. It makes sense to me; I’ve thought it over many times.”

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Sophia Kilburg, a 20-year-old Davenport Central grad attending University of Iowa, plays Katherine. She did a lot of theater during high school, including Music Guild, Genesius Guild and Center for Living Arts. A highlight role was Kilburg playing Eponine in “Les Miserables”

Countryside in Eldridge Shows Power of Community, Art in “Newsies!”

20-year-old Davenport Central alum Sophia Kilburg plays the 1899 newspaper reporter Katherine in “Newsies.”

for Center for Living Arts her senior year, and she was in CCT’s “The Music Man” last month.

Her first Countryside show was “Mamma Mia!” in summer 2019. Kilburg loves the community aspect of theater in general.

Countryside in Eldridge Shows Power of Community, Art in “Newsies!”

Becher worked for North Scott High School this past year, including assisting her husband Bobby in leading the spring musical, “Descendants.”

“One of my favorite parts of the show is when I get to sit backstage and watch,” she said of “Newsies.” “I’m not in lots of big ensemble numbers, so I get to see the newsies dancing, doing their thing, and that’s just so nice to see everyone.”

When she’s on stage, her favorite song is “King of New York,” a big dance number at the top of Act II. “We’re all tapping and we’re all together,” Kilburg said. “It’s very celebratory, so that’s a lot of fun to have that energy.”

Katherine is very ambitious, but at a time when women were not encouraged to have ambition and careers. “She doesn’t let that stop her,” Kilburg said, noting she writes about the newsies’ strike and becomes part of their cause.

“I am not quite as fearless as she is,” she said. “One trait we do share is, we’re very loyal. We may take a bit to warm up to someone, but Katherine would do anything for these newsies, once they accept her and becomes part of their group.”

The true value of cooperation

“Newsies” shows what can be accomplished when everyone truly works together, listens to each other and understands each other’s feelings, Becher said, noting the legendary newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, played here by Christopher Tracy. The story offers very timely, relevant lessons today when it seems so hard for everyone to agree on basic issues.

“I think there’s a good reminder that we can find common ground; it is possible to find common ground and make solutions that address

Countryside in Eldridge Shows Power of Community, Art in “Newsies!”

The Countryside Community Theatre cast of “Newsies,” to open Friday at 7 p.m.

everyone’s needs,” the director said. “In the end, once Jack and Pulitzer hear each other’s opinions, and see it from each other’s perspectives, they can find a compromise they can all live with. It reminds us that it’s our job to hold each other accountable in every way. We make society stronger and better when we have those voices coming at each other, to hold us accountable and lift us up to our ideals.”

“It is inspiring to see that it’s possible to listen and learn from each other,” Becher said of the show. “It’s a good reminder, that you have to get in the room with people. There’s that barrier, for the newsies to even have a say in what their working conditions are going to be; what would

Countryside in Eldridge Shows Power of Community, Art in “Newsies!”

Ashley Becher is director and choreographer for “Newsies.”

be helpful to them, or how they could help the business. Once they are able to break through that barrier, through different methods they use, then it’s better for everyone.”

Arevalo said the show highlights difference of thinking and lifestyles between generations, how the youngsters can drive progress.

Katherine sings the stirring, exhilarating “Watch What Happens,” and Becher loves the part that proclaims of the leaders in power: “Their mistake is they got old. That is not a mistake we’ll be making, no, sir, we’ll stay young forever!” Of the newsies, she sings: “Give those kids and me the

Countryside in Eldridge Shows Power of Community, Art in “Newsies!”

Andrew Arevalo plays Jack in Countryside’s new production of “Newsies.”

brand new century and watch what happens!”

“The idea is we have to hold strong to what you really believe and fight to create the change we really want,” Becher said.

She plays the mother in “Saturday Night Fever” at Circa ’21, and had to miss a week of CCT rehearsals (which began in late May). “It’s such a mammoth show,” Becher said of “Newsies.”

“I have a great stage manager, dance captain and tech director, so they were able to hold down the fort while I was gone here,” she said, noting the two-level set was rented from a high school in Nebraska.

Performances will be July 30-Aug. 1, and Aug. 6-8 at North Scott, 200 S. First St., Eldridge. Tickets for Countryside are $15 each, and are available at https://ccteldridge.booktix.com/. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/CCTQuadCities/.

Countryside in Eldridge Shows Power of Community, Art in “Newsies!”
Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.
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