Northwestern alumna stars in Marriott Theatre’s upcoming production of ‘Newsies’

Jennifer Hepp, Reporter

Workforce strikes, power shifts and political corruption. More than a century later, these themes remain relevant both onstage and off, and a recent Northwestern alumna will help bring them to light in the Marriott Theatre’s upcoming production of “Newsies.”

Eliza Palasz (Communication ’15) will portray the role of Katherine Plumber in the production, running from Oct. 25 through the end of the calendar year. The musical was inspired by a historic newsboy strike held in New York City in 1899.

Plumber, a reporter for the New York Sun in the 1890s, is an “empowered character” who discovers a newsboy strike and writes an article about it in hopes of becoming a more prominent writer, Palasz said. As a female reporter, Plumber is initially limited to reviewing lower-class and vaudeville-style performance acts, she said.

“Katherine gets inspired by these boys,” Palasz said. “They’re all kind of the underdogs fighting to have rights, and I think she feels in line with them as a woman during the time.”

Jack Kelly, played by Patrick Rooney, is the male protagonist in the show and leader of the newsies’ strike. Rooney described the character as having “a lot of gusto.”

“Jack is the oldest one out of the bunch and has a lot of swagger,” Rooney said. “He’s perfected the craft of selling newspapers, and selling himself (and) his personality to those around him.”

Katherine and Jack, drawn together by the mutual cause of fighting for their rights, are from different classes and situations, but end up falling in love, director and choreographer Alex Sanchez said.

Sanchez said Palasz possesses a “wonderful inner strength,” which makes her both vulnerable and emotionally accessible as an actress.

“Katherine is a character who is progressive and ahead of her time, and I feel like Eliza totally encapsulates that,” he said.

Palasz has starred in Marriott productions since she was a junior at Northwestern. After “Godspell,” her first gig off campus, Palasz also appeared in “Evita,” “Spring Awakening” and “October Sky” at the theater.

Palasz added that Marriott is a well-respected venue across the U.S. and has helped further her acting career.

“I learned so much from working with directors who are able to really put me in a professional mindset,” she said. “Many of them worked on Broadway and directed on Broadway. … It put me on a higher level than I ever could have been … while I was still a student.”

In addition to Marriott productions, Palasz has also performed with the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Although set in the 1890s, Sanchez said he believes “Newsies” is largely relevant today because it speaks of human courage and facing fears. Palasz added that themes in the show are applicable to current events in the U.S.

“I really like how ‘Newsies’ talks about people who are born with less really fight to have their rights and find their place in society,” she said. “Right now in our country, immigrants are really being pushed down in a society that’s really been built up on people who are different and outsiders.”

Rooney has not performed in a Marriott production without Palasz, he said. Sanchez said Rooney and Palasz are both “very grounded and down-to-earth” actors, and have a “great sense of chemistry and vulnerability” on stage.

Sanchez added that the musical reflects a “‘David and Goliath’-type” story, which, similar to the theme of confronting fears, is applicable to the modern-day entertainment industry.

“Especially now with sexual harassment, women are speaking up against strong figures,” Sanchez said. “Now, more than ever, (the show) is very much reflective of what we’re going through in our society.”

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