WENATCHEE — Directors Paul and Kelly Atwood, along with the Music Theatre of Wenatchee and the Numerica Performing Arts Center, considered several different shows for the Apple Blossom Musical this year.
They wanted something that was family friendly and also represented the historic 100th anniversary of the festival.
“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” was considered, so was “Mamma Mia.” Then the rights for Disney’s “Newsies” show became available.
“I’m a traditionalist, in a way. So with the 100th anniversary of Apple Blossom, you got to pick a show that kind of represents that in a way,” Paul Atwood said. “We were thinking about a couple other shows at the time and then this one came up and we thought ‘this one will be perfect for our anniversary.’”
The show is set during the turn of the century’s great newspaper wars, just a few years before Sue Wagner, the wife of Wenatchee fruit packer Ernest Wagner, helped launch the first Apple Blossom Festival in 1920.
Based on a real event, the musical follows a group of young newspaper carriers that go on strike to protest low wages from a publisher.
It may be a scene from more than 100 years ago, but Atwood quickly found it piqued a lot of interest from the valley’s younger actors.
“I didn’t think this generation would be so interested in this show but we had a record number of people that tried out,” he said. “The original stage version has been on Netflix for awhile so a lot of people have seen it on Netflix.”
Not only did their familiarity help the recruitment efforts, it also helped speed up rehearsals, Atwood said.
“It’s amazing that these young actors and actresses come to our rehearsals already really knowing all the music,” he said. “It’s been really great in that aspect. They really know the storyline and everything.”
There are more than 60 cast members and production staff working on the show this year, Atwood said. They’ve done everything from making custom costumes to building a three-story set piece.
“You’ll see people up on all three levels,” he said. “It’s supposed to be reminiscent of the industrial age, so it’s kind of scaffolding-looking.”
The cast is a mix of younger actors and seasoned Wenatchee performers, Atwood said.
“Our two leads are actually married to each other. Susan Heminger and Jeff Heminger are both in the show and they play the two leads,” he said. “So when they kiss, they’re husband and wife so it’s real. I like that feeling that we get.”
The cast’s chemistry is even more impressive considering they’re donating their time to be a part of the production, Atwood said.
“Everybody that’s working on this show is amazing, which is so cool because they’re volunteers. A lot of them are volunteers,” he said. “After you’ve done shows for awhile, you get a great team that works with you. I’m just overwhelmed and excited about this show. It’s going to be good.
Atwood and his wife Kelly have been active in the Wenatchee theater scene since the early 1990s, including Apple Blossom shows, music theater shows and productions at Wenatchee High School.
As the 100th anniversary festival takes off this week, Atwood’s also been taking some time to reflect, he said.
“I’m always very impressed with our community and what we can do,” he said. “This is a very arts-appreciative place and I’m very fortunate to live in a place that really has that culture.”