The cast of the touring company of Newsies.
Photo-Deen Van Meer
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 Christopher Gattelli
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
Review by Kathi E. B. Ellis
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Kathi E. B. Ellis. All rights reserved.
On a bitter cold night earlier this week I was wanting the current Broadway Series offering, Newsies, to create an internal warm, feel-good sense…I like the idea of the show: underdogs facing off against those who are keeping them down and, through energy and community-building, overcoming. And with singing and dancing? What’s not to love?
After the performance I have mixed feelings about the production. To be fair, most of my reservations are to do with the script and the associated history. While I don’t necessarily look for verisimilitude in a musical, on the other hand, with a story that exists within the realm of news gathering and distribution – and was reported on at the time, 1899 – I was disappointed by just how much variance there was between this stage version of the Walt Disney studios movie and the strike as reported by New York papers. These discrepancies kept taking me out of the stories that were being told on stage.
The most powerful of these stories is that of Davey (Jacob Kemp) and his younger brother Les (Vincent Crocilla the night I saw the show; Anthony Rosenthal at some performances) who come to work as newsboys because of the trolley strike that has put their father out of work. Kemp finds the fear and anger at the unjustness of a non-union worker’s fate that gives the emotional weight to the impromptu organization of a newsies’ union in order to go on strike legitimately. Duets between him and the fictional newsie leader Jack Kelly (Dan DeLuca) are simple and strong. Crocilla would do well to learn the difference between being cute as his character interacting with other characters and projecting cuteness solely for the benefit of the audience members.
As much as I wanted to like the role of the feisty female reporter, Katherine (Stephanie Styles), and her “Watch What’s Happening” solo was enjoyable, I kept getting hooked up on whether or not a woman in her position would be doing what the script has her do at that time (and, yes, there were female reporters at the newsies strike meeting). The opening number of Act Two in particular challenged my credulity despite the energy Styles and the ensemble brought to the number – how do striking newsboys afford tap shoes (and for just one number?) was only one of the sticking points for me. The relationship between Katherine and Kelly is sweet, a classic Cinderella story, just with the genders reversed, and Styles and DeLuca are charming together. Again, my reservation is dramaturgical: in a story about newsies, not one newsie, this one love interest seems superimposed on the main storyline.
The ensemble of newsies is impressive – and too many to cite individually, so check out the full cast listing at http://newsiesthemusical.com/cast/. In such a large ensemble they manage to create a sense of individual characters, aided by wonderfully colorful monikers, as well as the power of the collective. They bring verve to Christopher Gatelli’s choreography, expansively filling the stage with large tours and jetés that create a sense of complexity and busy-ness. The iconic number in which the boys dance on and with sheets of their newspapers delighted the opening night audience.
Angela Grovey as Medda Larkin has a show stopping number, “That’s Rich”, which she delivers with panache. Steve Blanchard is a suitably unlikeable captain of industry in the antagonistic role of Joseph Pulitzer. The audience was delighted to welcome Teddy Roosevelt, then Governor of New York (Kevin Carolan) as the one person who could resolve the impasse between Pulitzer and Kelly.
All of these characters, and more, exist in a complex meccano-like environment of moving towers (Tobin Ost, scenic designer) whose choreography is almost more complex than that of the actors, that variously create the tenements of lower Manhattan, office buildings, the refuge (for troubled children), and the sidewalks and train stations of the city. These structures are fronted with rolling screens on which are projected suggestions of the businesses or newspaper headlines; original Broadway projects by Sven Ortel, adaptation by Daniel Brodie). A period looking printing press takes pride of place in a couple of scenes.
As with any Disney property the evening was, indeed, filled with heart-warming moments provided by the impressive combination of Alan Menken (music), Jack Feldman (lyrics) and Harvey Fierstein (book) – and this cast is winning and winsome and sells the feel-good aspects of the production well. There are a few moments of angst and heartbreak (Crutchie, Zachary Sayle, in the refuge for example, and Davey’s storyline) that remind us of the real risks and dangers facing these boys and young men, but a complex issue is wrapped up a tad too neatly in just over two hours.
An opportunity for local news trivia was provided by one of the promotional partners, The Courier-Journal. A page of the program was dedicated to the storied history of The Courier-Journal, including a number of journalistic firsts and several Pulitzer prizes. Whether this is news to audience members or a walk down memory lane, it was an informative and fun read in the program.
This production of Newsies comes to Louisville very early in its national tour. Once again Broadway in Louisville has ensured that Louisville audiences are some of the first in the nation to see a new national tour. And that’s a great reason to go the theatre!
November 18-23, 2014
PNC Broadway in Louisville
Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 West Broadway
Louisville, KY 40202
[box_light]Kathi E.B. Ellis is a member of the Lincoln Center and Chicago Directors’ Labs and an associate member of the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society. She has attended the LaMama 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 the South Florida Theatre Carbonell Award. Locally, Kathi is a member of Looking for Lilith Theatre Company, a founding principal of StageLab theatre training studio, and is 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.[/box_light]