Tag Archives: “Newsies

Stop The Presses! Lee And Kaya Scharfstein Take “Newsies” Stage

Lee Emery Scharfstein was a theater kid.

At Pleasantville High School — which had a Staples High-style professional performing arts program — he starred in shows like “West Side Story” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” He sang too — at Carnegie Hall.

As a freshman at Tulane University he was cast as the widow’s lover in the 1994 film “Interview With the Vampire.” (Tom Cruise bit him.)

Lee Scharfstein and Tom Cruise.

He spent summers in LA, but quickly learned that being an actor involves very little acting. Lee wanted to control his own destiny, so after moving to New York he took any kind of production assistant work he could.

He worked his way up the ladder. Now a Westport resident, Lee produced and directed music videos, documentaries, short films and commercials.

He spent 12 years on the agency side, as an executive in creative development.

Lee Emery Scharfstein: the first head shot.

But you can’t keep a theater kid out of the theater. Even if that kid is now in his 40s, a father, and hasn’t been on stage in more than 20 years.

Lee’s younger daughter Kaya is a 5th grader. Like her dad, she loves performing. She’s honed her skills at Broadway Method Academy, the Fairfield-based non-profit that trains youngsters in acting, singing, and dancing.

But even a kid-heavy show like “Newsies” — which closes its 2-week run at the Westport Country Playhouse this weekend — needs adults.

Which is how Lee has ended up back on stage.

And sharing it with his daughter.

Kaya is in the ensemble. Lee has 3 roles: Pulitzer’s henchman Wiesel, the deli owner and mayor.

“It’s a lot of work!” he says. The show was mounted in just 5 weeks. Tech week was particularly intense.

But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Kaya Scharfstein, dressed for “Newsies.”

“It’s so much fun to be with these talented kids, as they learn and grow,” he notes. “And it’s important to support our arts programs.”

Hearing cues from the orchestra brings Lee back to his high school days. Nothing he has done compares to acting on stage, he says. “Newsies” has transported him back to “the childlike wonder” of his early theater experiences.

Acting at the Playhouse is special for anyone — especially a Westporter. Lee appreciates its renowned place in the theater world. It’s always a thrill to step on the section of stage that comes from the original.

He admits to stage fright before every performance. He felt that way in high school too. On the other hand, he says, “I haven’t forgotten any lines.”

As for sharing a show with his daughter: “It’s like drinking from the fountain of youth. It’s nice that she’s still at an age when she’s not embarrassed by me.”

In fact, when she passes him backstage Kaya says, “Go get ’em, Tiger!”

Lee Scharfstein, backstage at the Westport Country Playhouse.

With the perspective of parenthood, Lee occasionally tears up. “Seeing these great kids, their talented director Chaz Wolcott, and Equity actors like him who were part of the national tour — and being there with my daughter — it’s just a really great part of my life. I feel like the stars aligned for me to do this.”

“Newsies” closes Sunday. So what’s next?

“I’m very lucky. I love producing, directing, and the branding consulting I’ve been doing. Each fuels the other,” Lee says.

“I’ve written a couple of screenplays. My wife and I took a stand-up comedy class last year. And I’ve committed myself to do more stage and camera work.”

Once a theater kid, always a theater kid.

(“Newsies” is performed Friday, February 14 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, February 15 at 1:30 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, February 16 at 3 p.m. For tickets and more information, click here.)

“Newsies,” on the Westport Country Playhouse stage.

Adam Kaplan’s Bronx Tale

What’s a nice Jewish boy from Westport doing in 2017 with an Italian-American Bronx teenager during the 1960s?


On Broadway.

Adam Kaplan — the 2008 Staples High School grad whose post-Players career includes starring roles in “Kinky Boots” and “Newsies” — has a new gig. He recently took over as Calogero, the narrator/lead in “A Bronx Tale.”

It might seem that playing a scrappy Italian city kid is a stretch for a boy from the ‘burbs. (And one who went on to major in musical theater at North Carolina’s Elon University.)

But, he says, his character is “eager, wide-eyed, willing to learn and make something of his life.” Those, Kaplan adds, are traits “any aspiring performer can relate to.”

Adam Kaplan and “A Bronx Tale” dance captain Brittany Conigatti.

