The cult classic “Newsies” carries the banner across America in Disney’s on-tour musical incarnation. Young street urchins twirl and leap and spin as they follow their dreams, going from selling the newspaper to becoming the biggest headline. It mirrors the living dream of the “Newsies” cast, who bring their characters to life night after night, city after city.
At the age of 17, Ben Cook is the youngest Newsie in the cast, playing the wisecracking Race. He takes the spotlight in many dance numbers with his pirouettes and spins—it’s no surprise he starred as Billy Elliot in the show’s national tour. In between traveling and performing, Ben manages schoolwork on an online program. He gives an inside look on what it’s like to be a Newsie.
Q: What are some of the joys of going on tour?
Ben: Some of the joys would be getting to travel the country, especially at such a young age. I love to see all the cities that end up surprising me. What a wonderful way to do it too—we get to perform eight times a week doing what we love in such an amazing show. At the same time, we get our days off and we get to walk around to see the city as much as we can. It’s incredible.
Q: As you said, you are performing eight times a week. How do you keep each and every performance fresh?
Ben: That’s a good question. It’s hard sometimes, it really is—with all the dancing, it’s a very taxing show on the body. We are very blessed to have a traveling PT [physical therapist] who always makes sure our bodies are okay. It’s such an incredible show to be apart of. For me, making a slightly different decision on stage when delivering your line or providing a different inflection keeps it fresh. We also have amazing understudies, and it makes it that much more exciting when we have a new person.
Q: How is performing in “Newsies” different from any production you’ve done?
Ben: Touring with the show is different. We are always together whether it’s rehearsals or after the show. It’s such a loving, family cast. Everyone is so close and all the guys are like my brothers. I can go to them with anything I need. We are just really happy to be here. We all love to dance and getting to do what we love everyday is pretty magical.
Q: What’s it like being the youngest Newsie in the cast?
Ben: It’s different for sure because I’m the baby Newsie but at the same time it’s great. I’m so lucky to have been taken under all of their wings. I’ve learned so much from all of these guys and everyone in the show. I’ve been blessed to been taught all these wonderful things. I could not actually what my life would be now if I hadn’t gone on the road with the show because they’ve all really opened up my eyes to life in general.
Ben: It did at first. It was really hard to get used to dancing with it in my mouth the entire show. But now it’s become second nature. I couldn’t imagine doing it without the cigar. I did have a few nights where it got accidently knocked out of my mouth, but you make it work and you figure out a way to either get a new one or get the one that fell.
Q: What happens when bloopers occur on stage?
Ben: We’re all so hyper aware because we’ve been doing this for so long, so when something out of the ordinary does happen, we all work together to get the prop where we need to. It’s fun. It makes it new and fresh and keeps everything going.
Q: What advice do you have for kids who look up to you and want to do what you’re doing?
Ben: I would say, follow your dreams. If this is really something you want to do, don’t stop. With auditioning, it’s so hard—you’re going to get a hundred no’s to one yes and it’s tough. It’s a tough business to be in, but it’s all worth it. And if you love being on stage and performing, then no matter what the circumstance is, just find a way to do it. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else, so if it is your true passion and your dream, I’d say go for it.
Photos by Deen van Meer