'Newsies' delivers for Carnegie Mellon grad Corey Cott

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Corey Cott was caught in a whirlwind of activity a year ago this week. He had just graduated from the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, was newly engaged and expected to go on tour with "Wicked." While moving his belongings from Pittsburgh back home to Ohio, he took time to audition for a Broadway job.

Bye-bye "Wicked," hello "Newsies" -- as understudy for the lead role of Jack Kelly, originated by Tony-nominated Jeremy Jordan. Mr. Cott arrived in New York in early August and soon thereafter, Mr. Jordan announced he would leave for the NBC show "Smash." On Sept. 5, 2012, Mr. Cott took the stage as the kid who stands up to publisher Joseph Pulitzer and leads a strike of street-urchin newsboys, when they were the mode of delivery in New York City. Based on the 1992 Disney film starring Christian Bale as Jack and inspired by real events in 1899, "Newsies" is a high-energy, dance-heavy show that won 2012 Tonys for best score and choreography.

Mr. Cott has been the Newsie front and center since that day last September. If you watched the Tony Awards on June 9, you couldn't miss him. He and childhood friend Ben Fankhauser -- who plays Jack's book-smart comrade, Davey -- walked the red carpet, participated in the opening number and acted as presenters.

"That's the best part -- now that we've celebrated everyone who does eight shows a week, I get to go back and do eight shows a week," he said by phone before the Tuesday night show at the Nederlander Theatre in the heart of Times Square.

When The New York Times' ArtsBeat blog reported that "a 22-year-old unknown" would take over the role of Jack, the entry went on to describe the woes of replacing stars in Broadway musicals and added, "But Disney has deep experience with recasting roles in long-running hits ... and executives there expressed confidence that Mr. Cott had the tenor, training and boyish charisma to help coax audience members to return to see 'Newsies' over and over again, as Mr. Jordan did."

The Disney magic worked; the show continues to play to more than 90 percent capacity.

"For my age and my type, I don't know if there's a better role on Broadway," Mr. Cott said. "I consider myself to have the best job in the world."

His Tony experience was just another dream come true in a year of quite a few for Mr. Cott, who married Meghan Woollard in January. With his parents, brother, sister and wife in the audience, he collected many a treasured moment, such as standing in the wings with presenters Anna Kendrick and Cuba Gooding Jr. and fellow CMU alum Megan Hilty, "chatting as if we were just theater people hanging out."

Toward the end of the opening musical number, in which host Neil Patrick Harris sang and danced on the Radio City Music Hall stage with cast members of Tony-nominated musicals, he was among the "Newsies" cast members who swarmed the aisles. He basked in "the longest applause I have ever been a part of," which lasted nearly two minutes.

"There was enough time where I could look around and make eye contact with my fellow Newsies and look on the stage and see all these Broadway stars and ... it was just another way to feel a part of that big community."

Another favorite moment was when Mr. Cott and his castmates were announced to present the performance of "Matilda." Host Harris explained to the audience that characters from current shows would introduce the nominees, and said, "So now, I'd like to welcome Jack Kelly, Davey and the Newsies ... ."

"I started to walk out, and he just looked at me and kind of winked and pointed at me as if, 'It's your turn, man.' I just thought that was a special moment that I'll never be able to replicate, of someone like Neil Patrick Harris passing the torch over to me on national television. It was only a split second, but that's ingrained in my head."

His Pittsburgh theater experiences prepared him for such moments, including the local Campus Superstars competition and two summers as an ensemble member at Pittsburgh CLO. He saw the summer stock company as a way to achieve his Equity card before graduation, and he got more than he bargained for.

"Once I started there, after my sophomore year, I realized how amazing and well-organized and well-funded an asset it is for Pittsburgh, because it's like the Tonys, it celebrates theater. ... I feel proud to have them on my resume and that I'm an alum with a number of amazing people, people like Patrick Wilson and Sutton Foster and Broadway-TV-film stars who also got their roots from CLO."

It wasn't all that long ago that Mr. Cott was in high school, visiting stage doors and collecting autographs. His first Broadway show and first stage-door wait was as a high-schooler, after a performance of "Wicked," when Ms. Hilty was playing Glinda. The last time he waited after a show was to tell actor Mark Rylance, then starring in the comedy "La Bete," he was inspired by the performance.

"I have a picture of him in [his Tony-winning role from] 'Jerusalem' in my dressing room. Whenever I feel like I'm struggling creatively, I will go watch clips of him, and he'll immediately give me something to think about or some sort of technical choice to dwell on."

He is constantly amazed at "the surreal reversal" his life has taken, now that he's the one greeting adoring fans of "Newsies."

"There's nothing else like a Broadway stage door," he says. "You can't see a movie or TV show and then go immediately to talk to the people in the show. It's definitely unique to go out and connect with the people who just watched the show and hear what they thought. It's really special."


Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960.


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