The Westporter may no longer be “aspiring.” Following his 2 roles in “Newsies” — plus nearly 40 performances as understudy for lead Jack Kelly — Kaplan moved to Los Angeles for television work.

He had just finished a guest role on ABC’s “Deception” when “Bronx Tale”‘s casting director called. Several whirlwind trips to New York later, he got the job.

Two days later — on October 18 — Kaplan began intensive rehearsals. His first show was November 9.

Joining the cast of an established show is very different from signing on at the start. Rather than discovering elements together with the rest of the cast, Kaplan says, “everyone already has their rhythm. My job is not to disrupt it.”

His goal is to “take the audience on a 2-hour journey, and tell this story truthfully.”

Opening night was special. Family and friends were in the audience. “I walked on stage, and got entrance applause,” Kaplan recalls. “That was sweet!”

It’s been a great gig. Writer Chazz Palminteri — who based the show partly on his own childhood — has been “a great springboard, and very complimentary. He came with a full notebook, ready to take notes about me. But he only had a few.”

As a teenager on the Staples stage, Kaplan always dreamed of Broadway. Now — playing the lead again, in his 2nd show — it all seems “surreal and crazy.”

A few years ago, Kaplan read actors’ interviews on Broadway.com. Now he’s the interviewee. (He also finished 10th in the voting for the site’s Sexiest Man Alive contest.)

A screenshot of Adam Kaplan’s Broadway.com interview.

Broadway, he says with a hint of surprise, “actually is all it’s cracked up to be.” There are perks like singing at a Brooklyn Nets games, and the honor of greeting Westport fans — those he knows, and those he meets for the first time — at the stage door after a show.

Though Kaplan starred in a wide range of Staples Players roles — “Romeo and Juliet,” “Children of Eden,” “Diary of Anne Frank” —  he was never in a rough-and-tumble production like his 2 Broadway hits.

This fall’s Players mainstage was “Newsies.” Unfortunately, the “Bronx Tale” schedule prevented Kaplan from seeing his alma mater’s spectacular rendition.

He saw photos of it, though. He forwarded them along to actors who’d worked on the show with him.

“They were shocked,” Kaplan reports. “They couldn’t believe that was my school, doing it like Broadway.”

That’s quite a Bronx Westport tale.

Read All About It: Reid Thompson Makes “Newsies”

When audiences pack the auditorium this weekend for “Newsies” — Staples Players’ eye-popping production of the Tony Award-winning show — they’ll rave about the Broadway-quality singing and dancing.

They’ll give standing ovations for the high-energy pit orchestra. They’ll congratulate directors David Roth and Kerry Long as one of the first high schools in the country to pioneer the musical.

They’ll notice the set, too. But unless they’re intimately involved in theater, they won’t understand how much the scaffolding, backdrops — and over 1,500 newspaper bundles — contribute to “Newsies”‘ success.

There’s a lot going on during Staples Players’ “Newsies” — including the set. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Reid Thompson knows. He’s the Players grad — and professional set designer — who helped bring the New York newsboy strike of 1899 to life in 2017 Westport.

As a student in the mid-1990s, Staples’ art wing was Thompson’s refuge. Legendary tech director Joe Ziegahn asked the budding artist to paint horses for “Carousel.” The rest is theatrical history.

Thompson continued painting for Players’ productions of “West Side Story,” “Runaways” and “The Tempest.”

He trained at the Art Institute of Chicago. After graduation, Roth and Long asked him to work on summer musical sets at Danbury’s Richter Park.

That led to work with Players shows like “Into the Woods,” “Merrily We Roll Along” and “Hello, Dolly!” At the same time, Thompson painted Broadway and off-Broadway productions, including “The Lion King,” “42nd Street” and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” A 5-year stint painting for the Metropolitan Opera House followed.

Reid Thompson painting “Der Rosenkavilier” at the Metropolitan Opera.

Commuting back to Westport, Thompson moved from painting sets to designing them. He created the jury room cage for Players’ “Twelve Angry Men,” and the illustrated storybook for “Guys and Dolls.”

But Thompson wanted to learn more about set design, so he applied to Yale School of Drama. His Staples portfolio helped gain admission to that very competitive institute. Working there with directors, actors, stage managers and techies, he forged bonds that brought him important New York work (“The King and I,” “Fiddler on the Roof”).

