The “Summer at the State” season will finally make its way to Uniontown’s State Theatre stage this weekend with “Newsies,” the first of two fun and energetic shows planned for this month.
Just two weeks later, beginning on July 26, the ABBA inspired musical “Mamma Mia” will take the stage.
Director John F. Wagner III said things have been moving quickly, but very well.
“We are right on track to have two great productions to share with the community,” he said. “Everyone involved, onstage and off, has been working extremely hard to bring these productions to life.”
Kristen Tunney, stage manager for both productions, said the decision to go with the two high-energy shows was an easy one.
“‘Mamma Mia’ is a crowd-pleasing title,” she said. “The rehearsals have been a blast from start to finish — full of wacky antics, incredible vocals, and of course, dancing in the aisles.
“‘Newsies’ is a little less well known, but the show is so powerful and timely, and our ensemble of boys and girls from around the area are telling it with tremendous heart and dedication,” she added. “There are several moments of genuine chills when these young people are singing and dancing and telling this story full out, and I really hope our audiences make it out to see them — it’s just as joyful as Mamma Mia but in its own special and inspiring way.”
Wagner added that there is a lot of excitement around both of these shows this year because they’re both popular and the performance rights were just recently released.
“There is a lot of anticipation to see our take on them,” he said.
“‘Newsies’ and ‘Mamma Mia’ are two large and impressive shows with big casts, big sets, and big vocals,” said Stage Manager Kristen Tunney. “Each and every one of our cast and crew have been working incredibly hard to bring these shows to life. We’re itching to put our hard work in front of an audience.”
She added that there is this moment in Act 2 of “Newsies” where the full newsboy ensemble is onstage, filling the space with one of the songs, “Once and for All.”
“I get chills every night watching,” she said. “But this is just one of many great moments in this show. The tap in ‘King of New York’ is so much fun, the interplay between Will Dixon and Kayla Grimm as Jack and Katherine is fantastic, and there are a lot of moments of the story that are just delightful.”
As for “Mamma Mia,” Tunney said there is a pretty fun number with all the boys in wetsuits and flippers that’s just giddy hilarity from start to finish.
Wagner said he’s very excited to get both of these shows in front of an audience.
“One of my favorite things each year is to see how our audiences react to these performances and how these theatrical experiences impact their lives,” he said. “I think the performances by our cast members and the production value of both shows will blow people away. It’s exciting for our audiences to see what the members of their own community have created.”
But, putting on two Broadway-caliber shows back to back is no easy task and comes with a few challenges.
“The most challenging thing is always our turnover week when we build our whole second set over the course of three to four days,” said Tunney. “We rely on a vast assortment of volunteer painters, carpenters, props people, interns and staff members to make everything happen.”
The day they take down the set for “Newsies” is also the first load-in day for “Mamma Mia.”
“So it’s our closing performance followed by several hours of disassembly along with carrying up all of the next show’s scenery from our scene shop,” Tunney said, admitting that it’s a busy time.
Wagner added that while “Newsies” has been onstage for the past two weeks working with their scenery, the “Mamma Mia” cast will only have about two rehearsals onstage with their scenery before going into tech week.
“To me, that is the most challenging thing since everyone needs to be ready to adapt quickly and on the spot,” he said.
Tunney said it’s their core creative team, and hundreds of helpers from the community, who help overcome the challenges.
Wagner agreed, adding “As long as we don’t immediately panic, and we take a few minutes to sit down together and problem solve, we are able to overcome most of the challenges that come our way,” he said.
The duo said the casts this year are both excellent.
“They’re really starting to bond and create lovely moments onstage, and they seem to be getting along fairly well offstage as well,” Tunney said. “We try to create an environment for our cast members that stretches them as performers while also providing a safe place for them to do what they love.”
“They are extremely hard working, dedicated, and very passionate about their work,” said Wagner. “They are all very willing to try anything and to commit to the overall vision that we are trying to create.”
He implored the community to come out and enjoy the shows this month.
“The easiest way to keep the arts alive in your community is to buy a ticket,” he said. “Without our audiences and the support of the community, we could not continue to do what we do.”
“Newsies” will be performed at the State Theatre, 27 E. Main St., Uniontown, at 7:30 p.m. July 12 and 13 and 2 p.m. July 14. “Mamma Mia” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. July 26 and 27 and 2 p.m. July 28. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under and can be purchased at www.statetheatre.info, 724-439-1360 or at the door.