‘Newsies’ star Michael Ahomka-Lindsay: “Anything is possible when we come together”
After a decade-long wait, Newsies finally makes headlines in London. Newsies dramatises the newsboys' strike of 1899 in New York, set to rousing Alan Menken ballads and explosive choreography that defies belief.
Up until now, the UK's relationship with Newsies was limited to the Disney+ Broadway proshot, starring Jeremy Jordan, and watching the Tony Awards performances. But this winter, the young paperboys and girls finally leap and spin their way to Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre.
“I came into Newsies with the intention of not taking too much from Broadway,” shared Michael Ahomka-Lindsay, who plays lead newsboy Jack Kelly. "We’re going to try and create something different here, and the Troubadour is perfectly equipped for what we want to achieve — it feels like the space was made for us.”
Although Ahomka-Lindsay remained tight-lipped on certain aspects of the show, there’s plenty to get excited about. We caught up with Ahomka-Lindsay midway through rehearsals, as he revealed the excitement of starring in the musical’s UK premiere, as well as the show's prevailing messages.
Newsies is at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre.
Book Newsies tickets on London Theatre.
What did you know about Newsies before being cast in the show?
At drama school, I saw people perform certain songs. That was my first exposure to the Newsies world, people doing “Santa Fe” or “Watch What Happens.” The music is really exciting; it’s emotionally visceral and interesting and it’s unlike some other music because it’s got a different edge. I listened to the soundtrack after people sung it. Then I found the Disney Plus Broadway proshot. That was so awesome, so, so cool.
Are you taking anything from the Broadway proshot into your performance?
The atmosphere of the proshot is what I’m drawing from — it's gritty, there's a darkness to it, and the energy is always so high. As an audience member, there’s a sensory overload. You’re just being given so much constantly.
Throughout the show, there’s different elements of the performance that grab people. In one moment, there’s a huge ballad with high emotion. And in another moment, there’s another incredible dance number, like “Seize the Day,” or “Carrying the Banner.” Any of these songs explode with movement. It’s a piece that has a lot of elements that add to it. We’re letting the performance-based style of Newsies do the work.
Is it tricky to work on Newsies with a thrust staging?
It’s in a thrust, so there’s three perspectives, but there is a back wall as a point of reference for where our set starts.
Having that understanding that the audience and the environment of the show is everywhere is quite helpful. It allows me to really feel free. I can actively stay within the world of the space and not worry too much about my back to the audience. That freedom of movement and moving around through space in a real-life way is part of the charm and why it’ll be good for audiences to sit in different places. This work is exciting because it’s more of a world to get lost in.
You can turn off that “actor's brain” as there’s never gonna be a moment that’s lost. If you give someone a look from the corner of your eye, somebody will see it in the auditorium. There are spaces and stairs between stands that we go between as well. It’s like a massive playground.
Speaking of the playground, Newsies is packed with choreography. Can you talk us through creating the dances?
I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never been in a room with this level of talent, discipline, skill and energy, I’m just surrounded by it. Everyone’s amazing on all fronts, but they’ve all got their particular strengths. People have these moments where you just come on and just shine so bright. Everyone's pulling out tricks from a hat.
We have Matt [Cole] as choreographer and director, who is looking at the whole thing. We started off our rehearsals by just getting straight into the dance numbers, like "Seize the Day." It's great for endurance as well, but it’s just meant that we have so much time to settle our bodies with this choreography.
The dances are full of intention and character — every newsie is different. But it’s incredible, the level of skills and styles: There’s ballet, jazz, break dancing, there’s a tap number. All of the big numbers have special surprises too. It’s really something. It’s stunning!
What's your favorite song from the show?
It’s really hard to decide. I think my favorite song from the show vocally when we sing together is “Once and For All.” It’s got all of this plot and there's so much character in it. But there’s a particular section in “Carrying the Banner” when they sing about curdled coffee. The character of the song comes out and then it changes. It sounds so beautiful; I love that song so much.
What sort of challenges are there in Newsies that you have not come up against before as a performer?
After every job, you reflect on what it’s taught you. Already, Newsies has taught me about the endurance of it all. It's definitely a case of finding a way to do that and do it eight shows a week for months at the same quality. The big thing on my mind is endurance: vocally, physically, and mentally. A track like Jack Kelly requires me to give over everything I have. So, it's about finding the way to recharge that and coming back to the same level.
What do you enjoy most about playing Jack Kelly so far?
I love how expressive he is. I think it’s a part of what draws other newsies to him. He doesn’t hold back on how he feels. I think that's just quite fun to play, there’s no limit in what I can give over to what I’m feeling in that moment. There's no kind of wrong choice — it’s more about directing it into the right place.
What are you hoping people take away from the show?
The show is about a strike. It’s about people that might perceive themselves as a small person in the relationship within this huge power structure. So I think it's definitely about what is possible when we come together. Just the idea that no voice is too small.
There’s a line from the song “The World Will Know” where they all sing "When you got a hundred voices singin', who can hear a lousy whistle blow?" Newsies asks how we can set aside our differences and things we have in common to be able to come together. There's a lot of things that separates us as a society, but people can come together for a common belief.
Photo credit: Newsies (Photo by Johan Persson)
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