Thompson continued to work with Players, on “Music Man” and — yes — “Fiddler.”

Reid Thompson

Then came “Newsies.”

Beginning last summer, Thompson and the directors talked about period, context and themes. They researched the history of the newsboy strike, its importance to the labor movement and protections for children. They talked about characters.

Thompson looked at historical photos and artwork. Newspaper collages struck a particular chord.

Staples’ huge casts need space to move and jump. Scenery must provide a setting, but flow seamlessly during transitions so audiences are transported into the sweep of the story.

There are other challenges. Can everyone in the audience see the action? Can the singers see the conductor, and vice versa? And of course, what’s the budget?

Thompson set to work using a scale model. He focused on a collage of period newsprint that evokes turn-of-last-century New York: vertical, a bit grimy, sensationalistic. Scaffolding represents tall buildings, and period ironwork.

“Newsies” is a show about kids. Thompson wanted audiences to see their perspective. Thus, much of the set looks upward — “large and overwhelming,” the designer says.

The newsies’ world was black-and-white — literally and metaphorically. Much of the set is too. But when Jack Kelly, the lead character, is in the vaudeville theater, he feels safe. Thompson added vivid colors there.

“That’s Rich,” performed in the theater that Jack Kelly loves. (Photo/Kerry Long)

The stage manager and lighting designer worked from Thompson’s ground plan and drawings.  Technical director Pete DiFranco and student carpenters built sets based on Thompson’s construction drawings. Steelwork was done in a professional shop.

Thompson created the collages himself, using period newsprint sent to a digital printer in Brooklyn.

Large newspapers form a backdrop for “The Bottom Line.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Conceptualizing — then realizing — a show like “Newsies” takes enormous work. Thompson likens it to an architect working with clients and contractors to produce a building.

When we look at buildings, most of us don’t think of the people who designed it. The same with theater sets. Even audience members who admire the design and detail don’t always realize how, say, moving pieces of scenery on and off stage contributes to the flow of the show. Or that the designer pored over hundreds of photos before creating a certain scaffold, then positioned it just so.

“Newsies” has earned a place as one of Players’ most storied productions ever. It will be talked about for years.

Audiences will remember the singing, the dancing and the acting. They may not recall Reid Thompson’s sets.

But without them, this remarkable show would not go on.

(To learn more about Reid Thompson’s work, click here.)

Players Learn From A Real-Life Newsie

Most high school theater groups prepare for a show by listening to the cast album. They watch a video. The director adds whatever insights he or she can.

Staples Players is not most high school theater groups.

For one thing, this fall’s main stage production is “Newsies.” Players scored a coup last spring, when Disney asked directors David Roth and Kerry Long to pilot the production. They’ll provide executives with feedback. A year from now, other amateur companies across the nation can produce the show too.

For another thing, Players’ cast and crew learned about “Newsies” from an actual newsboy.

Actual, as in one who was on Broadway.

Adam Kaplan — the former Players star who graduated in 2008 — played a newsboy (and Morris Delancey) in the New York production. He also understudied for lead Jack Kelly.

Last week, Kaplan returned to the Staples auditorium. He shared stories about his time with “Newsies,” including how he got the role and how he trained for it.

Adam Kaplan (center) with Nick Rossi and Charlie Zuckerman. The Staples students are double cast as Jack Kelly –the role Kaplan understudied on Broadway. (Photo/Kerry Long)

He also offered advice on how the young actors can take care of themselves, while doing such a physical show.

The students seemed awed when Kaplan walked in. But they quickly responded to his enthusiasm and charisma.

They loved when he joined them in “Zip, Zap Zup” — a popular theater game he played, when he was at Staples.

And when he himself dreamed about making it to Broadway.

The cast and crew of Staples Players’ “Newsies”pose with Adam Kaplan. (Photo/Kerry Long)

(Click here to join Staples Players’ email list, for ticket information on upcoming shows.)

Stop The Presses! Staples Players’ Fall Production Is “Newsies”!

Just when you think Staples Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long have no more theatrical tricks up their sleeves — they stage a new one.

