The air was alive with suppressed excitement. The theater was filled with music from the early 1900s, an authentic mix of ragtime and jazz. The audience, guided to their seats by the staff of the Queens Theatre, chatted in hushed tones, marveling at the beauty of the venue. The house lights dimmed, and an expectant hush fell over the crowd. What followed was, without argument, one of the best high-school shows ever experienced. In the words of one member of the audience: “Instead of being aware that I was watching a high-school play, I was absorbed in watching the story of the Newsies. It was that good.”
Under the direction of Na’ama Rosenberg (whose previous experience includes Drama for Life) Shalhevet’s NewZies was a tremendous hit, an unparalleled delight and a fantastic display of young talent, cultivated by the wonderful director, along with assitant director Ariana Wolfson.
While everyone was blown away by the final product, many wondered at just what went into making such a spectacular show. How long did it take? Whose idea was it? Who made the impressive scenery?
Let’s go back in time, to May 2012. A multitalented (a.k.a. “triple threat”) senior at Shalhevet, Liora Aeder, approached the director of the Shalhevet drama society, Na’ama Rosenberg, raving about a show she saw on Broadway, called Newsies, based on a movie which came out in the early ’90s. Liora Aeder, who played the lead, Jack Kelley, persuaded the director to do the show in Shalhevet. The principal, Mrs. Esther Eisenman, who pulled off a brilliant cameo appearance as Medda Larkin, approved the selection . . . and then the work began!
The play is based on the story of the original newsboy strike against one of the largest papers in New York at the time. Joseph Pulitzer, an immigrant Jew, had built himself a journalism empire producing The World and was in fierce competition with William Randolph Hearst, who produced a rival newspaper. As a result of this rivalry, the owners decided to hike up the price of the newspapers by half a penny, and the newsboys went on strike to demand the price be lowered.
An original script was written by Director Na’ama Rosenberg, which highlighted the two main themes of the play: the passing of the torch from one generation to the next, and the victory of the underdogs who dare to take on the big guys. The music and especially the dancing in the originals are what make the show outstanding. Maggie Dror was hired by the director to choreograph the dancing. She is not only exceptionally talented, but also loving and kind, and the students adored her from the outset.
Once the parts were distributed, the performers, along with many of their classmates, went to see Newsies on Broadway. The girls were excited to see “themselves” on Broadway!
At Shalhevet, all grades participate fully in the play. This year, there were a number of super-talented 9th-graders involved, including Shoshie Koppel (Davey), Becky Marks (Crutchy), Emmi Polansky (Boots), Dina Farkas (Oscar), Riki Vatch (Morris), and Esti Freud (Weasel). Avital Weinberg, also a 9th-grader, was dance captain under Maggie.
The talent in the school spilled over, and some girls were both actors and dancers, like Michal Benshabat (Skittery), Elana Goldsmith (Toby), Tali Roth (Morris), Chanie Schwerd (Specs), and Shoshana Waronker (Racetrack). Students with larger roles Zahava Schwartz (Pulitzer and Spot Conlon), Devora Scott-Thoennes (Seitz) and Rivki Katz (Katherine) were mesmerizing and brought their characters to life incredibly well, and Devora Chait brought the house down as Les.
Other dancers in the dance troupe included Daniella Azose, Sarah Benun, Maor Noy, Tamar Lichter, and Shalvah Goldschein. Choreographer Maggie Dror pushed all the dancers to excel, in a way that made it exciting and fun. Maggie created three unbelievable dance numbers that elevated the whole show to another plane.
In addition to the background scenery (a rented photorealistic NYC skyline in sepia tones with the Brooklyn Bridge in the foreground), the talented student artists created additional scenery sets: Shira Neiss, Racheli Pressburg, Tamar Lichter, Liora Aeder, Rivky Neustadt, Kayla Zeitz, and Philly Korman produced the most beautiful and professional-looking canvases, exceeding expectations! Audience members did not believe that two of the canvases were created by students.
The Shalhevet stage crew, Philly Korman and Kayla Zeitz, worked together with the tech crew at the theater to arrange props and scenery, moving them on and off stage as needed, and managing the sound and music.
After a final rehearsal the afternoon of the performance, the cast heard the house music mix beginning to play in the lobby as the audience began to fill the theater. The students’ excitement mounted minute by minute. Na’ama reminded them: “Have fun!”; “Smile!”; and “Don’t forget to breathe!” Finally, the house lights dimmed. It was time. And then: Magic! v