The cast of Newsies. Photo: Floyd Central Theatre Arts.
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Jack Feldman
Book by Harvey Fierstein, based on the film written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White
Choreographed by Megan Bliss
Directed by Robbie Steiner
Review by Kathi E.B. Ellis
Entire contents are copyright © 2018 by Kathi E.B. Ellis. All rights reserved.
Floyd County High School’s production of Newsies, is one of the many events which have had to scramble to find a new venue in the days following the June 13 fire at the Kentucky Center for the Arts.
Unlike other arts organizations, the school did, of course, have another option – their own theatre, but FCHS had good reasons to want to bring this high-energy, big-hearted, technically-complex production to the Whitney Theatre (seating approximately 3000) for two performances. Disney had asked program director Robbie Steiner to pilot Newsies prior to rolling this property out to high schools around the country. Quite an honor! In addition, next weekend is the International Thespian Festival, in Omaha, NE, and the FCHS production is slated to be their opening performance. The Whitney performances were designed as a fundraiser to help cover the costs of moving this large production, cast, and crew to the festival.
Instead, there are three performances back in their home theatre June 21-23, and they’re still raising money to cover those costs.
As the cast hit their final positions at the end of the opening number, “Carrying the Banner”, my imagination shifted this image into the much larger Whitney stage, and the image transferred easily. This production would have effectively filled that space physically and vocally. Here’s hoping that FCHS will have other opportunities to give their students the experience of performing in a theatre that houses Broadway tours; this production is on par with those touring productions.
Director and designer Steiner explains in his program notes that the students began training for the exceptionally acrobatic choreography last summer (in preparation for the production in their regular season.) The training paid off. The large ensemble embraces these elements of the choreography with panache, which are also used to mask scene changes by smartly showcasing small groups of newsies in crowd-pleasing antics. Megan Bliss (choreography) echoes much of the original high-energy moves, with no apparent diminution of technical requirements.
Equally complex is the way in which the signature set pieces have their own choreography, moving and recombining to create a myriad of Lower Manhattan locations. Again, the cast and crew manipulate the large units with efficiency and confidence. Sara King’s dialect work also comes through loud and clear, and for the most part consistently.
As much as this is an ensemble show, overlaid are specific stories of a couple of the boys. The newbie newsies are brothers Davey and Les (Jordan Burger and Parker Corrado.) Corrado has the easier job – a cute, gamin who’s born to make “the pape” sales – and he lands his moments which charm. Burger comes into his own with “The World Will Know” and stepping into leading the meeting with newsies from all the neighborhoods. He is less successful in the earlier scenes in which Davey is reactive and more passive, as Les and Jack Kelly (Mitchell Lewis) are making all the plans.
Lewis is a strong stage presence as street-tough Kelly who still harbors a romantic streak. His prologue dream of “Santa Fe” (together with Crutchie, Connor Nevitt) sets the tone for the dreams we can all hold. He balances cheeky flirting with the growing awareness of a connection with Katherine Plumber (Caroline Siegrist), and his scenes with Joseph Pulitzer (Ryland Sparkman) demonstrate both street braggadocio and a keen sense of negotiation. That Pulitzer would bargain makes a lot of sense in this production.
Siegrist is the jewel of the show. As the primary female character in an all-male world of the streets and business, Katherine’s composure and humor come through clearly, grounding her ability to travel between both worlds. Again, that the scions of two other publishing giants would help her subvert her father’s lock on production, makes a lot of sense in this production. Her “Watch What Happens”, as she realizes just how much rides on her newsies story found the comedic notes as well as the risks in her action. Siegrist’s composure and confidence perfectly conflate with Katherine’s for one of the highlights of the show.
I can still quibble about some of the dramaturgical issues within the book – still with the tap shoes for newsboys – but experiencing this story about the resilience of youth with young adult performers, in a year in which young people throughout the country have been speaking out and taking action about what they see as wrong about entrenched power and willful blindness to social injustice is powerful. “Seize The Day” has particular resonance:
Now is the time to seize the day
Stare down the odds and seize the day
Minute by minute that’s how you win it
We will find a way
But let us seize the day
Courage cannot erase our fear
Courage is when we face our fear
Tell those with power safe in their tower
We will not obey!
There is still one performance this evening. FCHS is ten minutes from downtown Louisville. If you’ve received your refund from the Kentucky Center for the Arts and haven’t yet rebooked your ticket – you have a few more hours to do so. If you haven’t made a reservation or rebooked your ticket yet, you’ll be losing out on a production that is as good as any musical you’re accustomed to seeing in Louisville. And missing an opportunity to support more than 100 aspiring theatre artists, who are clearly talented and committed to carrying their banner!
June 21-23, 2018
Floyd Central Theatre Arts
6575 Old Vincennes Road
Floyd Knobs, IN 47119
Kathi E.B. Ellis is an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and a member of Lincoln Center and DirectorsLabChicago. She has attended the La MaMa Directing Symposium in Umbria, Italy and is featured in Southern Artisty, an online registry of outstanding southern artists. Her directing work has been recognized with nominations for South Florida theatre’s Carbonell Award. Locally, Kathi is a member of Looking for Lilith Theatre Company, a founding principal of StageLab theatre training studio, and part of ShoeString Productions, an informal producing collective. She has written book reviews and articles for Southern Theatre, the quarterly publication of the Southeastern Theatre Conference, and was a contributing writer for JCPS’ textbook for the 11th grade Arts and Humanities survey course and for YouthArts Tapestry, a Kentucky Arts Council publication.