Dallas — Back in 2009, the year this online publication that you’re reading started, actress Katharine Gentsch was everywhere. A theater student at Southern Methodist University, she performed in 10 shows that year at nine theaters in three counties: Theatre Arlington, Richland College, Garland Civic Theatre, Denton Community Theatre, Lyric Stage, Garland Summer Musicals, WaterTower Theatre, Uptown Players and One Thirty Productions.
No, really. She even wrote about it for TheaterJones in a year-end essay.
Katharine Gentsch, now Katharine Quinn, stuck around for another few years while she prepared to make her exit from Texas. She did that in 2011, and has worked in Los Angeles, Tokyo and elsewhere. In 2014 she moved to New York, where she’s been since.
Now, she’s back in Dallas to choreograph Lyric Stage’s production of Newsies, followed by directing and choreographing Brick Road Theatre’s Mamma Mia!
Newsies opens Lyric’s season and runs for four performances this weekend at the Majestic Theatre, in a production directed by Noah Putterman (formerly of Casa Mañana Children’s Theatre) and featuring a bevy of young dancers and singers. In case you haven’t seen it, or the beloved 1992 Disney movie on which it is based, it’s a dance-heavy show. Certainly one of the most dance-intensive Broadway shows of the 21st century.
We caught up with Quinn to talk about returning to Dallas, Newsies, and what she’s been doing since.
TheaterJones: Tell me about your career path since leaving Dallas.
Katharine Quinn: I graduated from SMU in 2011 with a BFA in Theatre, Emphasis in Directing. My last show in North Texas was Cabaret at Dallas Theater Center—the same month I graduated from SMU. I then left North Texas for several regional shows around the country, followed by a nine-month singer contract at Tokyo Disneyland, then a 10-month Swing/Dance Captain gig with Disney Cruise Lines, before finally moving to NYC in early 2014 (where I am still based.) When in Dallas, I worked at DTC (2x), Lyric (7x), Uptown Players, Theatre Three, Watertower, One Thirty Productions, Garland Summer Musicals, and others. I started pursuing theater at 19 (it wasn’t the initial plan when I went to college) and was averaging about 10 shows a year in Dallas for those 3 years. So much of my musical theater training was on-the-job in the DFW theater community!
How did you get the Newsies gig? Have you been involved with a production of Newsies before?
Newsies at Lyric Stage was a fortuitous project! This is my third time with Newsies. Last year, I was in the cast of Newsies at Tuacahn Center for the Arts, a 2,000 seat outdoor amphitheatre in Southern Utah for 6.5 months. I had the thrill of playing one of the Newsies, which was a lifelong dream I never thought possible. I consider myself an OG “Fansie,” the name affectionately given to Millennials who grew up obsessing over the original 1992 Kenny Ortega film. (This name has since been passed on to the younger Gen Z kids who have obsessed over the 2012 Broadway production.) At any rate, it never occurred to me that Newsies would get a stage production, let alone that someday I’d get to play a Newsie. I’m a musician as well, and in December 2017, I had the opportunity to play keys in the pit for Newsies at Arts Center of Coastal Carolina. In January, I visited my family in Dallas and saw the season notice circulating for Lyric Stage. I performed in seven Lyric shows between 2009 and 2011, was very familiar with the show, and had been itching to get back to the “other-side-of-the-table,” i.e. directing and choreographing. It felt like the perfect storm. I reached out to Steven [Jones] and Shane [Peterman] in the off chance the creative teams had not yet been secured, and here we are!
Newsies has to be one of the most dance-heavy musicals of this decade. Is Christopher Gattelli's licensed, or do you create it from scratch?
His choreography is not licensed and I created the choreography for this production from scratch. Both director Noah Putterman and I are big fans of the original 1992 film; we grew up on it. The cast was made up of kids—actual children. Christian Bale was one of the eldest (playing Jack Kelly) and he was 17. Newsies is about the real-life event, “The Children’s Crusade.” One of the most exciting opportunities for us was to use actual kids in the DFW area (as opposed to 20 and 30-something professional dancers). We also have newsgirls dressed as girls, which is historically accurate as there were indeed girl newsies in 1899. Newsies is the story of kids who recognized that the adults around them had failed them; The adults were not protecting them and did not always have their best interest at heart. The kids of New York took that injustice and anger and did something about it. They fought for themselves and changed their circumstances (and those for future generations). How could we not use kids from Gen Z to tell this story? That crucial casting choice has altered the fabric of the show—but in a way that I find very exciting.
What are the challenges of choreographing Newsies?
There’s certainly an expectation to fight with the Broadway production. Musical theater choreography has evolved a lot in the last 10-20 years. Shows like So You Think You Can Dance, Dance Moms, the revival of movie-musicals, live-on-TV-musicals, and even movies like High School Musical have ushered in an even crazier surplus of people wanting to pursue musical theater and competition dance—which means you have to be more spectacular than ever to get noticed. Having been on both sides of the table in the last few years, I know for a fact that there are far too many capable people for the number of jobs. Oftentimes, cuts and casting are arbitrary. This surplus has bred a lot of folks who can do tricks, and it has led some really competitive-style dance on Broadway. I’m a 29-year-old with the heart of a 60-year-old—and I’m a real believer in story-driven musical theater dance. There are ways to be inventive without endless across the floor combinations, tumbling, tricks, and flashiness. Do we have moments of that in Lyric’s Newsies? Absolutely. But we have to earn them. First and foremost, it was imperative to me to maintain and forward the story with every single step.
How is the dance talent pool here compared to last time you worked with this company?
My last show at Lyric was Flora, the Red Menace, Kander and Ebb’s first musical. There wasn’t too much dancing in that one! There were many talented dancers in DFW then and there still are now. It is worth noting that it’s nearly impossible to make a living exclusively as a musical theater dancer in Dallas—and that changes the availability and population of your dancers beyond college-age. All of my best friends from Dallas theater who continue to pursue musical theater have since moved to New York. That said, we [the Newsies creative team] made a deliberate choice in casting younger kids in the Metroplex and I have been floored by their eagerness and hunger to do great work. It has been a joy.
What do you miss about Dallas?
A car to lug around groceries! And my mother would like to tell you I miss her most (hi, mom). Jokes aside, the community part of DFW theater is what I miss most. While it’s very exciting to hop into a new job with a big new group of folks somewhere new in the country (or world) every few months, there’s a certain magic fostered by building art with friends and familiar faces. Despite having been away for nearly a decade, I’ve felt that even coming back. Sonny Franks is our [Joseph] Pulitzer in Newsies, and he’s played my father onstage twice. We have a small handful of folks in Newsies that already felt like family. It’s been wonderful meeting all the newer talent in Dallas as well.
What do you NOT miss about Dallas?
The sense of community can be a double-edged sword. With it can come a bit of a competitive/territorial nature. I’ve experienced folks at one theater having certain misguided feelings about another theater. I’ve experienced a lot of negativity about actors brought in from New York. I’ve experienced more misinformed understandings about union/non-union matters in Dallas than anywhere else I’ve worked. These are important points of discussion, but it shouldn’t have to be an us-vs.-them mentality. It isn’t productive—and there’s plenty of beautiful art and talent to go around.
What's next for you?
I’m directing and choreographing Mamma Mia at Brick Road Theatre—should be a ball! Then, it’s back to New York. I have a few projects up in the air for the coming year, but nothing I can talk about just yet. Regardless, it’s been a joy being home!