Thursday, April 12, 2012
Newsies The Musical at the Nederlander Theatre
Stop the presses. Newsies The Musical becomes the King of New York!
Disney theatrical has struck gold with its stage adaptation of Newsies. This production had its world premiere in the fall of 2011 at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. (see September 2011 in the blog archive for the review) For several years Disney had received more requests to adapt Newsies than any other of its many properties and its clear why it is so popular with schools and camps. With a cast comprised almost entirely of young teen characters, a score filled with rousing anthems and a story about how the young people take on the adult establishment for justice, Newsies is a crowd pleasing prospect. So, how has the production fared between Paper Mill and Broadway. In a word, spectacularly!
The film Newsies had its problems particularly in two areas, the adult characters, particularly the vaudeville performer Medda, and the lack-luster love story. The Paper Mill production made improvements to the adults, and made several changes to the storyline including a new female leading character. The production was ready for the great white way,yet still needed a few more changes. I am happy to report that the minor changes to Harvey Fierstein's book and the addition of three new songs have corrected those minor flaws. As a result Newsies The Musical is the best new family-friendly entertainment on Broadway.
Disney's Newsies The Musical takes place in 1899 New York City. The Newsies are the boys who sell the "papes." Many live on the streets, others work long hours to help their struggling families. Their leader is Jack Kelly, a talented artist who dreams of going west for a better life. His fellow newsies include close friend Crutchie, struggling with a disability, and two new kids, brothers Davey and Les, whose father was laid off after being injured in a factory job. When Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the World desides to raise the price the newsboys must pay for the papers they sell, he convinces William Randolph Hearst and the other publishers to follow suit. The boys decide to form a union and strike until the price is cut and the publishers agree to buy back any papers the boys can't sell. Jack meets girl reporter Katherine Plumber, who dreams of a promotion from writing the society page to the news beat. Together the Newsies and Katherine take on the world in a fight ultimately for the benefit of all of the oppressed child workers of the city.
Jeff Calhoun has guided his enthusiastic cast with a sure hand, maintaining a fast paced, high stakes urgency throughout the play. Christopher Gattelli's rousing choreography explodes on the larger Nederlander stage. Tobin Ost's steel girder inspired set is versatile and provides a perfect canvas for Sven Ortel's projections. Jess Goldstein's costumes and Charles G. LaPointe's hair and wig design evoke the turn of the century while giving the actors plenty of ability to move.
For move this talented cast must. The sheer athleticism of the Newsies is a wonder to behold. The largest change that has happened to Newsies between Paper Mill and Broadway is the tight camaraderie of the ensemble. They have a ease on the stage that shows that the Newsies company has become the family mentioned in the lyrics. Every one of the young men performs amazing gymnastic leaps that it is hard to single out a few for specific accolades. But, one young man, Ryan Steele who plays Specs and is the dance captain, gets a wonderful moment during "Seize the Day" with his strong piroutettes on a scrap of newspaper that cannot be overlooked and brings deserving cheers from the audience.
John Dossett's Joseph Pulitzer is now the consummate villain and his new song "The Bottom Line" is a vast improvement over the Paper Mill production's "The News Is Getting Better"making Pulitzer less of a cartoon. Capathia Jenkins makes vaudeville owner and staunch ally Medda Larkin more relevant to the story in her few scenes. Medda's new song, "That's Rich" is humorous with a subtle social commentary. Andrew Keenan-Bolger's Crutchie is charming and poignant and he is greatly missed when he is arrested and sent to the dreaded orphan's home, The Refuge.
While The Refuge remains an off-stage menace, the threat of the dank juvenile prison seems genuine now. Jack's anguish at Crutchie's arrest and his tale of Crutchie's treatment there is a classic darkest before the dawn moment of the play. When, Stuart Marland's Snyder, the warden of The Refuge gets his comeuppance it has an impact that was sorely lacking in the original production.
Ben Fankhauser has found Davey's emotional arc growing from the tentative young man forced with his younger brother to support his struggling family into the confident brains that helps to shape the Newsies' strike. His clear hopeful vocals gets the musical's best known anthem "Seize The Day" off on the right note. His younger brother Les is the typical brashy young kid, played well by Matthew J. Schechter at the performance I attended. (The role is shared with Lewis Grosso.)
Kara Lindsay is feisty as the earnest girl reporter, Katherine. "Watch What Happens" sung as Katherine writes her first story of the strike is still the best of the new songs written for the score. Her new duet with Jack, "Something To Believe In" is charming, perfectly reflecting the joys of first love.
Which brings us to Jack Kelly. The premature demise of Bonnie and Clyde was Newsies The Musical's gain. Jeremy Jordan is one of the most charismatic leading men on Broadway. His voice delivers the hope and anguish of a young man dreaming of a better life who later becomes horrified that his leadership may have caused more harm than good. Yet, when he embraces being the Newsies strike leader, a good portion of the audience is ready to join the battle. Do not be surprised to see Mr. Jordan nominated for several awards this spring.
Disney's Newsies: The Musical is being performed at the Nederlander Theatre in New York City. It is currently advertised as a limited engagement with performances through August 19, 2012. For tickets please visit www.ticketmaster.com or www.newsiesthemusical.com
For those who are die hard fans of the original Newsies film, I recommend picking up a copy of the souvenir "newspaper". Inside you will find an article written by B. Denton and a wanted notice searching for Francis Sullivan a.k.a. Jack Kelly a.k.a. Cowboy. It is a nice nod to the devoted fan base of the 1992 film.