Extra: Hill-Murray takes on musical ‘Newsies’

Solomon Gustavo Hill-Murray School junior and cast member of the school’s production of the musical “Newsies” Kari Lambert used the set printing press during an Oct. 30 rehearsal. The play, about the 1899 newspaper strike, runs at the school weekends through Nov. 19.

Acrobatic dancing, intricate songs and detailed sets are hallmarks of the technically challenging musical “Newsies.”

They also all make for an exciting show and that’s what Hill-Murray School aims to deliver with its production of “Newsies” this November. 

“It’s a really hard show,” said Hill-Murray theater teacher and “Newsies” director Ben Ballentine, adding that the students, who have been rehearsing since early September, have the talent to pull it off. 

Junior Zach Giese said the tap dance numbers move really fast. His character has polio and uses a crutch, making maneuvering even more challenging. 

“We’ve been helping each other out,” said junior and school dance team captain Chloe Narr. Narr, who has taken tap lessons since she was three, said the group has greatly improved.  

“Newsies” is based on the lives of paper boys and girls — newsies — during the 1899 newspaper strike. Being one of the first schools to put on the play, Ballentine said Hill Murray’s run will be one of the first opportunities to see the roles of paper boys and girls being played by actual kids and not adult actors as seen on Broadway or in the movie adaptation. 

“Those kids, our age, were on the streets,” said senior Maggie Mogren, adding the most interesting part about participating in the play has been talking and learning about the history of the newspaper strike. 

As noted, the Hill-Murray production will feature female newsies. There historically were paper girls, said Ballentine, but none in the original play or movie. 

The director said the two main themes of putting on the production are community and empowering kids. “If there’s anything I want to accomplish as a teacher, it’s to empower kids and convince them community is important.” He said the entire Hill-Murray community is great, and that the play can lift it up. 

In his eighth year as director, Ballentine said he pounced on the rights to “Newsies.” Once acquired, Ballentine, who is also an actor who’s appeared on stages throughout the metro, called the Chanhassen Dinner Theater to ask for a fake printing press and set newspapers. 

Ballentine even invited an actor from the Broadway run of “Newsies” to visit the high school. Actor Andrew Keenan-Bolger came to Hill-Murray, watched the students rehearse, and gave them some feedback.

The cast has put in a lot of work — like learning songs that involve breaking into eight different groups of singing newsies — and are ready for their two-weekend run. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays, Nov. 9-10 and Nov. 16-17, starting at 7 p.m., and Sundays Nov. 11 and 18, starting at 2 p.m.

Tickets cost $10 for adults and $5 for students. Hill-Murray is located at 2625 Larpenteur Ave. in Maplewood. For more information call 651-308-9615.


–Solomon Gustavo can be reached at sgustavo@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815.

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