Melmark Players Give Holidays A Special Glow with NEWSIES

by Walter Bender

Without climbing on too high of a soapbox, it’s very easy to forget what the holiday season is all about. Even in the arts, there is a concentration on the “feel-good” holiday shows…beautiful and uplifting, but still a superficial look at the true meaning of this time of year. Thankfully, there are some shows out there that are a reminder of the best of the season.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Melmark Players Opening Night…a production of NEWSIES. Now, one does not usually think of this production as a holiday show, and most of the time you’d be right. However, it’s not the production, but the cast and crew that make this group (and this production) special.

Quoting from the Melmark website, “Melmark is a comprehensive multi-service agency, providing residential, educational, therapeutic and recreational services for children and adults with autism, intellectual disabilities, a brain injury and other neurological and genetic diagnoses. Our varied programs promote independence, increased self-awareness and confidence while offering participant opportunities to make friends and develop personal interests.

“The Melmark Players theatre group is composed of over 40 adults from Melmark’s Meadows Program who enjoy acting and musical theatre. The group offered their first musical theatre production in 1998, with the debut of Grease. Since then, the Melmark Players have delighted audiences with two performances a year, including productions of Annie, Mary Poppins, South Pacific, Mamma Mia!, Wicked, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, and many more. The entire Melmark community—family members, staff, donors, friends and neighbors —has supported the Players with sold-out crowds, enthusiastic applause and standing ovations. Behind every show is a talented and loyal stage crew, comprised of over ten incredible volunteers and staff.”

The actual production of NEWSIES is a collection of the songs from the Broadway show and the movie, compiled by the production staff, ably led by Director of Creative Arts Melanie Tabakin. They cut together the song selections, and rehearse the very large cast (43 strong, if my count is correct) in the movements and words. The performers sing along with the soundtrack (or lip sync, or even just smile in a couple cases) and move with the song, gesturing, dancing, and giving a wonderful performance.

The cast all did a wonderful job. Leads Christian White (as Jack) and Valerie Barksdale (Katherine) kept very busy and played their parts very well. Other fine performances include Bill Richards (Pulitzer), Patrick Gilronan (Davey), Louie Mueller (Les), and Emily Koncurat as Medda. Honestly, there were so much to enjoy about this show I wish I could mention everyone…you ALL did a terrific job!

The show lasts about an hour, and broad smiles are in abundance…both on stage (when appropriate) and in the audience (never inappropriate!) The feelings of everyone were best show when, after the show ended and the cast enjoyed an enthusiastic standing ovation, one of the cast member jumped up, arms extended and shouted “WE DID IT!” You did indeed, young man…you all did.

My holidays are much brighter after having seen the joy and enthusiasm of this group of dedicated performers, acting their hearts out for their loved ones. This was my first trip to Melmark to see the Melmark Players, but it will not be my last.

For more information about Melmark, and the Melmark Players, or to find out about volunteer opportunities in support of the program, please contact Liza Jones at (610) 325-4984 or

A transcription of the Broadway Play and Disney Movie
Directed by Melanie Tabakin
December 12, 2013
Melmark Players
2600 Wayland Road
Berwyn, PA 19312

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