Disney’s Newsies, Broadway’s smash hit musical, lands in San Diego May 31Section 4A, Entertainment News, Entertainment Feature Thursday, May 26th, 2016
In 1992 Walt Disney Studios released its first live action musical since Pete’s Dragon’s release in 1977.
Newsies starred relatively unknown child actors, Christian Bale (Batman) and David Moscow (Big) and a few well-known adult actors Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ann Margaret (Bye Bye Birdie) and Bill Pullman (Independence Day).
The original songs were penned by Alan Menken, who is responsible for most of the scores for Disney animated films as well as the Broadway hit Little Shop of Horrors.
It was directed by choreographer, and first time director, Kenny Ortega who is best known for his choreographic work in films like Dirty Dancing and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
The film may have had a strong cast, good original songs and great choreography but that didn’t save the film from becoming a box office flop.
Fast forward to Sept. 25, 2011 when Disney Theatrical Productions produced a stage musical version of the movie with added songs and a few new ones by Menken and a book written by Harvey Fierstein (Hairspray) at The Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey.
Soon after its Papermill debut the show moved to Broadway for a limited run that turned into an open-ended run with glowing reviews.
The movie version has turned into a cult favorite and the stage version went on to be nominated for eight Tony Awards winning two.
The show, now closed on Broadway, is enjoying National Tour life and will be making a stop here in San Diego at The Civic Theatre from May 31-June 5.
Playing the role of Medda Larkson, originated in the film by Ann Margaret and on stage by Capathia Jenkins is Chicagoan Aisha de Haas.
Aisha de Haas, who was born in New York and then moved to Chicago, has been performing most of her life and it’s easy to see why.
“I was born on the lower east side of New York City,” Aisha de Haas said. “When I was six, my dad (jazz bassist with Chet Baker, Tommy Flanagan, Miles Davis, Roy Haynes etc.) got a gig in Chicago so we moved there. My mother was a singer who recorded several albums with her brother and sister (Andy Bey and the Bey Sisters). I can’t remember a time I didn’t know music. And then I was fortunate enough to find my way into Columbia College Chicago, and under the wonderful tutelage of Sheldon Patinkin forged a musical theater career. I’d always planned on moving back to New York, but it was my brother, Darius de Haas, who left Chicago to attend AMDA – and is now in Shuffle Along – along with nudges by Ken Page and Michael Greif, that got me back to New York. That was 20 years ago.”
Aisha de Haas admits that getting the chance to follow in the footsteps of both Margaret and Jenkins playing the role of Medda was a triumph to be sure.
“Stepping into the role of Medda Larkin was an absolute coup for me!” Aisha de Haas admits. “I love playing her. Harvey Fierstein loosely based the stage version on Aida Overton – an actual star of the black Vaudeville circuit in the late 1800s (with a bit of Mae West thrown in). So, knowing that bit of authenticity makes my portrayal of her very poignant. That’s a big difference between the stage and movie version. I think Medda and Jack’s relationship is more defined on stage, in that you see she’s like a mother figure who tries to steer him in the right direction.”
Aisha de Haas does get the chance to share the stage with many amazing performers and dancers; one of those amazing artists has made quite a name for himself over the last 15 years.
Michael Dameski might not be a household name in the States just yet, but give him time. He’s already a household name in Australia after winning the Australian version of So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) and prior to that he starred in the musical Billy Elliot in the title role.
After his success in Australia he made his Broadway debut playing the same role and went on to do the National Tour as well.
He came to the tour of Newsies like most performers, through an audition.
“I did an open call audition for Newsies in Los Angeles a few months after performing on the finale of the U.S SYTYCD,” Dameski said. I received a few callbacks but I was in Australia at the time. I did however manage to attend one of them as I really wanted to be in the show and after my first call back I booked the job. I was eager to get back into musical theater as it had been a while since Billy Elliot.”
Oddly enough, Dameski’s childhood is slightly reminiscent of the kind of childhood Billy Elliot had, with one exception.
“My dad came from a professional soccer background,” Dameski admits. “I began playing at five. Soon after, my parents decided that they would take me out and let me decide for myself whether that is what I wanted to do. To their surprise I began dancing and singing just like my two older sisters did at the time. They were the ones that made me begin to love it! In a way, my story does relate to Billy Elliott; however, my family supported my decision straight away.”
It’s obvious that Dameski has worked hard and that hard work has paid off, but he credits his success to someone who has inspired him as a child and now as an adult.
“My incredible mentor Paula Abdul inspires me!” Dameski said. “She took me under her wing after being the head judge on my season of SYTYCD. I aspire to be as recognized and as giving as she is.”
When asked what advice he has for other young dancers and performers who are struggling to follow in his footsteps, Dameski’s answer is very clear.
“The best piece of advice I’ve been given is to always stay the student,” Dameski shared. “If you stay positive and push to do your absolute best, you will soon realize and begin to believe that the path to your growth can become never ending.”
With amazing dance sequences and great music one would think it would be tough for Aisha de Haas and Dameski to pick their favorite part of the show, but not so.
“My favorite part of the show is the song Once And For All,” Aisha de Haas confided. [It] starts with Jack Kelly singing “There’s change coming …”
And Dameski’s favorite part?
“I have a lot of favorite parts in Newsies,” he admits. “The ones that stand out are the iconic dance number Seize the Day and the major triumph ballad Once and For All.”
What will your favorite part be?
Tickets for Newsies can be bought online at http://bit.ly/1qJPIFb or by calling the box office at 619-570-1100.
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