The great big Broadway smash that is Disney’s Newsies is getting its first major Southern California regional production up at PCPA Solvang and what a sensational SoCal debut it is!

Newsies The Musical transforms the 1992 Disney flick that helped propel Christian Bale to stardom into a crowd-pleasing live stage musical, bringing to life the New York Newsboys Strike of 1899 in excitement and romance and song and dance, the latter two provided by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman’s eminently hummable Tony-winning score and (at PCPA) by director-choreographer Michael Jenkinson’s athletic, balletic, taptastic footwork.

Tyler Lenhart takes over for Bale as Jack Kelly, David to newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer’s Goliath, whose decision to raise the price his “newsies” must pay before selling their “papes” on the streets of NYC prompts Jack and his fellow paper boys to “Seize The Day” and launch a full-fledged strike against the publishing magnate’s New York World.

Along with Jack for the sure-to-be bumpy ride are newbie newsie Davey (Tim Fuchs) and his kid brother Les (Weston Marum), working in tandem to support a disabled father; Crutchie (Joe Ogren), so named because of his ever-present walking aid; and a ragtag team of scrappy lads who aren’t about to say no to anyone, not even to the country’s most powerful newspaper kingpin.

Harvey Fierstein’s Tony-nominated book takes what worked best in Bob Tzudiker and Noni White’s original screenplay and tweaks it by making its leading lady (understudy Casey Canino as Katherine Plumber) not just Jack’s love interest but the reporter assigned to write about the strike.

Though Newsies The Musical’s first act could benefit from the movie’s 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 Jenkinson’s athletic, acrobatic, high-energy original choreography that makes each show-stopping production number 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 Jenkinson’s inspired direction, each and every newsboy shows off triple-threat song-dance-and-acting chops, beginning with PCPA-debuting Lenhart’s charismatic star turn, one that makes it abundantly clear why it’s Jack and no other who’s the leader of the pack.

Fuchs’s Davey combines nerdiness and pizzazz to engaging effect, Marum is a spunky charmer as Les, and Ogren follows Lend Me A Tenor The Musical’s Max with an equally endearing but entirely new Crutchie.

Newsies Cory Betts (Specs), Jesse Graham (Romeo), Jaylen Evans (Mush), Chasen Greenwood (Elmer), Brandon Halvorsen (Finch), Sam Lariviere (Albert), Timothy Stewart (Racetrack), and associate choreographer/fight captain Katie Wackowski (Mush) not only nail every leap, spin, and tap Jenkinson gives them to execute but do so in distinctive 1890s teen character while singing at full volume under Paul Marszalkowki’s expert musical direction.

Canino makes for a splendidly spunky Katherine while igniting plenty of romantic sparks opposite Lehnart’s Jack, Delancey Brothers (Taylor Chambers as Morris and Mitchell Lam Hau as Oscar) are the bad guys you love to hate, and Christian Arteaga, Sam Bravo (Spot Conlon), Blake Brundy (Bill), swing Cat Evangelho, Eric Hoit, Adam Mantell (Darcy), AJ Morales, and dance captain Ella Walker offer indefatigable multitalented ensemble support.

As for the “30-and-over” set, dialect coach Kitty Balay makes glamorous nightclub entertainer Medda Larkin indelibly her own, Tim Fullerton creates a commanding Joseph Pulitzer while revealing gorgeous baritone pipes, and Tyler Matthew Campbell (Snyder), Leo Cortez (Mayor, Mr. Jacobi, Wiesel), Paul Henry (Nunzio, Governor Teddy Roosevelt), Eric Holt (Bunsen) Matt Koenig (Seitz), Méami Maszewski (Hannah) are every bit as fabulous.

The Solvang Festival Theater’s thrust stage has prompted scenic designer Jason Bolen to create a modular multi-level set that transforms seamlessly into Newsies multiple locales (both indoor and out) thanks to Jenkinson’s ingeniously choreographed set changes that have newsboys taking over Pulitzer’s office for some brief but inspired moments.

Eddy L. Barrow’s period costumes (from weathered Newsies gear to Pulitzer-and-cronies’ elegant duds), Jennifer “Z” Zarnow’s vivid lighting, and Elisabeth Weidner’s crystal clear sound design (mixing amped vocals and prerecorded instrumental tracks) all earn thumbs up, and in the case of Mark Booher’s fight choreography, fists up.

Zoia N. Wiseman is stage manager. Andrew Mark Wilhelm is sound engineer. Understudy Colby Hamann and swing Jonathan Fierros are poised to step in, as Canino and Evangelho did at the performance reviewed, at a moment’s notice.

With Newsies’ first professional L.A.-area production still nearly a year away, audiences in need of their newsboy fix are advised to seize the day and road-trip it up to Solvang for one foot-stomping, rip-roaring evening of SoCal musical theater at its best.

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Solvang Festival Theater, 420 2nd Street, Solvang.

–Steven Stanley
July 29, 2017
Photos: Luis Escobar Reflections Photography Studio and Sandra Cortez Photography


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