Hope Highlands drama club performs 'Newsies' to sold-out audiences

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For the first time ever, the Hope Highlands Middle School Drama Club performed a sold-out show on Friday evening.

The opening performance of the hit musical “Newsies” was the first of three shows performed over the weekend after months of preparation and practice for both students and staff. It is the third production the club has put on since Hope Highlands became a middle school three years ago. Many of the weekend’s performers were in “High School Musical” last year and in “Beauty and the Beast” in 2017.

The show was a cross-curricular learning experience, combining history with music and drama. “Newsies” tells the story of the real-life newsboys’ strike of 1899, when Jack, played by Zachary Leone, and his fellow newsboys decide to take action after publishing giant Joseph Pulitzer, played by Adam Jackvony, raises newspaper prices at the newsboys’ expense. Reporter Katherine Plumber, played by Jordyn Amato, helps the newly formed union of newsboys publicize their plight.

The cast consisted of 12 main roles and 31 “Newsies,” with several students playing multiple characters. The crew included 39 students.

The show’s stage and musical director was Hope Highlands music educator and band director David DiMaio. The tech director was eighth-grade English Language Arts educator Jared Santurri. The sound technician was Cranston Public Schools educator Stephen Scappaticci and the choreographer was David DiMaio’s wife, Lorea DiMaio, who is an educator in East Greenwich.

“We also had two student helpers from Cranston West, Aidan Welch and Kathryn Levy. Both of these students were members of the Hope Highlands Drama Club, and are now part of the Theatre Department at Cranston West. With ‘Newsies’ being such a large production, it was nice having former students come back and work on a scene or two while I was busy with other students,” DiMaio said.

According to DiMaio, “Newsies” was not an easy show to perform at the middle school level. It required a great deal of hard work and dedication from all involved.

“When I brought the idea of ‘Newsies’ to Jared, we were a little hesitant at first,” he said. “I have seen middle school programs pull off a full-length production before, but we wanted to do more than go from beginning to end. We wanted the kids to tell a story that not many people have heard before, and tell it well. I wanted them to entertain their audience through all two acts and never give them a chance to look away from the stage.”

He added, “These kids are a dedicated group and a special breed that you don't find often in our youth. They understand the value of hard work and that in order to accomplish something great, you need to sacrifice and put everything you have into it. At our Saturday night performance, many of the students, primarily eighth-graders, were very emotional towards the end of the show. Professionalism is something I take very seriously with all my groups, and although they tried to hold it together in the last few scenes, there were many tears in our finale. I could not blame them though as I know how much this production and being a part of this group means to them.”

With the third Hope Highlands Drama Club production under their belts, both DiMaio and Santurri are pleased with the program and the success of this year’s show.

“From the start of this program, Jared and I wanted nothing more than to give these kids the opportunity to experience the theatre. Seeing their faces Saturday night told us that we did more than that,” DiMaio said. “We created memories that they will remember for the rest of their lives. It makes us happy to know we gave that to them. We are so proud of our kids and what they have accomplished not only this year but in the past three years for this new and ever-growing program.” 

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