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The Making of a Musical

The Making of a Musical
Sophie Shulman

In anticipation of this week’s debut of the spring musical, Newsies, Jr., we went backstage with drama teacher and director Kim Danforth to learn more about what it takes to prepare.

“We normally have seventy-five hours to put on a show,” says Kim. “This year, we had sixty hours.” The shift in timeline was partly due to availability of the venue—Marin Center Showcase Theater—and partly in coordination with other events marked on the school calendar. But for Kim and the rest of the cast and crew, they’re ready. 

Newsies had been on Kim’s mind for a long time. The original movie with Christian Bale, which told the story of the newsboys’ strike in 1899, came out in 1992 and it became a Broadway musical in 2012. Only in the past few years was a junior version of the show developed. “It’s based on a true story about these young children living on the streets and fighting for equal rights,” says Kim. “Learning the history has been an important part of preparing for the musical. On behalf of the Mark Day drama department, our students will do the best they can to represent what happened a long time ago.” 

There are 60 students in the cast and about 15 on the tech crew. “It’s a big company production,” says Kim, noting that many cast members are on stage most of the time. The process began with auditions, which can be a vulnerable experience for students, especially since auditions are held in front of peers. “I try to make it a really safe environment,” says Kim. Before the Winter break, students had several rehearsals to become acquainted with the play and the overall vision. They were encouraged to watch the movie and dive deeper into the script over break. “When we returned in January, it was full steam ahead,” said Kim. They worked on the big numbers first, then focused on smaller pieces of scene work. Homework is a mandatory part of the process; there is only so much time during rehearsals. Kim encourages students to seek help from family to lock down their cues and listen to the soundtrack in the car on the way to school. As the weeks progress, students hone staging and choreography and “polish, polish, polish!” In the past couple of weeks, the cast has moved through several full run-throughs to prepare for their live performances.

There are always special moments that Kim remembers along the way. This year, she remembers a 4th grader who, because of her role, attended every single rehearsal and seemed to know every line, every cue, and every dance step--for every character! There were also students who came into the drama room to rehearse on their own during lunch. In general, she loves the support among the students. “Eighth graders are really good leaders,” she says. “They support the younger ones, which makes all the difference.”

Newsies, Jr. will play four shows at the Marin Center Showcase Theater:

  • Thursday, March 23 at 5:30pm
  • Friday, March 24 at 6:30pm
  • Saturday, March 25 at 6:30pm
  • Sunday, March 26 at 2:00pm

We hope to see you at the show!