Tuesday, September 27, 2022

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Center Stage

Young performers take center stage in July musicals


Newspaper tycoon Pulitzer versus paperboys in historically based musical

Dance rehearsal for “Disney’s Newsies The Broadway Musical.” Photo by Brent Isenberger.

The Des Moines Community Playhouse has developed a strong reputation for delivering lavish Broadway musicals. In this centennial year, it will roll out an eagerly anticipated one: “Disney’s Newsies The Broadway Musical.” This smash hit show, based on the 1992 film, is inspired by the New York newsboys’ strike of 1899. Publishing giants Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raise distribution prices at the expense of the delivery boys, Jack Kelly and friends, all
teenage “newsies.” As Jack dreams of leaving the city to escape his orphaned and poverty-stricken life, he meets Katherine Plumber, the young reporter interested in getting an exclusive for the Sun, and they join together to fight for what’s right.

The local interest was strong for the casting call; more than 180 performers responded for this cast of 36. The key production team, under the directorial
leadership of Playhouse Executive Director David R. Kilpatrick, includes Brenton Brown (musical director), Megan Helmers (choreographer), Nicholas Amundson
(set designer), Jessica Van Essen (costume designer), Mandy Heath (lighting designer), and Josh Jepson (sound designer).

Filled with high-energy action and dance numbers, this musical comedy-drama is fun for the whole family. It also is an excellent summer musical offering, keeping
the Playhouse’s relatively new tradition of giving patrons a seasonal offering that will appeal to all generations. This show garnered eight Tony Award nominations in 2012, winning two (Choreography and Best Score), as well as six Drama Desk Award nominations, winning two (Choreography and Music). This Des Moines production will run for four weeks with 18 performances.


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Evan Goldman is plucked from his fast-paced, preteen New York City life and plopped into a sleepy Indiana town following his parents’ divorce. Surrounded by an array of simpleminded middle school students, he needs to establish his place in the popularity pecking order. With his bar mitzvah just around the corner, can he find his place at his new school, adjust to his new normal and throw a legendary party?

That’s the story line driving this coming-of-age musical featuring a cast of 22 that consists of 12- to-15-year-olds. Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre has nurtured its talent pool of young artists, and recent shows demonstrate the success of their strategy. Artistic Director David Vancleave, also directing “13” with co-director Brittany Beridon, is proud of how this region’s youthful performers have responded to the age-appropriate casting this company encourages.

“We believe that it is important for young people in our community to have the best opportunities to develop their stage skills. Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre
does this.”

“13” features an unforgettable rock score from multiple Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown (“The Bridges of Madison County,” “Parade,”
“Last Five Years”). Add one of the region’s best musical directors, Adam Yanowy, and this show promises to deliver a rousing experience for its audiences. Other
key production team members include Haley Melz (choreographer), Rachel Trimble (scenic designer), Meg Cook (costume designer), Ty Klobassa and Erica Spiller (lighting designers), and Brandon Kair (sound designer). This team works with student apprentices as they learn the stagecraft needed to successfully create a musical.


“Candide,” “La Boheme” and “Wozzeck” (in repertory), Des Moines Metro Opera (July 4-21); “Disney’s Newsies,” Des Moines Playhouse (July 9 – Aug. 4); “Annie,” Urbandale Community Theatre (July 19-21); “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Carousel Community Theatre (July 19-21); “Private Passage,” Kingman Row
Entertainment in partnership with Iowa Stage Theatre Company (July 24-26); “Much Ado About Nothing,” Class Act Productions (July 25-28); “13 The Musical,” Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre (July 26 – Aug. 4). ♦

John Busbee is a creative project developer, critic, playwright, author, producer and media professional. He has produced his weekly show, The Culture Buzz,
on KFMG since 2007.

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