Every spring, they gather their cast and crew together to announce the following fall’s mainstage. It’s highly anticipated — but brief and straightforward.

A couple of weeks ago, Roth got an email from Disney Theatricals. The company handles all Disney productions — “Lion King,” “Mary Poppins” and “Newsies,” for example.

A few years ago, Roth and Long enjoyed the latter show on Broadway. As a recent production though, they never imagined it would be available.

Caley Beretta, as a Staples senior. (Photo/Kerry Long)

But Disney’s email — prompted by 2010 Staples grad Caley Beretta, who now works there as a creative development coordinator — posed an intriguing question: Would Players want to pilot a production of “Newsies”?

If so, the highly respected high school troupe would give Disney feedback on what worked well (and did not), and provide video and photos. Disney executives would see the show, and use Staples’ experience to revise their production. It will then be released to other amateur groups to stage, beginning in the fall of 2018.

The process for selecting a show usually takes much longer. But Roth and Long love “Newsies.”

‘”It’s a true story about the 1896 newsboys strike,” Roth notes. “It’s incredible how kids working together forced Joseph Pulitzer to not take advantage of them. It really is a show about kids. And it’s an ensemble show, which is great too.”

This being Staples Players, there’s a strong connection to the Broadway version. Adam Kaplan — Staples ’08 — played Morris Delancey and a newsboy (and understudied for lead Jack Kelly).

Adam Kaplan (left) and “Newsies” fans (called “fansies”).

Long had a great idea: Kaplan could announce the play to Players.

Last Friday morning, she contacted him. He quickly filmed a video, and sent it over.

That afternoon, Players gathered in the auditorium. Roth had said all day, “I am not announcing the show.”

Technically, he didn’t.

The video began. Kaplan insisted there was no specific reason he was chosen for the task. Meanwhile, he coyly showed his “Newsies” t-shirt, held up an album cover and walked over to a poster.

It was a clever performance — and the audience of actors quickly understood. They laughed and applauded. (Watch Players’ reactions in the upper left of the announcement video below.)

Soon — after this month’s “Peter and the Starcatcher” Black Box, and July’s production of “Working” — they’ll turn their attention to “Newsies.”

Roth and Long are already thinking ahead. They know they’ll integrate more girls into the show. “There were actually female newsboys back then,” Roth says.

And Kaplan will help in some way — with talks, workshops, whatever.

Those details will still be worked out. Like all shows, it’s a work in progress.

Stay tuned for more news.

(“Peter and the Starcatcher” will be performed May 25, 26, 27 and 28. Online tickets are sold out, but a limited number of standby seats may be available at the door, 20 minutes before curtain. Click here for show times.)

Extra! Extra! Adam Kaplan Performs At The White House!

The Easter Egg Roll is a 137-year-old White House tradition.

“06880” records are incomplete, but next Monday’s event might mark the 1st time a Westporter has performed at the largest White House gathering of the year.

Adam Kaplan — a 2008 Staples grad — will be part of the cast of “Newsies,” his Broadway show, performing on the “Rock ‘n’ Egg Roll Stage.”

Adam Kaplan (carrying a fellow actor on his back) strikes the same pose as shown on the Nederlander Theater door. This shot was taken the day the poster went up.

Adam Kaplan (carrying a fellow”Newsies” actor on his back) strikes the same pose as shown on the Nederlander Theater door.

He’ll be joined by DJ Fussyman, Diggy Simmons, Fifth Harmony, MKTO, Sesame Street and “So You Think You Can Dance” All-Stars. None of that means much to me, but I’m sure it does to the thousands of little egg rollers and their minders, who will pour onto the South Lawn.

This year’s event features sports and fitness zones, cooking demonstrations (including Bobby Flay), and classics such as the egg roll and egg hunt, plus storytelling and (cue “Newsies”) live music.

And you thought nothing ever got done in Washington!

A Star Is Born

Adam Kaplan stepped up up from understudy to lead in last Saturday’s matinee and evening performances of “Newsies.”

Adam Kaplan PlaybillThe 2008 Staples grad played Jack Kelly at the Nederlander Theatre.

A perhaps-only-slightly-less-than-objective Westport fan said, “He was wonderful! His singing, acting, comic timing and dancing were totally Broadway-worthy. ”

She was also struck by “the kindness, patience and genuine warmth that he showed to fans outside the theater.”

