Michael Gorman: The Oldsie of Newsies returns to Denver

 

Michael Gorman NewsiesMichael Gorman jokingly refers to himself as one of the “Oldsies” in Newsies. Now he’s not so “oldsie” that he was hawking papers for a nickel on big-city street corners back at the turn of the century. You know … the 20th century. But oldsie enough where Gorman did have his own paper route as a lad in suburban St. Louis.

Not that delivering The St. Louis Post by bicycle before the dawn of each dawn suited him for long.

“When I was a kid, it was either get up early and go to Mass, or get up early and deliver the paper,” said Gorman. “I tried it for a while, but I wound up going to Mass instead.”

Still, good training for his current gig playing three different oldsies (including the Mayor of New York) in Disney’s Newsies. The wildly popular musical, with a score by Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast) and a book by Harvey Fierstein (La Cage Aux Folles), is based on the real-life Newsboys’ strike of 1899.

“I think it’s popular because it’s about this guy named Jack Kelly, who is the leader of a band of newsboys and he has a dream of a better life,” said Gorman. “Literally, these boys are homeless. They’re sold into a refuge if they disobey some made-up law. And so Jack leads them on a strike that literally shuts down New York. It’s really the story of hope.”

And it features the kind of physically demanding dancing Gorman hasn’t seen since A Chorus Line. And he knows a thing or two about A Chorus Line. Gorman played Bobby for nearly three years in the original Broadway production starting in 1978, which he said was like being surrounded by dance royalty.

Gorman has truly lived the life of a gypsy actor, perpetually traveling the world as a performer and choreographer. But from 1981-2006, his home base was Colorado. He worked at nearly every local theatre here, a list spanning the Arvada Center to the now shuttered Country Dinner Playhouse and Heritage Square Music Hall. He was crushed to hear of Heritage Square’s closing two years ago in Golden.

“Those were the funniest people I’ve ever met,” he said. “I learned more about comedy in that job than in any job I’ve ever had…until now.”

Gorman has worked with essentially every local musical actor of note from that period, including red-hot Tony Award nominee Beth Malone (Broadway’s Fun Home) and the superhero of CBS’ Supergirl, Melissa Benoist.

Gorman directed Malone in Little Shop of Horrors at the Arvada Center. And he’s not at all surprised that his back-alley backup singer has rocketed to the top of her field. “She deserves every bit of her success,” he said. “What a good egg — and what a good lady.”

Melissa Benoist A Chorus Line Town Hall Arts Center

Gorman directed Benoist in the Littleton Town Hall Arts Center’s 2006 production of A Chorus Line. When Benoist was later cast in the hit Fox TV series Glee, she said she considered that production to be one of the two seminal experiences of her young career. She played Bebe.

“That changed my life, and I think it was totally a precursor to this experience on Glee because it required singing and acting and dancing – and having to be honest doing them all at once,” Benoist said at the time. “We moved at a really fast pace, and I learned really difficult material that Michael Gorman was throwing at us every day. And it didn’t stop. It was a really grueling and challenging experience for everyone in that show, and I learned so much.”

And if Benoist credits Gorman, then Gorman credits the material.

“I get very emotional about this because it’s such a tough show to put up,” he said. “You try to put the heart into it, and you really try to protect your actors because there’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. It’s a brutal show. There’s a great reward when you do it, but, boy — it’s brutal getting there.”

During his time in Denver, Gorman was often lured away from home by the legendary Baayork Lee, who since 1975 has dedicated her life to preserving the legacy of A Chorus Line creator Michael Bennett. Starting in 1983, Gorman was to Lee what Lee was to Bennett: The assistant who put dancers through the grueling boot camp that prepared them to perform in A Chorus Line. The job took Gorman all over the world to bucket-list places like Australia, Israel, Singapore and the London Palladium. But after that grueling odyssey, he was eager to come home and immerse himself in “character acting,” and that is exactly what Newsies has afforded him. “It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had,” he said.

“It’s such a great dance show, and people just go nuts over it. It reminds me of how I started in A Chorus Line. I see these boys in Newsies having the same kind of experience. It’s like a sports event seeing them do all of the athletic things they do. How could you not fall in love with them?

“And one of the most exciting things about Newsies, I think, is that it’s growing the next generation for the theatre. Not only for performing, but for coming to the theatre as well. It has sparked such a following.”

An as for the oldsies mingling with the Newsies, he said: “I don’t think we’re mentoring them. I think it’s mutual. I feel like everyone here is mentoring each other.”


Disney’s Newsies: Ticket information

  • March 23-April 9 at the Buell Theatre
  • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
  • TTY: 303-893-9582
  • Groups of 15 or more: 303-446-4829
  • Also: Purchase in person at The Denver Center Ticket Office, located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby. Buy and print online at DenverCenter.Org.
  •  Kids’ Night on Broadway, Talkback with the Company: 7:30 p.m. March 24
  • Accessibility performance: 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. April 3

  • Check out more of our Colorado theatre coverage

    Disney's Newsies Joey Barreiro as Jack Kelly with the North American touring company Disney’s ‘Newsies.’ Photo by Deen van Meer.

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