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Husband and wife (she's a Rollins grad) tour in 'Newsies,' coming to Orlando

Orlando Sentinel Arts Writer
Husband-and-wife actors pack up their toddler for life on the road with Disney's “Newsies”

When Steve Blanchard and Meredith Inglesby met in 2005, he was having serious trouble controlling his temper. She was more than a little flighty.

Actually, those are descriptions of their characters in Disney's Broadway musical "Beauty and the Beast": Blanchard was playing the Beast and Inglesby was Babette, the flirty feather duster.

The actors, who married in 2009, are now touring with Disney's "Newsies," which opens in Orlando on Tuesday. Their 2-year-old daughter, Wren, is along for the ride.

"She's running around right now… you know how it is," says Inglesby during a phone interview from a tour stop in Columbus, Ohio.

A nanny cares for Wren when mom and dad are onstage, but how does parenting a toddler work when living in hotel rooms on the road?

"It's … challenging," says Inglesby, a 1997 graduate of Rollins College in Winter Park. "But I'm loving it. I think it's really good for her — she has lots of 'Newsies' big brothers."

Little Wren's "brothers" can sure kick up their heels.

Based on a 1992 movie, "Newsies" burst onto the Broadway scene in 2012 after a successful run at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. The show is inspired by the real-life New York City newsboys' strike at the turn of the 20th century. Newspaper sellers, mostly children living in poverty, stood up to tycoons William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer in a quest for better wages — and they were successful.

Blanchard plays Pulitzer in the touring show, the first since "Newsies" closed on Broadway in 2014 after more than 1,000 performances. Inglesby portrays Hannah, Pulitzer's secretary.

"I enjoy playing real-life folks," Blanchard says. "I really dig the background and research so I can get into their shoes."

Blanchard is well aware that for dramatic purposes in the musical, Pulitzer the character is presented as far more despicable than his flesh-and-blood counterpart.

"He was obviously not the Snidely Whiplash, mustache-twirling villain he is in our show," says Blanchard, a Maryland native and graduate of the University of Maryland. "He was a journalistic firestorm who did a lot of good for America. But I've got to be the big, bad wolf."

A sense of good vs. evil, the powerless taking on the powerful, is what gives the show its emotional core.

"I think we all love the story of the little guy beating the big guy," Inglesby says. "It's all about the boys — they are telling this amazing story of David vs. Goliath. I'm proud to be part of it."

"Newsies" has some big names behind it — the music is by Alan Menken, composer of the beloved songs from "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast," among others. Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman won a 2012 Tony award for their work on "Newsies," as did choreographer Christopher Gattelli.

The dialogue portions of the story were written by Harvey Fierstein, who filled the same creative role for Broadway hits "La Cage aux Folles" and "Kinky Boots."

During rehearsal, Inglesby received advice from Fierstein on her character. Although the secretary is a small role, the raspy-voiced writer-actor thought the character could use a bigger personality.

"He said, 'You know, honey, you can totally go farther with her if you want,'" Inglesby says. "I said, 'OK, Harvey, I'll take your advice' — and I have. Without being distracting, she's a bit of comic relief."

"Newsies" lets the off-screen spouses perform scenes together.

"I mess with him a little — but in character," says Inglesby, laughing.

The two ended up together in the touring company as a sort of package deal. Because of their Disney Theatrical experience, both knew the creative executives behind "Newsies."

When Blanchard auditioned, "it was like going in and reading and singing for family and friends," he says.

He lingered outside the audition room, slowly gathering his belongings. It's an old actor's trick, he explains.

"What you're really doing is watching to see how long they are in the room talking about you before they call the next person in," Blanchard says. "They were in there a while, but come to find out, they weren't talking about me — they were talking about Meredith."

The Disney execs were discussing the idea of hiring them both.

"We're extremely grateful, this is not usual," says Blanchard, who has also starred in "Camelot" and "A Christmas Carol" on Broadway, as well as touring in the title role of "The Phantom of the Opera."

Inglesby has been a lifelong Disney fan. Part of the reason she chose Rollins "was because it was near Disney World," says the actress, who grew up in Hilton Head, S.C. "But I never worked for the company when I lived down there. I guess I wanted to keep the mystique."

She acted in productions such as "Cabaret" while at Rollins, but graduated with a degree in art history.

"I didn't go to college to become an actress," she says. "I went to college to get an education. I think the theater majors were like, 'How does this girl keep getting cast in our shows?'"

After graduation, though, friends encouraged her to move to New York and try her luck. She did, and after years of regional-theater roles and odd jobs she got her big break: Disney cast her in "On the Record," a touring revue of favorite songs from the company's animated films.

The "Beauty and the Beast" role followed. "My Babette was not goody-goody," she says of her French-maid character who's besotted with Lumiere, the singing candelabra. "She was saucy."

Disney beckoned again with "The Little Mermaid," in which she understudied the key role of villainous Ursula.

"She's just awful," Inglesby says of the evil sea witch. "But it's much more fun to play those roles. It has been a very lucky, magical career. I owe it all to Disney."

The actors say there's no blurring of lines between their work and their family life.

"I'm always his maid or secretary onstage, but I'm his boss at home," says Inglesby, laughing.

Blanchard pauses as he considers his best response, then says quietly but firmly: "I do not dispute that whatsoever."

'Newsies'

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, Jan. 27-30; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 1

Where: Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, 455 S. Magnolia Ave., Orlando

Tickets: The run of the show is virtually sold out. If available, tickets start at $33.75

Call: 844-513-2014

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