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Dance into the Summer

Read all about TUTS’ new production of Disney’s Newsies

Michael Alonzo (Photo by Light in Texas Photography)

Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) welcomes summer with their brand new, self-produced presentation of Disney’s Newsies May 21–June 2. The invigorating, dance-heavy musical is loosely based on the New York City newsboys’ strike of 1899. The show follows a group of brave underdogs who boldly unite against the powerful men of New York to demand and fight for fair wages and safer working conditions.

“It’s a story that still exists today. Once a company knows who’s trying to organize, the company begins union busting by removing those people entirely. We see the same thing happening with Starbucks workers around the country.” — Michael Alonzo

“It’s a story that still exists today,” says Michael Alonzo, who plays the villainous Oscar Delancey. “Once a company knows who’s trying to organize, the company begins union busting by removing the people entirely. We saw that with Amazon workers a year or so ago, and now we see the same thing happening with Starbucks workers around the country.”

In Newsies, audiences witness physical violence utilized to demoralize and discourage the young heroes from fighting for what’s right. “Fortunately, we’re not necessarily seeing that in the United States,” explains Alonzo.

“These are kids fighting for wages, safety on the job, and sustainable work hours. Now, thankfully, there are laws in place where kids aren’t working because they should be in school. If they are having to work, they shouldn’t be in an unsafe work environment.” Protections like these for the youth of America are the legacy of the real-life newsboys’ strike, whose ripples included the introduction of urban child-welfare practices decades after the strike ended.

Newsies cast. (Photo by Ruben Vela)

“I think another parallel we can draw is with the pandemic and essential workers,” adds Alonzo.“These were people working at gas stations, grocery stores, and hospitals. With all of these positions, had they just stopped, the world would have completely crumbled even further than it did. We absolutely need to be protecting these people and giving them the same access as the person that has the highest standing in the company.”

Despite being set in July 1899, a timely topic Disney’s Newsies addresses is visibility of and equity for people with disabilities. “The first character we meet is this gentleman named Crutchie, and he mentions that he’s had more difficulty every day with walking,” states Alonzo.“What’s been really cool to see in the rehearsal process is that Crutchie dances in the show. It’s not one of those situations where, ‘Hey, here’s the principal or here are your dancers, and then we’re going to stick you off to the side.’ No, he’s involved with the dances, and he’s in the center of some of them.”

“Crutchie also gets his own monologue song in Act Two, where it’s just about his character, his plight, his worries, and what he’s going through,” Alonzo illuminates. “We don’t get that in music theater at all, so to see that character be on stage can mean so much for so many who are experiencing disability or feeling disadvantaged.”

As a musical designed to be enjoyed by families and audiences of all ages, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that there aren’t any explicit instances of queer representation in Disney’s Newsies. But queer audiences may find themselves reflected in the show’s camaraderie between the newsies, which is presented as a chosen family of sorts.

Michael Alonzo rehearsing for Newsies. (Photo by Ruben Vela)

“We do see a lot of this brotherly love. There is definitely this bonding that’s happening since they’re working together, and they’re coexisting together,” says Alonzo. “With my gay, lesbian, and trans friends, I hold so much love for them because we are doing the same thing. We’re artists. We’re doing theater. We’re all trying to excel in our careers. We’re all trying to make it better and safer for the next generation coming in. And we see that with the newsies themselves. They’re wanting to make sure that the future generations are going to have the same access as they did and that they’re not going to be penalized because of their current actions.”

If you still need convincing to see Disney’s Newsies, you have an opportunity to see the next generation of Houston’s homegrown talent from the Humphreys School of Musical Theatre in this production. “I think the world of those teenagers. They are the best and brightest performers I’ve gotten to work with,” Alonzo effuses. “They’ve been trained in your own city. There’s some great education happening at TUTS.”

On a personal note, Alonzo is looking forward to exploring Houston while he’s in town for this production. “I love taking dance classes, so I’ll be at the Houston Dance Center,” Alonzo says.“There’s so much art, culture, and life here. I’m excited to explore the cuisine, the humidity, and get to just spend time outside as well.”

He also looks forward to connecting with Houston’s queer community during the May 30 Out@TUTS event.

“My fiancé and I enjoy finding ourselves in situations where we realize, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re with our people. We’re with people who understand us, who get us,’ and we don’t have to feel like we have to have reservations,” says Alonzo. “Knowing that we’re going to be surrounded by this wonderful, loving, amazing community of people who want to socialize, who want to meet us, who love the theater as much as we do, we find ourselves excited about getting to meet all these people.”

What: Disney’s Newsies
When: May 21–June 2
Where: Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby St.




David Clarke

David Clarke is a freelance writer contributing arts, entertainment, and culture stories to OutSmart.
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