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‘Newsies’ star sweats hard in ‘a marathon role’

Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro, center) leads the strikers in the North American tour company of "Newsies." | ©Disney. Photo by Deen van Meer

Quick, someone get this man a Fitbit.

Miami-raised actor Joey Barreiro is the star of the national touring company of Broadway’s “Newsies,” playing July 28 through Aug. 7 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. He plays Jack Kelly, leader of the Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City, and it might be one of the most physically demanding roles in the history of theater.


When: Through Aug. 7

Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph

Tickets and info: Visit

Barreiro calls it “a full-body event.”

“It’s a marathon role,” he says. “You’re onstage 90 to 95 percent of the time, and along with that, our set, which is fantastic, by Tobin Ost, it’s these three metal towers that are automated, and they move a lot. Each tower has three levels, and I have the pleasure of spending the entire show running up and down and up and down the towers, going offstage for a second to grab some water, then coming back on. …

“If you ask my dressers, they’ll tell you how much I sweat in this show. It’s pretty absurd. So in order to manage that, I have to take care of my body and eat enough energy and get enough sleep.

Here are three things to know about “Newsies”:

1. It’s a dance, dance revolution

“I don’t have to dance at all — don’t tell anybody,” Barreiro says.

But for the rest of the ensemble, “Newsies” has some of the most demanding, kinetic dancing of any recent Broadway hit, for which choreographer Christopher Gattelli won a Tony Award in 2012.

“When I chose Christopher Gattelli to be the choreographer, we both agreed that Michael Kidd was really the prototype for this,” says director Jeff Calhoun, who first directed for Disney Theatrical with “High School Musical.”

“Michael Kidd was the choreographer who did such works as ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,’ the movie, and he was known to be very physical and athletic. And Chris and I agreed on that right away. What we didn’t know at the time was that the set was also going to become another character that dances in the show. So once we had what amounts to a jungle gym of scenery, it became clear that we could use it as a metaphor, and the kids could actually scale that scaffolding, which at times in the show becomes Goliath to their David.”

2. It’s based on a true story

“Newsies” started out as a movie musical in 1992, starring a young Christian Bale. It was a flop, but as the years passed it developed enough of a cult following that Disney decided to revisit it.

The story is based on a strike by New York newsboys in 1899. Publishing magnates Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst had raised the price that these child laborers had to pay for newspapers, cutting into their already tiny incomes, so they took to the streets and even blocked traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge.

The musical has a happier ending than the real strike, which won only minor concessions. But Calhoun says it still makes for a good history lesson, and an inspirational one.

“The labor movement is at the forefront of the election that’s happening now, so this is a great way to teach kids where it all began,” he says. “It’s a story about a bunch of young kids who want to make the world a better place.”

Barreiro adds, “It’s not trying to make any kind of political statement, but it is saying that as people we’re all equal, and just because someone has a lot of power doesn’t mean that they deserve to treat people unfairly.

“Bernie Sanders and Jack Kelly would get along really well, I believe.”

3. Disney didn’t expect a blockbuster

The creative team of “Newsies” includes some big guns in the theater world, particularly composer Alan Menken, an eight-time Oscar winner for such Disney films as “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast,” and playwright Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the books for Broadway’s “La Cage aux Folles” and “Kinky Boots.” But Disney Theatrical didn’t develop the show with an eye toward repeating the success of “The Lion King” on Broadway, Calhoun says.

“We’re the little show that exceeded every expectation,” he says. “We were supposed to be a limited run purely for licensing for stock and amateur rights when we went to Paper Mill Playhouse [in New Jersey]. And there was some weird inertia that started to happen with the show, and they said, ‘OK, well, let’s brand it on Broadway for 12 weeks.’ And then audiences just kept coming and coming. It did take us by surprise that 12 weeks turned into three months, which turned into two years. …

“Anytime you have success in this very difficult business, it’s overwhelming and it’s surprising. Half of the time you’re completely taken by surprise of something’s success, and the other half of the time you’re completely shocked that something isn’t successful. It’s a miracle it ever works, quite frankly.”