Since moving from Northern California to Coeur d’Alene 10 months back, composer and violinist Richard Altenbach and his son Bren have been busily integrating themselves into the local music scene. This weekend, the pair will appear together – one on stage, the other in the orchestra pit – as Spokane Valley Summer Theatre opens its latest musical production, “Newsies.”
Altenbach has appeared on more than 1,000 film soundtracks including “Frozen,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Titanic,” “X-Men,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Moana,” “Life of Pi,” and the 1992 film version of “Newsies” among others. Now retired, Altenbach, 64, dedicates the majority of his time to composition, teaching, solo performance and participating in various local orchestras including the Spokane Symphony and North Idaho Philharmonia.
Following in his musical father’s footsteps, albeit in his own way, 14-year-old Bren has been singing and acting since he was 4 years old. Most recently, he appeared as Chef Louis in Christian Youth Theater North Idaho’s production of “The Little Mermaid.” Coincidentally, his father also appears on the soundtrack for the 1989 animated film.
“Bren is very modest … but when he was a boy soprano in L.A. he was performing with an orchestra professional choir behind him,” Altenbach said. “That was pretty amazing because we didn’t really push him to do anything. He just loved music.”
Bren is excited to be working with his father again.
“It’s my all-time favorite musical,” Bren said. “The music, the story, the characters, the dancing – I love it all.”
Based on real events, “Newsies” follows a group of paperboys as they realize their disenfranchisement and start to fight back. An ongoing increase in newspaper prices demanded by paper owner Joseph Pulitzer makes it harder for the boys to earn enough from sales to support themselves.
Eventually, the boys rally together to do something about it. Little by little, “newsies” all over the city go on strike to force change and a concerned reporter does what she can to help. But, met with seemingly insurmountable resistance from powerful higher-ups, victory is anything but clear until New York Gov. Theodore Roosevelt intervenes.
Bren explained that while he isn’t old enough to play his “dream role” – Jack Kelly, the leader of the paperboy group – he’s enjoyed getting to prepare the role of Crutchie, another member of the group.
“Trying to portray a kid that doesn’t have access to one of his legs – it’s very interesting adapting to what the character has to deal with,” he said. “Understanding the character’s goals and motivation – that’s impactful.
“He gets beat up a lot in the show and he has a hard life but remains kind of positive – he’s a good-hearted character.”
“Newsies” opens at University High School (12420 E. 32nd Ave.) in the Spokane Valley on Friday and continues Thursdays-Sundays through July 24.
For information, visit svsummertheatre.com or call the box office at (509) 368-7897.
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