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"Newsies" didn't do so well when the 1992 movie, starring Christian Bale, opened.

But outside of the theatrical run, the Disney film about "newsies" going on strike after a publisher tries to raise their rates found a cult audience.

Count among them Diego Kjelland, who auditioned for the lead role in Missoula Community Theatre's production of "Disney's Newsies: The Broadway Musical."

For one, the University of Montana sophomore, who's eyeing a career in musical theater, knew that the theater semester on campus would be over.

Second, he's among that younger generation who grew up on the movie. He saw it first when he was probably 11 years old in a choir class. After Disney made it into a musical theater production, he saw it twice.

Joe Martinez, MCT's artistic director, said they knew there were people who grew up on the movie that would want to see this version, which is why they picked it as their season-closer, with a three-week run.

Naturally, Kjelland said, the Broadway version has more spectacle, more music and more big dance numbers.

The 2012 version won a Tony Award for best book (by Harvey Fierstein) and best original score (Alan Menken, whose Disney musical credits include "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," and more, along with Jack Feldman).

Heather Adams, the founder of the Downtown Dance Collective, created the choreography to go along with all that music. She was behind the moves in prior MCT shows like "The Little Mermaid" and "Tarzan," and she directed "The Wizard of Oz."

Kjelland is taking part in his first MCT show after lead roles in UM productions, like "White Christmas" and "American Idiot." Those are all cast for students, and he's impressed by the local talent in the community theater world in Missoula.

"There are a few of our actors who are doing crazy flips, and we've got tumblers out there, and we've got some pretty fantastic tappers, too," he said. 

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They added extra weekend rehearsals to make sure they can dial in all those numbers, which can involve upward of 20 to 30 people on stage at one time.

Kjelland said Martinez encouraged them to generate backstories for their characters — not ones that would contradict the script, but ones that could help them create a sense of camaraderie onstage.

They talked about "our background, how we met, what our relationships were, beyond the script, because the only way to create an authentic, true relationship that you actually believe is if we both have that background ourselves," he said.

The cast has 55 people total, as young as 10. The main group of "newsies," about 25 total, are in high school, college or older. There's an entire group of younger kids, ages 10 to 15, who play the newsies from the boroughs who appear in a few scenes. Martinez said they cast girls in the roles, too. In his research, he learned that many young women sold papers, too, so "newsboys" isn't quite accurate.

The film was based on a real strike in 1899. Catherine, a reporter covering the events, is based on Nellie Bly, the real pioneering reporter. She's played by Ella McMillion, who was Ariel in MCT's "Little Mermaid."

This will be the last MCT show for McMillion, who grew up doing community theater and is heading to New York to study.

"We're lucky that she's spending her last community show with us before she goes off to train in the theater," Martinez said.

The set was designed by Brian Harms, who a decade ago was technical director at MCT. He's since moved to California, and is now the production designer on "Grey's Anatomy."

When he visited town last summer, Martinez and company joked with him about designing a set for them, and he took them up on the offer. The result is heavy on fire escapes to add some period New York character.

He said, 'Well, I would love to do that,' " Martinez said.

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