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Ogden theater debuts first ASL production of Newsies with three deaf lead actors

Posted at 9:51 PM, Feb 24, 2020

OGDEN, Utah – American Sign Language is taking center stage for the first time in the Beehive State with a first-ever ASL adaptation of the Broadway musical, "Newsies."

A dozen actors, decked out in full hair and makeup, filled the small back-stage area at the Ziegfeld Theater in Ogden Monday evening.

“Yeah, I have that second part, I think you’re right,” one actress said to another as they stood in-front of the mirrors practicing their moves and lines.

For some, the nerves racked up – but as soon as the curtain came up, the ‘Newsies’ took over.

“It’s fun, the dancing is unbelievable,” said Caleb Parry, the director and Ziegfeld Theater executive producer. “A lot happens on the stage.”

It’s the same high-energy, fast-paced, Disney Broadway musical you know and love.

“Every actor uses English, the script is still completely intact, every note is still sung,” Parry said.

But there is one major twist.

“Every person on stage also signs their own lines,” Parry continued. “We have three deaf actors in the cast.”

For the first time, the entire production is being performed in American Sign Language. It’s also the first time an ASL production has been seen in the state of Utah.

American Sign Language was ‘choreographed seamlessly’ into every line, to emphasize the emotion in each scene, song and dance.

“Why can’t a person who’s deaf be in a show?” Parry said. “It means accessibility and it also opens up our storytelling to this whole new realm of storytelling, we can do anything we want, there’s no limits anymore.”

“I never thought this would be possible,” 11-year-old Callie Gunther signed to her translator.

In the production Callie plays Les, one of the main characters who is the younger sibling to David -- another main character played by her real-life older brother, Boston.

“The story behind it talks about kids and how they can have a voice and that they can change the world for the better,” Callie continued.

Both Callie and Boston are hard of hearing and use a translator in everyday life.

“I think the reaction will be great, I think [the audience is] going to love the opportunity to see deaf people in the spotlight and on stage,” 14-year-old Boston Gunther signed to his translator.

Callie and Boston both have ‘shadow actors,’ other performers who stand near them and give their character a physical voice.

“To add signing, that adds a whole other element, using your hands and using your body and using your facial expressions and it’s just a beautiful way to add that new perspective,” Boston signed.

Parry believes incorporating ASL breaks down traditional theater boundaries to create a unique experience, bringing ASL front and center for the first time in Utah – but certainly not the last.

“There’s a beautiful line from the show that says, ‘We’re doing something no one’s ever tried and yes, we’re terrified, but watch what happens,’” said Parry.

‘Newsies’ will be at the Ziegfeld Theater for the next three weekends. The performance will then travel to the Egyptian Theater in Park City for two weeks.