Humor Column: Theater Dad Says Go See His Kid in Newsies!

Disney’s Newsies comes to life onstage Sept. 7-30 in Clermont

| By Rod Thorell |

You may be looking at the title and thinking why “Theatre Dad” and not “Theater Parents?”

Because mom doesn’t have her own column in a digital magazine about one of the country’s fastest growing and most livable cities and I do — deal with it. This is my story.

Our children have passions. We encourage their passions like good parents. (So in the interest of truth and clarity, I am not a good parent. An apt description of my parenting style is “benign neglect.” My wife has to work doubly hard to make up for this.)

When my son wanted to try dance, we put him into dance lessons. When he wanted to do martial arts, we enrolled him at a martial arts gym. When he wanted to buy a boat to do water skiing, we got him more dance lessons. We’re supportive, not rich.

Like many kids his age, he thought that Disney’s Newsies was the greatest thing ever.

If you are not familiar, it is the story of the paperboys strike during the late 1800s in New York. Created as a film that didn’t do quite well enough to be considered mediocre, they decided to give it another go as a stage play some years later. The stage play was wildly successful and got eight thumbs up from a guy named Tony. The rights to perform were made available for amateur performers in 2018.


Shameless plug. The rights to a Disney property aren’t cheap. Go buy tickets!

When my son saw the opportunity to be part of the musical at the Clermont’s Moonlight Players Theatre, he leapt at the chance (it was a “grand jeté” — all that dance training came into use). His extensive experience included having watched the Broadway production of Disney’s Newsies on Netflix 73 times.

But as for singing and acting — nope. He had never done it. OK, that is a slight exaggeration. He has some dance training and recently joined Moonlight Players Theatre’s youth improv group, The Lunatics.

That’s not to say he had never been on stage in front of large groups. He has spoken and performed as part of instrumental groups with his cajón. But he had never pretended to be someone else while dancing and singing about it.

One time, he did fight a bear. Everyone pads their resume, right?

The first step to being part of the show was the audition. For the audition, they asked the kids to provide 16-32 bars of a musical piece to showcase their singing talent. I had an inkling that this might be a stumbling block when my son looked at that and immediately asked, “What’s a bar?” The sum total of his singing experience is Happy Birthday several times a year for his entire life.

You can imagine my son’s surprise and delight when the director, in lieu of a prepared piece, asked him to sing Happy Birthday. And he nailed it. Then, as you see in the movies, everyone in the seats at the audition rose to their feet and began thunderous applause for the underdog, right? Yeah, not so much.

Unlike the movies, the continuing auditions, including line readings and learning simple dance numbers went for many more hours until it was time to break up and go home.

There were a number of talented and experienced performers at the auditions and a week later the director called to let my son know that he appreciated his effort, but he didn’t make the cut for a role. He was disappointed, but understanding that there were a lot of others ahead of him.

Now that should be the end of the story, but I am committed to at least 1,200 words for this thing, so it continues.

About three weeks after the cast began rehearsals, my son got another call. It seems that one of the selected cast members was unable to continue and would he like the chance to be a part of the show now?

After he politely said yes and clicked off the call, then he proceeded to run around the house screaming at the top of his lungs. At last, he was able to fulfill this life-long dream of being in Newsies. OK, the dream was only there for a few weeks, but it felt like a lifetime.

“I wish I could be an impoverished boy in the late 19th century…”

Normally, I could care less what the kids are doing, just so long as they are out of my hair. But this theater business intrigued me. It was something I had never been a part of, unless you count the time I was able to run a spotlight during You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown in seventh grade. (Believe it or not, I don’t have that on my resume.) If my son was going to fully commit to being in this show, I needed to get involved a little bit.

The story continues with… power tools and lumber. The current theater stage was a frankensteinian patchwork after several years of performances having cut out, added to and subtracted from the structure (part of the stage was actually held together by neck bolts).

Not too bad for a slow and careful walk across, but not at all suitable for the leaps and acrobatics needed for a dynamic musical production. I lent my meager carpentry skills as the cast and crew tore out the old stage and built a new one over the course of several nights.

20180807_191013.jpgThere are no small parts, only small actors. And those small performing actors are supported by a couple hundred small wooden precisely-measured parts, which I helped cut. Still have all my fingers, too.

Mind you, I watched several episodes of Glee and know it can take high school kids as long as 18 minutes to learn complicated dancing and singing numbers. So you can imagine my surprise to learn they would be rehearsing for four to five nights a week for over three hours a night! And this goes on for a couple months!

At least it wasn’t like I was going to be there at 9:30 p.m. to pick him up after rehearsal, then sit around for an additional hour as they continued to work on perfecting placement and timing. As it happens, on several occasions it was exactly like that. Who could complain about having a few late nights?

However, there was the time they wanted to shoot promotional photos. Because what could be better than getting a child awake and dressed in a costume, then heading to Orlando for 7 on a Saturday? That’s 7 a.m., which is an abbreviation that stands for “At Morning” (that’s true, don’t look it up), meaning we had to leave our house by 6:30 At Morning. So much for taking the leisure of a slow Saturday morning coffee.

First thing on a Saturday with no time to grab breakfast, then they left the fattest guy there to stand and guard many boxes of donut holes. Somebody didn’t think that through very well.

At the time of writing, the finishing touches are going on the stage sets, props, costumes, dialogue and musical numbers in preparation for opening on Sept. 7. Our friends and family have purchased tickets for opening night and everyone is ready to see our boy on the stage.

If you go on opening night and the show is interrupted by a group of people shouting, “SPARKLE, BABY!” about the middle of Act 1 when my son comes onstage, allow me to apologize in advance. We’re all pretty excited.

Disney’s Newsies Upcoming Shows

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights and 2:30 p.m. Sundays from Sept. 7-30.

Where: Moonlight Player’s Theatre, 735 W Minneola Ave in Downtown Clermont.

Parking: Free. Plenty onsite.

More information:

head shot image newsies

 Grumpydad Rod Thorell and the love of his life, Donna, relocated to Clermont in 2015, where he works from home helping create software. You can follow his misadventures on Instagram, @grumpydad_goes_to

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