His fans included dozens of Westporters — among them his father and mother, Jeff and Carol; his former music teacher Suzanne Sherman Propp, and current and former Staples Players.

Adam Kaplan and a few fans, after the show.

Adam Kaplan and a few fans, after the show.

Adam — whose usual roles are both Morris Delancey and a newsboy — may take the role again soon.

Where will that lead? Read all about it — not in newspapers, but on “06880.”

(Fun fact: “Newsies” associate director Richard [Ricky] Hinds danced in Staples Players summer shows, before Adam’s time.)

The work of a star is never done.

The work of a star is never done.

Extra, Extra! Adam Kaplan Joins “Newsies”!

When Adam Kaplan was 6 years old, his parents took him to see Staples Players‘ production of “West Side Story.”

The high school troupe is often praised for its “Broadway-quality” work. As a toddler, Adam didn’t know it from Broadway.

But he was inspired by the acting, singing and dancing. A decade later at Staples, he earned high marks for his own roles in shows like “Romeo and Juliet,” “Children of Eden” and “Diary of Anne Frank.”

Adam Kaplan

Adam Kaplan

After graduating from Elon University as a music theater major last spring, Adam embarked on an endless round of New York auditions.

Next Tuesday — less than a year out of college — Adam makes his Broadway debut. He’s both Morris Delancey and a newsboy — and the understudy for Jack Kelly, the lead — in “Newsies.”

Before Elon, Adam had not danced much. But in musical theater, he learned how to dance. He also took classical voice courses, plus contemporary and pop music.

Thanks to Elon’s emphasis on building contacts and relationships, Adam spent 2 summers with the Flat Rock Playhouse, a professional equity theater in North Carolina. The 1st year he had ensemble roles; the next, he had a lead in the vocally demanding, dance-heavy “Hairspray.”

Last summer, Adam got his Equity card at the prestigious Music Theatre of Wichita. Doing 5 shows in 10 weeks, working alongside “unbelievable people,” hearing great stories and keeping his eyes wide open, Adam grew tremendously.

This fall in New York, he auditioned up to 4 times a day.

“I told myself I wouldn’t pass up any opportunity to be seen by anyone,” Adam says.

He also took classes with casting directors. “There’s always more to learn,”Adam notes. “Theater is constantly evolving and changing.”

Newsies logoIn September, he saw “Newsies.” The musical — about early 20th century newsboys — captivated him. He loved Jack — the tour de force lead, with powerful songs — and admired the ensemble, filled with “ridiculously talented boys who’ve been dancing since they were 2.”

One recent Friday, Adam went to a chorus call for the show. Called back for an appointment 4 days later, he sang Jack’s big number, “Santa Fe.” The room was filled with the director and Disney producers. They were looking for an understudy for Jack.

The next day, Adam returned. This time he was asked to tap dance to another show-stopper.

Each step of the process, he fell more in love with the show.

His final callback was that Thursday. It won him the job.

He calls his dual roles — the authority figure Morris, and a rabble-rousing newsboy — “the best of both worlds.”

Being Jack’s understudy is icing on the cake.

The "Newsies" cast. Adam Kaplan joins them next Tuesday.

The “Newsies” cast. Adam Kaplan joins them next Tuesday.

Adam has been watching shows, taking notes, then learning his roles during intense rehearsals. The cast has embraced him.

So has the show’s rabid fan base. Even before the official announcement, Twitter and Tumblr were filled with posts about Adam.

Next Tuesday (February 19) at 7:30 p.m., as the Nederlander Theatre curtain rises, Adam Kaplan makes his Broadway debut.

He’ll be nervous, he admits. But he’s sure the adrenaline will kick in too.

“I know it will be emotional,” he says. “This is something I’ve wanted for so long. I still haven’t processed it all.”

He’ll be buoyed by the support of family and friends.

“I grew up just an hour away,” Adam notes. “It’s so great, having everyone so near.”

His road to Broadway began 16 years ago in the Staples auditorium, watching “West Side Story.” It wound through Players, on to North Carolina and Wichita.

But Adam Kaplan is definitely not in Kansas anymore.