By Cheryl Conway
Not all students jump into college when they graduate, and for Anthony Zas of Budd Lake, he is so happy he made that choice.
Acting, dancing and singing since he was eight years old, Zas is currently performing with “Newsies” in his national tour debut. The 18 year old graduated in 2015 from Morris County School of Technology (Vo-tech) in Denville, after attending three years at Mt. Olive Middle School and Chester M. Stephens Elementary School in Budd Lake.
For the past six months, Zas has been touring with the “Newsies” North American Tour as a Disney employee since Nov. 2015 and plans to continue until the tour ends in Oct. The tour launched in Sept. 2014 after the show was on Broadway for more than two years opening in March 2012. From Washington, DC, to Seattle, Zas has been all over the country performing in this award-winning musical.
With a cast and crew of about 30 each, Zas had already appeared in 217 performances as of press time and was in San Diego, his 51st city since touring with the group. Performances are before large audiences in civic centers, theaters and convention centers.
“I was wondering if not going to college is the right thing,” says Zas. “Then I got the call that I made “Newsies.” This is the only job I have and I make a living.”
Of his experience so far, Zas says, “I’m really enjoying the learning and growing that come with the first professional gig.”
“Newsies” is inspired by the real-life “Newsboy Strike of 1899,” which began when newspaper publishers raised the price for newsies, charging a dime more per hundred papers.
The strike was led by a charismatic young newsboy ‘Kid Blink,’ who rallied orphan and runaway newsies on a two-week- long action against Pulitzer, Hearst and other powerful newspaper publishers.
Produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, Newsies is based off the book “Children of the City,” by David Nasaw.
In the musical, Zas has two roles. He plays Elmer, a 15-year old who has no parents and sells papers to make a living. In this role he sings, dances and acts.
In his second role he plays Spot, the leader of the Brooklyn Newsies, a super tough character from Brooklyn who tries to help the Manhattan Newsies during the strike. In this secondary role, Zas has more of a speaking part appearing in the entire second act of the two-hour performance.
Zas has performed in regional and musical theaters in NY in 2013 including New York Theater: Count to Ten at New York Musical Theater Festival; Home for the Holidays at Ha Ha Comedy Club in Times Square, NY in 2014; as well as dance showcase workshops.
Sitting in the audience as a kid watching live productions led Zas into the world of performing.
“We used to see their shows all the time,” Zas says, at Pax Amicus Theater in Budd Lake. He recalls watching a kitten production and says to his mom “Mom, I want to do that. I really took to it. Dancing definitely has my heart.”
He decided to sign up for a Young Performers Workshop at Centenary College in Hackettstown when he was eight years old.
“Dr. Michael Blevins took me under his wings; he taught me how to love the theater,” says Zas.
When Zas turned 15, he started taking voice lessons in New York City; followed by dance lessons-including ballet, jazz, tap, modern, contemporary and hip hop-when he was 16 at the Dance Academy of North Jersey in Hopatcong.
Zas first auditioned for “Newsies” in May 2014 along with 400 other boys.
“They told me I was too young; I was under 18.” So he went back in Nov. 2015 competing against 100 boys that time for a role. He had to read slides, act, dance and sing.
“First thing you had to do was dance; it’s a big dance call. Then they bring you back next day to sing. Then they bring you back to read lines in the show.”
Getting the call that he got the part on ‘Newsies,” was by far, his greatest news yet.
“They say ‘we will call you.’” So “you wait by your phone all week; then they call you; you freak out; you jump around, you call your mom.
“When they called me, I was in New York City; I was auditioning for a commercial shoot. They called me; I was so excited but I couldn’t scream. I called my mom and she cried.”
When this tour ends, Zas plans to look for other roles.
“Now that I’m on “Newsies,” I’m going to audition my face off,” he says. With so many amazing new musicals, as well as productions on Broadway, Zas says he plans to take advantage since NY is so close to his home.
The young actor shares some advice to aspiring performers, told to him by an older, more experienced actor on his tour.
“If you’re going to do theater, you have to give it everything you have,” he says. “Dedicate all your time into training. As soon as you get that, yes, it’s so worth it.
“This is an unforgiving industry; it’s designed to chew you up and spit you out. There’s a million people in New York City who want what you want, but it’s only the ones who give up everything who get the jobs.”
As the youngest on tour, Zas is enjoying the “great” friendships and camaraderie as most of those on tour are also new to the industry. At the same time, he does miss home a bit.
He was home Christmas Day after taking the redeye. “I was just so excited to see them,” he says, about his family. His sister, Arianna, is a rising junior at MOHS, and his older sister is Alexandria.
“I do miss waking up in the morning and my mom yelling ‘did you brush your teeth? Did you brush your hair; when was the last time you shaved?’ Not having his mom around all the time has been his greatest adjustment.
“When you are in this industry, my father and step-father are amazing role models,” says Zas, “but your mom is always right there with you. My mom has always been there with dance to make sure my hair is straight and bow tie is not crooked.
“She’s my favorite person, my best friend. She’s my mom.” It has helped that she has seen the show six times, he laughs. She’s here every month.”
Zas is thankful for everyone who has supported and trained him.
“I’m so appreciative to everyone and where I’ve gotten so far,” says Zas. His dance teacher, agent, and voice teacher, “all have helped me to get to where I am now. Without all of these steps, I don’t think I would have gotten this far. I’m grateful to where I am now.”
For more information, visit NewsiesTheMusical.com.