WAMS making ‘NEWS’ as first middle school in SJ to perform upcoming musical

WAMS’ production of “Newsies” will take place in the school’s auditorium on Feb. 21, 22 and 23 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 24 at 2 p.m.

William Allen Middle School students rehearse a scene for their upcoming spring musical “Newsies.” The cast came together on stage on the afternoon of Tuesday, Feb. 5 to work on an ensemble scene.

This just in: William Allen Middle School is the first middle school in South Jersey to perform “Newsies.” This February, 82 seventh and eighth graders will sing, dance and tackle thick New York accents as they perform the two and a half hour musical.

“Newsies” tells the story of a group of Manhattan newsboys who go on strike when newspaper publishers raise the distribution cost of papers. The musical is loosely based on the newsboy strike of 1889, which marked a turning point for child labor laws.

WAMS special education teacher and the production’s director, Susan Balderstone, said she decided on “Newsies” nearly a year ago when she learned the rights were available. She said, prior to last year, Music Theatre International wasn’t offering the musical to middle schools, but it gave Balderstone the go-ahead. WAMS’ production of “Newsies” will take place in the school’s auditorium on Feb. 21, 22 and 23 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 24 at 2 p.m.

“It has a great message — a message for kids today to to believe in their rights, to believe in what they really want to do and to go for it.” Balderstone said. “I loved the message.”

Balderstone said her hope is the musical gives her students a sense of perspective and history. She said the newsboys of 1899 helped set the stage for child labor laws and paved the way for protecting children.

The music was written for adult male voices, and the high-energy show is the same length as the production that appeared on Broadway. There are no blackout scene changes, and instead, the cast members move the set pieces as part of the show. But from the very beginning, Balderstone was confident her students were up for the challenge.

They cast the show in October, taught students the music in November and began dance rehearsals in December. Seventh grader Lucas Kirmsse, who plays the lead role of Jack Kelly, said at first the sheer number of lines and vocals was daunting, but the play has quickly become an adrenaline rush. He said his character’s frustrations with the publishers and burdens of life in New York City make for a moving story.

“It’s very touching, and I don’t feel like a regular middle school would do it,” Kirmsse said.

In addition to calling for New York accents, the musical also has students tackling a variety of physical performances with some female students playing male roles and one of the leads having to learn to walk with crutches.

Eighth grader Ava Schneiberg, who plays Les, is one of the actresses doing a bit of gender bending. She said it’s been a fun challenge to dress up as a boy and take part in some of the musical’s fights scenes.

“I think it’s a really high-energy musical, and there’s a lot of passion,” Schneiberg said. “It’s in a different time period than most things are set in, so it shows a different perspective. There are a lot of cool costumes, stunts and a lot of energy as a whole.”

Eighth grader Adam Connor, who plays Crutchie, had to learn to walk with crutches for his role. He said despite his character’s disabilities, Crutchie has no trouble getting through life and maintains a positive attitude, which is something he has come to deeply admire about his character.

Connor said the show is the culmination of months of hard rehearsals for him and 81 of his fellow students, so he’s eager to show the Moorestown community what they’ve been up to.

“I just think everyone should come out if they have the opportunity,” Connor said. “We just want everyone to see how hard we’ve worked.”

In addition to the performance, during intermission, the students will collect money for “Water for South Sudan,” a nonprofit whose mission is to raise funds for water filtrations systems in rural Sudan. The middle school has been fundraising for the nonprofit throughout the year, and Baldertone thought the play was the perfect opportunity to help get the community involved.

Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at the door or online. For more information, visit https://www.showtix4u.com/events/1780.