Nico DeJesus
Nico DeJesus

As he tours the United States and Canada playing the part of Romeo in the musical, “Newsies,” singer-dancer Nico DeJesus says no matter what city he is in, he feels at home once he finds a church in which to attend Mass.

“I have performed across the country and in Europe, and no matter where I go to Mass, I know Jesus is there,” the 25-year-old DeJesus said. “I can go to different churches, but the Mass is always the same. It may be in a different language, but I know what is going on.”

“Newsies” will play at the National Theatre in Washington June 9-21. DeJesus plays the part of Romeo, one of the newsboys, or “newsies,” from which the musical gets its name.

“He is a real fun character to play, and the name speaks for itself,” DeJesus said. “He thinks he’s a lady’s man, but he may not be.”

“He does dance well, though,” DeJesus joked.

A native of San Diego, Calif., DeJesus was born and raised Catholic, a faith important to his Filipino parents.

“When I was younger and attending catechism classes, I was real involved in both dance and sports,” DeJesus recalled. “My parents were worried that I was doing too much, and they said I had to give something up. I told them I would give up catechism classes. They said no.”

The singer-dancer noted that, “kind of like a lot of people, in college I strayed away from the Church.” He said he rededicated himself to his Catholic faith when he decided to pursue a career in entertainment.

“In my industry, with all of its uncertainty, my faith is a constant,” he said.

Set in New York City in the 1890s, “Newsies” tells the story of a group of orphan and runaway boys who survive on the hardscrabble city streets by selling newspapers. When publishing barons raise their prices at the newsboys’ expense, the young men go on strike.

The Tony Award-winning musical was inspired by the real-life “Newsboy Strike of 1899,” when newsboy Kid Blink led a band of other newsies on a two-week-long action against Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst and other powerful newspaper publishers. 

DeJesus said that the story resonates with audiences because “these kids had no voice, no power and no money, but they accomplished what they set out to do. They really grow into men because of what they did.”

“This is a show I believe in, this is a show I love,” he added. “It has a great message.”

DeJesus has been a part of the “Newsies” company for seven months. He calls the cast of mostly young men, “my brothers. We have formed a real nice camaraderie.”

Dancing for audiences, he said, gives him “instant gratification – especially when you see people smiling.”

“I have been dancing for 20-something years. This is what I’ve wanted as a career,” he said. “I think of all the money, all the dance classes, all the effort to get where I am. I am very proud of what I do.”

With his performance schedule, DeJesus said he always finds time for weekly Mass and monthly Confession.

“I like to go to Mass at the Saturday vigil, between [the matinee and evening] shows,” he said. “This helps me get ready for the next show and get ready for the week ahead. My faith helps me be a better performer. I always pray before the show and I always pray before the show’s big dance number.”

He uses an app on his smartphone where he enters a zip code to find churches and Mass times in each of the cities on the show’s tour schedule.

“It’s really easy to find churches no matter where you go,” he said.

The touring production of “Newsies” includes a companion program to the show called “Get Up and Go,” where cast members visit local schools to promote healthy living habits while introducing young people to the arts.

“Being a part of ‘Get Up and Go’ is very fulfilling,” DeJesus said. “It’s nice to teach kids that they don’t have to run laps around the school in order to get a workout. They can get a good workout by dancing, and dancing can be fun.”

Teaching others to appreciate the arts is something DeJesus says he would like to do once he hangs up his dancing shows and steps away from the stage.

“I want to go home to San Diego and open an art institute in my old neighborhood. I didn’t grow up in the best neighborhood, and I want to give the kids there an outlet for their talent,” he said. “What I can teach them may not get them a job, but at least I hope it makes them better people.”

(“Newsies” is on stage at the National Theatre in Washington from June 9 through June 21. Tickets are available at the National Theatre box office, online at thenationaldc.com, or by calling 1-800-514-3849.)