July 14, 2022
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the July 12, 2022 flipbook.
The sun sets over the Zilker Hillside Theater on July 8, casting shadows on the newsstands lining the stage. The crowd holds their breath on their blankets and lawn chairs as Zilker Theater Productions volunteer Laura Powell approaches the microphone.
“Hello Hillside, we’re back,” Powell said, raising his fist in the air. “Welcome to ‘Newsies’.”
The crowd erupted in applause as they kicked off the opening night of the first Zilker Summer Musical held at the park since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
This summer’s production of “Newsies” marks the restoration of the Zilker Summer Musical – a free outdoor musical theater series that has been hosted at Zilker Park every summer since 1959. The musical, which tells the true story of the Newsboys Strike of 1899, is known for its unifying message and flashy, complex dance numbers. This year, the Zilker Summer Musical features two UT students in the heart-pounding, dance-heavy musical, following a ragtag cast of charismatic young boys and men who go up against some of New York’s biggest names.
“We hope to reach audiences who have not had the opportunity to see this type of work in recent years,” said “Newsies” director Joey Banks. “For many Austinites, the Zilker Summer Musical has been the only experience they have with theater, and because we do it (in the park), we can pack thousands of people every night.”
Because the show is free this year, Banks said he hopes the accessible and inclusive nature of this production will appeal to a wider audience.
Although the Zilker Summer Musical is an annual production, it bills new cast every season. A new face in the cast is Evan Carlson, a dance senior at UT who plays Albert and also serves as the show’s dance captain. Carlson said he was excited to join the show’s storytelling tradition.
“If there’s someone seeing their first musical on stage, it’s going to be a good one because of the level of energy that’s maintained throughout the show,” Carlson said. “I’ve never done a show in an outdoor theater before. Without having an actual roof and walls, (that energy) is not contained. It’s a new experience, but it’s definitely fun.
Fellow cast member Jackson Froelich plays Mush in “Newsies” and said the show was a solid pick, not just for its energy, but also for its inspiring underlying themes.
“(‘Newsies’) was the first musical I saw and resonated with,” Froelich said. “I was so excited about it (and) the fact that the guys were doing theater, dancing. If it can affect me like that, the impact it’s going to have on the rest of the people in this community is going to to be even more special. It’s about people coming together in difficult circumstances. It shows that in solidarity you will triumph.
Banks said he helmed the series with that upbeat message in mind, but he also prioritized historically accurate storytelling by including more new women in the cast, including Jilly Nickens, who said she was thrilled to inspire audiences with her portrayal of a woman. newsie, Splasher.
“I love that this production of the show focuses on working girls around the turn of the century,” Nickens said. “We are able to empower young people. I hope (the public) can take away the idea that change can come from anywhere. It can be easy to ignore people, but (our) generation is the voice of the future.