He’s a poor boy trying to do good for the downtrodden kids of New York. She’s an upscale girl, rebelling against her family, and out to make her mark in the world. They meet and join forces to improve conditions for the youngsters who sell newspapers on the streets of the City. And you already know the rest.
Throw in a whole lot of dancing, and you’ve got Newsies. While the idea of striking against the rich guys may seem radical for Disney, whose Broadway fare tends to lean more to cavorting tea cups and rhapsodizing beasties, this is clean cut entertainment, eminently family friendly.
What elevates this show above the commonplace is the level of talent involved. I shudder to think of Newsies without its male lead, Jeremy Jordan. He possesses the rare combination of a terrific voice, the good looks of a young Leonardo DiCaprio, and enough of an edge to be really interesting. He’s got that necessary Velcro that makes a star; you just can’t take your eyes off him. As Jack Kelly, leader of the Newsies, he unites a ragtag group from different ethnic backgrounds to go on strike against publisher Joseph Pulitzer (John Dossett) himself, even as he dreams of leaving the mean streets for Santa Fe.
There are wonderful moments from the rest of the cast as well. Kara Lindsay manages to lift Katherine, the rebellious rich girl, out of the realm of generic Disney heroine with her intelligence and verve. Ben Fankhauser injects a note of totally appropriate melancholy into his character Davy, who has to hustle so his parents and little brother can eat. Andrew Keenan-Bolger makes crippled Crutchie brave and sympathetic. And Capathia Jenkins holds nothing back as Medda Larkin, song queen of Bowery burlesque, who likes Jack and gives him a place to hide out.
Although the choreography by Christopher Gattelli often seems more like acrobatics than dancing, the moves are spectacular, and very masculine. Would that West Side Story had this kind of butch style. The dancers are remarkable, to a man, especially Ryan Steele as Specs. Because the dialogue is largely less important than the movement on stage, I’m recommending this show not just for families, but also for people from abroad whose English may not be the best.
The music by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Jack Feldman, is not world class, but it is hummable, and performs the necessary task of moving along the action. Once again, the Disney Company has adapted a stage show from a Disney movie, in this case the 1992 cult favorite of the same name. And if some of the newsboys seem a little long in the tooth well, that’s just following in the tradition of the film.
There’s one off key aspect of this production. A choice has been made to end Act One on a down note. This makes no sense, when a rousing production number placed just before has nearly brought the cheering audience to its feet. If director Jeff Calhoun gave us an Act One curtain after “Seize the Day,” I’m willing to bet that fewer people would have left at intermission. Think of the classic Act One curtain in Mame.
There’s genius in the scenic design by Tobin Ost. The steel scaffolding is very practical, and used to great advantage by Calhoun. In addition, it’s evocative of the way the City used to be. I remember my dad, who was also a poor boy who had to work as a child, reminiscing about the summer nights he spent sleeping on the fire escape of the tiny tenement apartment he shared with his mother. I can’t help thinking how much he would have enjoyed this show.
Photos by Deen van Meer
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Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, and International Association of Theatre Critics.