NEWSIES’ Jonalyn Saxer at 5 Star Cinema

When we first saw Jonalyn Saxerthat was in 2010. Jonalyn was an eighteen-year-old senior, playing Maria von Trapp in Oak Park High School’s performance of The sound of music. In my review of Glans, I wrote, “Saxer shines positively in every scene she’s in.” Twelve years later, Jonalyn still shines. After graduating from Syracuse University with a BFA in musical theater, she went straight to Broadway, where she got her start as a swing in Bullets on Broadway. A true Disney Princess, Jonalyn’s infectious smile, sweet personality and stellar dancing skills have been seen in Broadway productions such as Honeymoon in Vegas, holiday hostel, and Bad girls. Recently, she appeared as a dancer on the gym scene at Steven Spielbergthe film to reinvent West Side Story. Now, for the first time since leaving for college, she’s returning home to play a starring role in the 5-Star Theatricals production of News. Her role is that of Katherine Plumber, the ambitious but vulnerable journalist of Joseph Pulitzer New York Sun. We spoke to Jonalyn on a Zoom call about her “upcoming homecoming.”

VCOS: Jonalyn, I come here to do News in your hometown shouts, “cliché!” volume. You know, “A local girl does good on Broadway; comes home to perform in a musical in her hometown.” Tell me how you feel about this homecoming.

JONALYN: First of all, it’s a show and a role that I’ve auditioned for since I graduated from college and never got to play. I remember that the week after receiving Bullets on Broadwaymy Broadway debut, I got another call back for the tour of News and I had to say “Sorry! I’m on Broadway” and then the tour ended so I never really had time to do it. But it’s something I’ve been working on literally since college. I remember being called back and working with one of my teachers on the side. It had been a long time since I played in this area and we were all looking forward to coming to the Pantages or the Dolby with mean girlsbut that never happened. mean girls is coming back, but I’m not on the show anymore, so this is an opportunity to come back so that my family and friends who haven’t seen me because they couldn’t make it to New York can see in a show. And it’s really exciting. What’s also exciting is that I haven’t had a starring role at Oak Park High School before. music sound in my senior year. I remember featured pieces that I tried to get and couldn’t. I auditioned for Cabrillo Music Theater shows and got a few, but there were a lot I didn’t get. I couldn’t even play one of the kids in The sound of music; I was a swing. I always felt like I was almost there, but I never really understood. So it’s kind of fun to be able to come back after becoming the performer I am today. Since that time I have had training, experience and mentorship and gained confidence over the years and I can finally come back and play a role!

Interview: NEWSIES' Jonalyn Saxer at 5-Star Theatricals

VCOS: So far, your Broadway career has mostly consisted of swing and ensemble roles. Do you plan to play the lead female role in News a breakthrough?

JONALYN: Well, I played Karen in mean girls when it was on tour so it was me playing a more lead role but what was fun about that and also about News it’s that I was able to play a role and nobody knows that I can dance. I’m often seen as a dancer who sings and plays very well, and that’s what made me a great swing and a great understudy. But with Karen, I remember when we were rehearsing, one of the ensemble members said to me, “Wait…you dance? And I said, “Hey, I was in Cats.“I really became an actor in college and improved my voice through lessons, hard work, and practice after I graduated. I had teachers who said, ‘I don’t care if you dance well, you have to be able to sing and act like you can’t dance at all.” But I love to sing and I love to act, so it’s great to finally be able to do that.

VCOS: Tell me about your character. Did you go looking for Joseph Pulitzer’s real daughter?

JONALYN: Not much at all. We learned the story and the period during rehearsals, but I like to work with what’s on the page and what Harvey Fierstein wrote. Katherine’s character is not in the original film. It was kind of created just for this musical and I watched the videotape of the tour that was on Disney Plus but I haven’t watched it since but I saw Kara Lindsay play the role on Broadway. Working as an understudy I learned to watch other people play roles and have my own ideas of how to do it, but sometimes you get caught up in doing it one way. Our director, Ricky Hinds, is really great about not copying the production that’s been going since he’s been at the Paper Mill Playhouse. With pre-existing hardware, you can fall into traps, trying to do what everyone else has done the same way. Sometimes that’s the way to do it; you know, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but i’m still trying to figure out my character myself.

VCOS: The role is kind of ideal for you because Katherine seems a lot like you. She’s independent, she’s ambitious and confident in her abilities, heading into the male-dominated world of journalism and trying to put her own skills to good use. Do you add elements of your own personality to the game?

JONALYN: I think with any character you can never “become” someone else, it will always be your own interpretation because you react to the world because of your own experiences. For me, I like to find the comedy in everything. There are a lot of great moments in the Katherine-and-Jack relationship and her relationship with reporters, but you can give the same script to three different actresses and they’re all going to do it differently because they’re all different people.

VCOS: Your character’s highlight is the song “Watch What Happens”, which is a kind of soliloquy that oscillates between monologue and song. It’s a perfect audition piece and I wondered if it was part of your repertoire before you even got cast on this show.

JONALYN: Yeah, and I don’t know if you remember, but I did it at one of the old 5-star parking lot gigs during COVID. I learned the song when I first auditioned for the show tour, but I’ve always loved doing it. I love fast-paced songs and have sung them in cabarets, but I don’t audition with them often.

VCOS: You have just finished filming the Steven Spielberg film version of West Side Story. Did that experience make you want to do more movies, or are you satisfied with being strictly a Broadway performer?

JONALYN: Oh yeah, who doesn’t want to make movies? It’s like, “Oh, would you be interested in TV and film?” You’re not going to find anyone saying “No”. Film pays fantastic and it’s a lot less work! But I’m just open to any opportunities that come along.

VCOS: Artistically, is your heart still turned towards the theatre?

JONALYN: I think it’s in everything. Broadway is Broadway, but the musical is different from a drama or a play or an off-Broadway show or a song cycle or a new song or a revival. There are also differences in film and television. Is it a series, is it unlimited, is it on Netflix? They are all so different so I think everyone will find what they like and you will fall for what works for you.

VCOS: You mentioned working in Cats I’ve heard of is a physically exhausting sight. How does this measure up with Newswhich is also intensive in dance?

JONALYN: Our ensemble works so hard and does a fantastic job and I love being able to watch them, but you’re right, Cats is one of the most physically demanding shows, just like mean girls. The work you do when you’re in an ensemble is usually very physically demanding, but despite the main role, I will never take for granted the ease I have now.

VCOS: How has your dance experience helped you? Does that form a base, a kind of floor of trust that you build from?

JONALYN: Yes, it is. As a swing and as an understudy, I learned many lessons. A big part of performance is talent, training and preparation, but it’s also about confidence. You might try something new or you might not feel good that day and do a number for a room full of people who have never seen you do it before. And sometimes when that happens, I look back at my Cats experience it and think, “If I could do THAT, it’s a walk in the park.” When I did Cats at night I repeated mean girls during the day. I was not sleeping. I was drinking coffee and taking ibuprofen and doing my job as best I could. People were injured left and right. Now I can look back and say, “I did that. I can do everything.

Interview: NEWSIES' Jonalyn Saxer at 5-Star Theatricals


The 5-Star Theatricals production of News July 15-24 at the Fred Kavli Theater at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center. For dates and times, see the VC On Stage schedule. Visit for more ticket information.