Lakeway native Brewer helming Carolina production of ‘Newsies’

From left, Latreshia Lilly, Joel Upton, Adell Ehrhorn, John C. Leggett, Shaw Shurley and Jack Sterner.

So, it’s less than a week out from the show’s opening, a period of time known in the theater world as “tech,” one that can strike fear and loathing in the hearts of production teams and performers.

For the guest director of “Newsies,” set to hit the stage Sept. 13 in Greenville, South Carolina, however, the tech process is a comfort zone of sorts, a time during which his exacting nature can flourish while finalizing every little detail from the angle of a specific key light to the turn of a performer’s head in response to a line of script.

Micah-Shane Brewer, co-founder of Encore Theatrical Company in Morristown, admitted on Friday he still paces through the theater seats during the final hours of preparation, gets little sleep, endures continuous mental wheel-turning and loves every minute of it.

“It feels great. It’s very exciting to be a part of creating something; starting from nothing and turning it into a full stage production,” he said.

“Newsies” is a dance-heavy show, so the concern from the beginning was producing a tight, clean rendering from a relative landslide of complicated choreography, so many dance numbers, in fact, Brewer was not confident in quoting a total.

“Our choreographer (Kimberlee Ferraira, Greenville Theatre resident choreographer) is fantastic. She has worked the cast hard; all of the dance is spectacular. It would be hard to do this show without her. She knows her stuff; she’s very specific. We’ve worked well together,” he said.

The role of guest director is well-suited to Brewer’s philosophy, familiar to Morristown audiences: “If you’re going to put your time and effort into something; do it right, don’t settle for second best,” he said.

The wheel-turning includes a lot of questions: What is the character’s objective? What is the story we’re telling? What are the important points of the story? Why do the characters do this or do that? — “It’s very specific,” he said. “You constantly have to analyze: ‘Is this working?’ ‘Is this clear; does the audience get this?’”

Serving as a guest director is an opportunity for Brewer that is encouraged by the University of Mississippi, where he is in his second year as assistant professor of musical theater.

“I really enjoy teaching; I enjoying working with students and watching them grow as individuals. It’s rewarding to help them hone their craft as a performers. I’m having a wonderful time. The students are great,” he said.

The week after “Newsies” closes, Brewer will begin work directing “Little Women” at Ole Miss. The Greenville Theatre work has meant missing three weeks of teaching classes, but he has been keeping in touch with students via email and Skype.

The directing experience has been gratifying for Brewer, extending beyond the joy he feels by seeing performers deliver their best efforts to audiences.

“The entire staff, cast and production team have been very welcoming and professional and are just overall wonderful people to work with,” he said. “They have that really tightknit community here, where it feels like everyone appreciates and respects each other’s work, and that is very importortant; it’s similar to what we were able to create with Encore, a real sense of enjoyment. It’s been a fantastic experience to work with them.”

Brewer’s been interested in directing “Newsies” for years. He saw the movie version when it came out around 1992 as a middle school student and thought at the time it would be “fantastic” musical.

When the stage version was developed and made it to Broadway, he attended one of the shows he described as high-energy and fun, as well as being based on a historical event, much like “Ragtime” and “Les Miserables,” shows he later directed with Encore.

“It has something to say. With ‘Newsies,’ a theme for me is that it’s never too late to stand up and do what is right,” Brewer said.

The storyline is based on the 1899 newspaper carrier strike in New York City, after publisher Joseph Pulitzer raised the price the “newsies” had to pay per 100 newspapers from 50 cents to 60. The newsboys struggled to survive; many of them were orphans.

“Back in 1899, there were a lot of issues with child labor. People like Pulitzer didn’t take them seriously at first, but the boys stuck together and rallied the entire city,” Brewer said.

After flyers were distributed en masse, some violent encounters occurred with scabs (strike-breakers) and advertisers fled, Pulitzer and other publishers agreed on a policy to take back papers the newsboys were unable to sell.

“For the first time, these kids were able to stand up for themselves and create change,” Brewer said.

After word got out that Brewer was guest director for the show, a group from Morristown, nearly 30 as of press time, purchased tickets for opening night; their long-distance attendance will serve as a testament to his influence here.

He is anticipating the return to his classes at Ole Miss, work he described as changing gears from his time as a lecturer at the University of Tennessee; there is more of a hands-on type of instruction involved in teaching musical theater, voice and acting.

“It involves literally giving all of your attention to students,” he said. “I had a couple of really bad teachers growing up, and that can be devastating. You have to be serious about what you’re doing. Your goal is to focus on that student and help them. I’m using the same skills, but it’s different way of teaching: directing a person, helping them focus on the way they use their body and their voice and they way they interpret things.

“It’s a matter of being patient and being present, living in the moment, focusing on what is in front of you and not worrying about what is going to happen in the future.”

The cast of “Newsies” includes John C. Leggett as Jack Kelly, Adell Ehrhorn as Katherine Plumber, Dave DiGeronimo as Joseph Pulitzer, Joel DuPont as Crutchie and Latreshia Lilly as Medda Larkin.

The show’s run is Sept. 13-29.

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