Updated 2:10 p.m., Jan. 19, 2016 — This story was originally published on Jan. 14, 2016 and has been updated to include an extended cut of Nancy Fowler's interview with Alex Prakken for "St. Louis on the Air."
Countless boys and girls have sat in the audience at St. Louis’ Fox Theatre and dreamed of one day performing on its stage. For one young man from Ladue, that dream is coming true.
“It’s one of...the biggest theater(s) that we play the entire tour,” Prakken said.
“Newsies” is loosely based on the New York newsboys’ strike of 1899. A delivery boy named Jack leads a strike against publishers who’ve raised the price of papers. Joseph Pulitzer, who started the “New York World” as well as the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch,” is cast as chief villain.
Prakken plays a newsboy named Ike as well as Oscar Delancey, one of two brothers who work as henchmen to bully the newsies.
Prakken said he hopes to be an inspiration for other kids with theatrical ambitions.
“It’s very interesting to have those tables turned and know there’s some other little boy just like me and [who’s thinking] like, ‘Wow, maybe one day I’ll be in a show at The Fox,’” Prakken said.
Growing up onstage
Prakken remembers wanting to be an actor from the time he was three years old.
“I was one of those weird kids who danced along to ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ I knew all the choreography, I knew all the songs,” he said.
Prakken’s first role was Rerun in a local production of “You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” When he was 10, he performed on The Muny stage in “Sleeping Beauty.”
As a young teenager, he was in the chorus of The Muny’s “Les Miserables.” As a college student, he graduated to the role of Marius in a 2012 Muny reprisal of the show. Prakken’s first crack at The Fox stage is with “Newsies.”
The play, which debuted on Broadway in 2012, features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and book by Harvey Fierstein. Based on a 1992 movie by the same name, it begins on an optimistic note with the orphaned and homeless newsboys getting ready before sunup for another delivery day. They sing “Carrying the Banner” while ribbing each other good-naturedly.
“We steal each other’s hats; we play sword fights with sticks,” Prakken said. “It’s a very fun opening to the show.”
Prakken performs some fast moves of his own during that number. He has to run backstage to rip off his newsie costume and change into Oscar’s clothes — in only 30 seconds.
“I have one of the wardrobe people standing there holding the costume for me, and it’s pants and a shirt that are snapped together, so it’s kind of like a Onesie,” Prakken laughed. “And they help me Velcro it up and put my tie on — and I run back onstage.”
Sometimes, Prakken is under a different kind of pressure. As the understudy for Jack, he’s played the lead character five times on the tour. Jack is onstage for nearly the whole musical, and his progression from faking a tough-guy stance to actually standing up to Pulitzer is a major theme of the show.
“It’s really the ‘Mama Rose’ equivalent of roles for my age, for guys,” Prakken said.
Everything really does seem to be coming up roses for Prakken. He landed the “Newsies” gig just five days after arriving in New York, following his graduation from the University of Michigan.
He's excited to perform for family, friends and mentors who will be in the "Newsies" audience, and about a Jan. 25 Broadway Cares Newsboys' Variety Show to benefit HIV/AIDS causes hosted at another alma mater: John Burroughs School.
But for the most part, Prakken’s just taking things in stride.
“Right now, I’m just enjoying the ride, enjoying seeing new places,” Prakken said. “Who knows what’s next?”
Here’s a compilation of numbers from the Broadway tour of “Newsies.”
Where: Fox Theatre
When: Tuesday-Sunday, Jan. 19-31
How much: $30-$95
Information: Fox website
Broadway Cares Newsboys' Variety Show
Where: John Burroughs School, 755 S. Price Rd., 63124
When: 7:30, Monday, Jan. 25
How much: $20-$100
Tickets/Information: Broadway Cares website
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL