Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Review of "Newsies"

This review incorporates elements from my original Broadway review.

Extra!  Extra!  The national tour of the Broadway musical, Newsies, which began in Waterbury one year ago is playing through Sunday, October 18th at The Bushnell.  It has lost none of its exuberance and luster in between Connecticut performances.  This is a first-rate Broadway caliber production—from the singing, dancing and the scenic design.  If you love musical theater or if you are looking for a family friendly show, then Newsies is for you.

Based on a 1992 Disney movie, the show tells the story of an 1899 successful strike by the newsies (the orphans and street urchins that sold the daily newspapers on the streets of New York) against the powerful Joseph Pulitzer and his publication, The World.

The first act is almost flawless with a tight narrative punctuated with solid songs and some of the best dancing on a musical theater stage. The show begins with the introductions of two of the main newsies--Jack Kelly, portrayed with a spunky, charismatic, self-confidence by Joey Barreiro; and his disabled pal, Crutchie, played with determination and grit by Zachary Sayle. Soon the other boys, a ragamuffin group, enter the scene and, from there, the storyline quickly develops as the young men decide to strike over an increase in their upfront costs (newsies needed to buy their newspapers and resell them at a slightly higher price). Fortifying the assemblage’s mettle are two fresh recruits to the newsie ranks—Davey, played with an initial immaturity and then a swaggering resolve by Stephen Michael Langton; and his younger brother, Les (played by a rotating group of three young actors).

The strength of Newsies is the full-throttled production numbers designed by Tony Award winner Christopher Gattelli, especially in “Seize the Day” and “King of New York.” There probably has not been such muscular and athletic dance routines on a musical theater stage since West Side Story.

Director Jeff Calhoun, who works seamlessly with Choreographer Gattelli, is able to corral the newsies into a cohesive group of performers, conveying both a sense of pathos, hardship, and comradeship of the street-wise youths. He is less successful in the scenes, few as they are, with the adult performers.

The score, by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, consists mostly of compositions from the movie version (which they also wrote), with a few new songs augmenting their earlier efforts. The score works best during the more up-tempo numbers especially when the newsies are involved.

The cast, led by Joey Barreiro, is combative, suave, and vulnerable as the head newsie, Jack Kelly. He is the glue that keeps not only the assemblage of outcasts together, but pretty much the whole show. Stephen Michael Langton gives his character, Davey, a bit more shading then the other newsies as he grows from an innocent outsider of the group to a more resolute, strong-willed instigator. Morgan Keene is spunky and full of determination as the girl reporter and love interest of Jack Kelly.  The other young men in the production, well, strong acting is not really required for their parts. Delivering a smart aleck remark and palling around is pretty much what is required, besides being able to dance up a storm. The adult actors, while competent and professional, serve more to keep the storyline flowing.

The mostly large-scale, erector set scenic design by Tobin Ost emulates the fire escapes and claustrophobic nature of the late 19th and early 20th century tenements of New York City.

The book by Harvey Fierstein is serviceable and sometimes a bit hokey, but it works in moving the action to its inevitable conclusion.

Newsies, don’t miss this high octane Broadway national tour, through Sunday, October 18h at The Bushnell in Hartford.

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