When a flop movie musical becomes a home video hit, what better for Walt Disney Studios to do than turn it into a great big Broadway smash, or at least this is what happened with Newsies The Musical, now thrilling SoCal audiences with Christopher Gattelli’s breathtaking Tony-winning choreography, Alan Menken and Jack Feldman’s eminently hummable Tony-winning songs, and much much more at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts.
For a studio whose long list of G-rated movie classics are a conservative family’s dream come true, Newsies wears its progressive pro-union, anti-big-business stance on its sleeve as it recounts the real life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in song and dance, excitement and romance.
Joey Barreiro stars as Jack Kelly, David to Steve Blanchard’s Goliath of a publisher (none other than Joseph Pulitzer himself), whose decision to raise the price the newsboys must pay before selling his paper on the streets of NYC prompts Jack and his fellow newsies to “Seize The Day” and launch a full-fledged strike against Pulitzer’s New York World.
Along with Jack for the sure-to-be bumpy ride are Davey (Stephen Michael Langton) and his kid brother Les (Ethan Steiner), working to support a disabled father; Crutchie (Andy Richardson), so named because of his ever-present walking aid; Race (Daniel Switzer), who can chomp on a cigar with the best of them; and a ragtag team of scrappy lads who aren’t about to say no to anyone, not even the country’s most powerful newspaper magnate.
Harvey Fierstein’s Tony-nominated book (yes, that Harvey Fierstein!) takes what worked best in Bob Tzudiker and Noni White’s original screenplay but tweaks it by making its leading lady (Morgan Keene as Katherine Plumber) not just Jack’s love interest but the reporter assigned to write about the strike. (Talk about potential conflict of interest.)
Though Newsies The Musical’s first act could benefit from a closer examination of just what these boys have at stake should they lose their livelihood (the squalor of their living conditions doesn’t get revealed till after intermission), Newsies The Movie’s multitude of fans can delight in knowing that their favorite songs remain intact, most notably “Carrying The Banner,” “Santa Fe,” “Seize The Day,” and “The King Of New York,” with enough new tunes to earn composer Menken his very first Tony statuette.
Add to that Gattelli’s supremely athletic, acrobatic, high-energy choreography (that pays tribute to Kenny Ortega’s original concepts while making one show-stopping production number after another worth cheer after cheer after cheer) and you’ve got a show that grabs your heart from its “Santa Fe” prologue and holds it there till the dance pyrotechnics of its thrilling grand finale.
Under Jeff Calhoun’s expert direction, each and every newsboy delivers the goods, and then some, beginning with dynamic discovery Barreiro’s supremely confident star turn as Jack.
Langton’s nerdy charmer of a Davey, Steiner’s delightfully spunky little brother Les, Richardson’s sweetly endearing Crutchie, and Switzer’s scrappy young Edward G. Robinson of a Race are all absolutely winning as are newsies Sky Flaherty (Albert, Scab), swing/dance captain Andrew Wilson (Specs), Michael Rios (Henry), Iain Young (Finch), Anthony Zas (Elmer), Nico DeJesus (Romeo), Nicholas Masson (Mush), and Joshua Burrage (Darcy), each of whom creates a distinctive portrait of a 1890s New York teen, with the equally terrific Michael Dameski (Scab), Chaz Wolcott (Scab), assistant dance captain Josh Assor, and Kaitlyn Frank completing the most indefatigable ensemble in town.
The lovely Keene makes for a fabulously feisty Katherine (and a high-chemistry love interest for Barreiro’s Jack), Aisha De Haas is as gorgeous and glamorous as nightclub entertainers get as Metta Larkin, and Devin Lewis and Alex Prakken make for a pair of likeable bad guys as the Delancey Brothers, Morris and Oscar.
As for the older set, Broadway vet Blanchard commands the stage with his sumptuous baritone as Joseph Pulitzer, and is supported by the uniformly able Bill Bateman (Bunsen, Stage Manager), fight captain Kevin Carolan (Roosevelt), Michael Gorman (Wiesel, Mr. Jacobi, Mayor), Meredith Inglesby (Hannah), James Judy (Snyder), and Eric Scott Kincaid (Seitz).
Swings JP Ferreri, Stephen Hernandez, Eric Jon Mahlum, and Becca Petersen are poised to step onstage at a moment’s notice.
Scenic designer Tobin Ost’s towers of metallic girders and fire-escape-like staircases get maneuvered into ever-changing configurations, with Sven Ortel’s projections (adapted by Daniel Brodie for the tour) providing realistic backdrops of the NYC skyline, Pulitzer’s sumptuous office, etc. when needed.
Jess Goldstein’s meticulously weathered period costumes, Jeff Croiter’s vibrant lighting design, Ken Travis’s crystal clear sound design, and Charles G. Lapointe’s 1890s hair and wigs are all Broadway-caliber splendid as is J. Allen Suddeth’s fight choreography.
The Newsies orchestra is under the expert baton on musical director James Dodgson, with orchestrations by Danny Troob and music supervised and arranged by Michael Kosarin.
Jeff Norman is production stage manager.
Box office grosses back in 1992 might have presaged a soon-to-be-forgotten future for Newsies had the VHS tape not given it new life in American living rooms, and that would have been sad indeed, because without Newsies The Musical, there’d be a whole lot less excitement going on down Costa Mesa way this week and next.
May 17, 2106
Photos: Deen van Meer