In this corner, we have Joseph Pulitzer. In this corner, we have William Randolph Hearst.

And in the middle of the two newspaper publishing heavyweights, we have New York's newsboys. 

When the newspaper magnates were locked in battle at the turn of the century, it was the boys who sold their papers who had to pay the price — literally, out of their own pockets.

What transpired would change the course of the country's labor history.

Theatre Baton Rouge will tell the story through song and dance when it opens Disney's "Newsies" on June 14.

The stage musical is based on Disney's 1992 film starring Christian Bale (who later played Batman) in the lead role of Jack Kelly. 

The production dazzles from beginning to end with seemingly nonstop dance numbers performed to songs by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman.

To prepare for the TBR show, choreographer Dylon Hoffpauir has spent the past two months getting the cast in shape. 

"It was almost like a boot camp," said Thomas Luke, who plays disabled newsboy Crutchie. "He makes us run, do squats, jumping jacks, push-ups and other exercises. We have to do it before and after every rehearsal."

Director Jenny Ballard said the hard work has paid off.

"It's built up their stamina, and they're going to need it for the run of this musical," she said, then added with a laugh, "I have to say that I've built up my abs just by watching them."

The musical's opening number, "Seize the Day," is a workout in itself.

"It's a seven-minute dance number," Ballard said. "That's a lot. Dylon is the show's choreographer, and he choreographed 'Seize the Day,' but Natalie Baily Smith choreographed 'King of New York.' The set is scaffolding, and the actors are dancing all over it."

"Newsies" is set in 1899, though historically, the newsboys' strike actually began with the onset of the Spanish-American War in 1898, when newspaper companies raised the price of their paper bundles from 50 cents to 60 cents.

Newsboys, or newsies for short, bought the bundles of newspapers, then sold the papers individually to earn back their money.

Sensational headlines sold more papers. And if the day's news was tame, newsies would make boring stories more exciting through their flashy "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!" sales pitches.

The newsies were youngsters, most from poor homes or homeless. When Pulitzer and Hearst raised their prices, the newsies went on strike.

Historically, the strike culminated in 1899 when a teen named Kid Blink lead a band of newsies to the Brooklyn Bridge, where they blocked traffic as a specific statement against Pulitzer. On Theatre Baton Rouge's stage, actor-writer Harvey Fierstein's story plays out a little differently with a cast of 45 that includes both boy and girl newsies.

"That's one of the great things about this musical — we can cast girls as newsies," Ballard said. "We're not playing them as girls, but we're also not hiding the fact that they are girls. We're just playing them as newsies."

Austin Ventura plays Jack Kelly, who dreams of one day leaving New York for his romanticized version of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Jack, based on Kid Blink, acts as the unofficial leader of the newsies and takes on a protective big brother role to Crutchie. He also falls for aspiring journalist Katherine Plummer, who is relegated to covering fluff news because of her gender.

"She was a woman trying to get into journalism at a time when the field was dominated by men," said Rebecca Smith, who plays Katherine. "She wants to do hard-hitting news, but no one will let her."

Katherine's friendship with Jack gives her access to the newsies during their strike, but she also guards a big secret that could ruin everything.

Meanwhile, Davey Jacobs, played by Grayson Barraco, shows up on the scene with his little brother, Les, played by Joey Roth. They're different from most of the other newsies because they have a home with parents.

Their father has lost his job, so they resort to selling papers to contribute to their family's finances. Jack shows Davey the ropes, and Davey eventually steps up in the leadership role when Pulitzer, played by Albert Nolan, uses threats to keep Jack in line.

The newsies' strike is credited for inspiring child worker movements and, eventually, the creation of the child protection laws.

And they did it by creating their own news.


A Theatre Baton Rouge musical

WHEN: June 14, June 16, June 21-23, June 27-30. Performances at 7:30 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., additional matinee at 2 p.m. June 22.

WHERE: Theatre Baton Rouge, 7155 Florida Blvd.

TICKETS/INFO: $30; $19, students. (225) 924-6496 or

Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.