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"Newsies" opens July 23 at Children’s Theatre Academy
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"Newsies" opens July 23 at Children’s Theatre Academy

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Colin Swanson as Joseph

Jenna Zeihen, left, and Colin Swanson, as Joseph, rehearse a scene in July 2017 for "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" with Children's Theatre Academy. Swanson, now a college student, is directing "Newsies" for CTA.

Colin Swanson feels right at home with the Children’s Theatre Academy.

He’s busy directing the musical “Newsies,” opening Friday, and he also directed “Moana Jr.,” which just completed a sold-out run.

And years before, the Indian Trail High School graduate performed the title roles in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Shrek” with the local theater troupe.

Swanson is “one of the kids who has grown up in our theater company,” said CTA founder Kristin Northern.

Also working on this show is local theater veteran Julie Ann Seidl, who says working with the kids on stage “has been such a joy.”

“Newsies” was inspired by the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City. The musical made its Broadway debut in 2012, where it played for more than 1,000 performances before touring across the country. It has since become a popular show for schools and community theater companies.

All in the family

There are 35 kids in the cast, ranging from sixth to 12th grade — and one father-daughter acting duo.

Gianna Fleming plays Crutchie, and her dad, Rob Fleming, was pressed into service when an actor had to leave the production.

“He plays the barber, deli owner, the mayor and governor — four small roles,” said his wife, Celeste Fleming. “Thank goodness there’s no singing or dancing. He had to learn some lines but, luckily, no dancing.”

The show also features a small printing press, on loan from the Platen Press Museum in Zion, Ill. The museum showcases the collection of Paul Aken.

Swanson — who played roles ranging from Ben Franklin to Shrek in Kenosha Unified School District theater productions — is now studying theater at Nebraska Wesleyan University.

“I absolutely love college,” he said. “It’s a great time to experience life and to find yourself and what you do best.”

He has two semester left as he works toward a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater studies.

“I designed my own major and am studying musical theater, directing and scenic design,” he said.

“Newsies,” he said, “is going fantastic. The kids have worked so hard this summer. We started at the end of May with vocal rehearsals and did all the choreography in two weeks. And this is a huge dancing show, with a lot of choreography.”

Though the action in the show takes place in 1899, the story remains relevant, Swanson said.

“It’s a very compelling story about people standing up for what they think is right,” he said. “It shows how you can stand up for yourself.”

The show also “has very strong musical numbers and elements of joy and feeling empowered,” he added. “When you leave the theater, you’re humming to yourself and you just want to go outside and dance.”

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