Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review of "Newsies"

This review incorporates elements from my original Broadway review.

The final production of the Connecticut Repertory Theater’s summer series is a scaled down version of the musical Newsies.  The show is based on a 1992 Disney movie that 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 musical begins with the introductions of two of the main newsies--Jack Kelly, portrayed with a spunky, charismatic, self-confidence by Jim Schubin; and his disabled pal, Crutchie, played with determination and grit by Tyler Jones. 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 steadfastness by Noah Kieserman; and his younger brother, Les (Atticus L. Burello).  The balance of the show chronicles how these juveniles successfully bring their cause to the hearts and minds of both regular New Yorkers and the political elite.

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

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—“The World Will Know,” “Seize the Day,” and the rousing Act II opener “King of New York.”  The songs are sung with a vitality, especially in the large ensemble numbers, and tenderness by the young cast members.

The cast, led by Jim Schubin, is combative, suave, and vulnerable as the head newsie, Jack Kelly. His performance is critical to the success of the production and the actor delivers with an appealing and captivating portrayal.  Noah Kieserman 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.  He is the perfect ying to Schubin’s yang.  The role of Cruthie is the soul of the show and the actor Tyler Jones effectively conveys the emotion and toughness necessary for the character.  He brings a purposeful resolve to the part.   Paige Smith is spunky and full of determination as the girl reporter and love interest of Jack Kelly, but the actress needed more maturation to make the role complete.  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.  Richard R. Henry is feisty and bellicose as Joseph Pulitzer.  The other adult actors, while competent and professional, serve more as his foils to keep the storyline flowing.

The musical sometimes restlessly fits into the small space at the Nutmeg Series theater.  Director/Choreographer Christopher d’Amboise is able to bring cohesion to the group of performers, conveying both a sense of pathos, hardship, and comradeship of the street-wise youths.  He brings an urgency when the boys are on stage.   He is less successful in the scenes, few as they are, with the adult performers.  This is more to do with the nature of Fierstein’s book for the show.

The strength of Newsies has always been the full-throttled production numbers incorporated into the musical.  However, in this version, while the cast is athletic and lively, the dance routines are not as vibrant and spirited as they could be.  The “Wow” factor was missing.

Scenic designer Tim Brown has been able to construct a highly functional, yet not imposing set that finely hints at the claustrophobic nature of the late 19th and early 20th century tenements of New York City.

Newsies, an entertaining, family-friendly production, through July 16th.

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