Another Broadway Week has come and gone, the annual opportunity for cheapskates like me to buy “2 for the price of 1” advance purchase tickets for select Broadway shows. (I’m actually not a cheapskate, but I balk at paying $120 and up for each seat.) My daughter had been wanting to see “Newsies, The Musical,” having seen the 1992 Disney movie for the first time, so I was waiting to snatch up discounted tickets. We ended up with seats in the middle of the balcony, which were ideal due to the configuration of the Nederlander Theatre and the staging of the show.
“Newsies” is the fictionalized story of the 1899 New York CIty newsboys strike against media magnate Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World. It’s a standard David vs. Goliath story, with the plucky “newsies” as the underdogs. Most of the young men who star as the newsboys looked a little old to be street urchins, but the rigors of the remarkable choreography demanded post-pubescent strength (and really, we’re used to seeing high schoolers portrayed by obviously older actors, from “Welcome Back, Kotter” to “Glee”).
Jack Kelly (Corey Cott), leader and legend among the newsies, heads the strike that results from an increase in the fees the boys are charged for the newspapers they hawk on the streets. The increase is all a ploy on the part of Joseph Pulitzer (John Dossett) to up his circulation, forcing the newsies to sell more papers to make the same amount of money and maintain their meager existence. The other newspapers in town follow suit, and the newsies respond by refusing to sell papers. Jack, with the organizational assistance of Davey (Ben Fankhauser), “the brains of the operation,” and Davey’s adorable little brother Les (Joshua Colley, the only actual young child in the cast), forms a union among the newsies to fight back against the injustice they face. Their cause is helped by crusading young female news reporter Katherine (Kara Lindsay), who becomes Jack’s love interest as well (what would the story be without a “poor boy/rich girl” romance?). The resulting confrontation with police and the powers that be turns violent, and Jack begins to question his actions, particularly after his good friend Crutchie (Andy Richardson) is severely beaten and taken away to the brutal city-run home for orphans. In the end, newsboys from all the boroughs of the city, as well as other child laborers, unite to paralyze the city’s businesses and Pulitzer is forced to compromise with Jack and the newsies. All of the leads are excellent and engaging under Jeff Calhoun’s direction.
The staging of this show is sensational, with a three-story scaffold that sweeps back and forth across the stage and cinematic projections on the back wall to embellish plot points. The choreography by Christopher Gattelli is the standout highlight of the show, with non-stop acrobatic dancing that takes the breath away. These boys are up to the challenge, and launch through the dance numbers, moving from pirouettes to triple backward handsprings with beautiful fluidity. I’m a sucker for tap, however, so my favorite dance number was actually “King of New York” at the beginning of the second act. It’s the catchiest song of the show as well.
The music is pleasant overall, though I have to say that none of the lyrics really grabbed me, and some (“Santa Fe”) made me cringe a bit. The big ensemble numbers (“Carrying the Banner,” “The World WIll Know,” “Seize the Day,” “Once and For All”) carry the show, while the quieter solos and duets tend to bog down the flow. The solo “That’s Rich” sung by vaudeville theater owner Medda Larkin (LaVon Fisher-Wilson, who has a terrific voice) is a fun song, but a distraction from the storyline. The love song duets (“I Never Planned on You/Don’t Come a-Knocking” and “Something to Believe In”) are the cheesiest parts of a generally cheesy show. This is all to be expected, however, and the score by Alan Mencken and lyrics by Jack Feldman do what they can with a sentimental, unoriginal storyline. One of the biggest surprises for me was that the book was adapted by Harvey Fierstein (Harvey Fierstein? Disney? What?), who was obviously restricted by the original movie’s screenplay, but did manage to make some changes that streamlined the story. Hey, it’s a wholesome Disney show that’s supposed to be suitable for the whole family, which prescribes the kind of show it can be.
“Newsies” may not be the grand spectacle of “Les Miz” or even “The Lion King,” but it’s a charming, high-energy production, a great way to spend Broadway Week.
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