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Wednesday, 04 April 2012 06:51

Broadway Review: NEWSIES

Written by
Jeremy Jordan and the Company of NEWSIES Jeremy Jordan and the Company of NEWSIES Photo: Deen van Meer

You have to hand it to the folks in marketing at Disney Theatrical.  They started by playing it safe with their new musical Newsies by initially announcing it as "101 performances only."  Then they announced that they were extending through August 19.  Frankly, if Newsies closes this year, I'll eat my hat.  You know how I can say that?  Because Broadway producers don't close a hit, and that's exactly what Disney has on its hands.

Newsies, based on the 1992 movie of the same title,  has music by Broadway veteran Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and a book from the one-and-only Harvey Fierstein.  The time is 1899 and a hardscrabble group of newspaper boys, entrepreneurs really, have just had a price increase thrust upon them by newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer (John Dossett).  At the same time, a transit strike is going on and this gives the boys the idea to band together and go out on strike.

It looks like Messrs. Menken, Feldman and Fierstein have given boys their version of Annie.  Thirty-five years ago it was another ragamuffin group of orphans and lecherous villains who were taking Broadway by storm.  Their hero was a confident little red-headed girl.  Newsies’ hero is Jack Kelly, outrageously well played and sung by teen heart-throb Jeremy Jordan (seen earlier this season as Clyde Barrow in the ill-fated Bonnie and Clyde.)  

The show is full of musical numbers that completely stopped the show the night I saw it (including “Carrying the Banner,” “All for One” and “King of New York”).  Christopher Gattelli's acrobatic choreography might have something to do with that.  These boys don’t stop doing cartwheels and backflips for two hours and thirty minutes.

Newsies is directed by Jeff Calhoun (who also directed the aforementioned Bonnie and Clyde) such that you (or should I say the cast) barely gets a chance to breath.  Mr. Calhoun has creatively used Tobin Ost's automated staircases to optimal effect as they spin to become row houses, a roof-top and even the offices of Joseph Pulitzer.  It looks like the set of "The Hollywood Squares" with nine distinct boxes which contain the fire escape stairs.  In an interesting decision, Calhoun has elected to have all of the newsies speak in a Damon Runyonesque New York accent that is so broad as to be cartoon-like and yet, the accent works perfectly with the mood of the show.  They give the show character.

Other standouts among the cast include a pair of brothers played by Ben Frankhause and Lewis Grosso.  Grosso practically steals the show with his pint-size antics.  Jack’s sidekick, Crutchie, a crippled orphan is played effectively for laughs and sympathy by Andrew Keenan-Bolger.  

Capathia Jenkins is the lovely and zoftig Medda Larkin, the proprietress of a local burlesque theatre.  She befriends Jack who, in addition to being a “union organizer,” also has a talent for painting theatrical backdrops.  Ms. Jenkins has a hot little number in the first act called “That’s Rich” which she sells full throttle.  

Jack’s love interest, Kathryn, is played by Kara Lindsay. She has a lovely singing voice and a brilliant smile. When she and Mr. Jordan sync up to sing “Something to Believe In,” it’s beautiful.

Mr. Fierstein has given us a book that makes sense, tells the story and has wit.  Alan Menken’s music is tuneful, but not among his best works (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid are all better scores.)  Newsies is slightly formulaic, but there’s nothing wrong with that when it’s done right, and the cast and creative team of Newsies got it right.

So congratulations to Disney for an entertaining new member to the Broadway musical family.  And a note to our friends over in the Nederlander office, you won’t be needing that theatre anytime soon.

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 April 2012 17:12