National Tour Theater Review: NEWSIES

Post image for National Tour Theater Review: NEWSIES

by Lawrence Bommer on December 13, 2014

in Theater-Chicago,Tours

HAWKING HAPPINESS

Winner of two 2012 Tonys for best score and choreography, the rampaging romp called Newsies is a special delivery indeed. It comes from the Disney dreamers who fleshed out The Lion King, Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast. This screen-to-stage adventure is very well-fleshed out, with the most attractive, athletic cast since Peter Pan met the Lost Boys.

Newsies, a Disney Theatrical Production under the direction of Thomas Schumacher presents Newsies, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein, starring Dan Deluca (Jack Kelly), Steve Blanchard (Joseph Pulitzer), Stephanie Style

Soaring as the 1992 film did with its jump-cut leaps and flash-dance adrenal editing, the emphasis for the 2011 musical (now on a national tour through Aug. 2015) is even more on kids than adults. The appeal is equaled by the result: Charged with compassion for these adolescent underdogs, the delirious young audience-goers at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago were mentally dancing with the newsboys and, not incidentally, growing some generational solidarity as they sympathize with their strike. And adults understand that protest is very much in the air right now.

Newsies, a Disney Theatrical Production under the direction of Thomas Schumacher presents Newsies, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein, starring Dan Deluca (Jack Kelly), Steve Blanchard (Joseph Pulitzer), Stephanie Style

This hard-boiled, tough-loving creation by composer Alan Menken, bookwriter Harvey Fierstein, and lyricist Jack Feldman is roughly based on the actual “Newsboy Strike of 1899,” a two-week work stoppage against venal Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard), William Randolph Hearst, and other “malefactors of great wealth,” a phrase coined by Teddy Roosevelt (Kevin Carolan), a hero in this show. All the tykes want is what Teddy offered—a “square deal.”

Newsies, a Disney Theatrical Production under the direction of Thomas Schumacher presents Newsies, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein, starring Dan Deluca (Jack Kelly), Steve Blanchard (Joseph Pulitzer), Stephanie Style

A long-ago legend is here transformed into a dance marathon of gymnastic gyrations that’s alternately thrilling and exhausting—and leaves any plot in the New York dust. Indeed Newsies is so much about the title punks, it’s as if Oliver Twist fixated on the Artful Dodger and Fagin’s pickpockets, with the orphan’s salvation a mere subplot. Or if Les Miz made the urchin Gavroche, martyr of the barricades, the main character.

newsies-dan-deluca-and-stephanie-stylesA mere excuse for Christopher Gattelli’s combustible choreography, the Horatio Alger-style story chronicles how pluck and luck inspire 17-year-old homeless Jack Kelly (charismatic Dan DeLuca), a teen who dreams of exchanging Gotham grit for his dreamtown of Santa Fe. This rebel of the rooftops will rouse the rabble—his ragged band of “little rascals” and “Bowery boys”—to inflict a strike on the predatory “papes” that are screwing them out of fair wages and incentive pay. Tired of only having the “right to starve,” these thwarted entrepreneurs (endearing “Crutchie,” nerdy Davey, and bumptious other boys) will literally “stop The World,” among other rags.

Jack, who must unite newsies from all the boroughs, gets help from music-hall chanteuse Medda (Angela Grovey) and, improbably and unconvincingly, from Pulitzer’s daughter Katherine (Stephanie Styles), a sort of Mulan heroine who’s really one more beneficiary of plutocratic nepotism. This love story was added here; in the film, Bill Pullman played a male reporter for The Sun who publicizes the deliverers’ plight, gets them their own press to spread the strike, then Newsies, a Disney Theatrical Production under the direction of Thomas Schumacher presents Newsies, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein, starring Dan Deluca (Jack Kelly), Steve Blanchard (Joseph Pulitzer), Stephanie Styleultimately disappoints them, just as grownups do for hard-hoping street kids (Christian Bale, the original Jack, would just have to grow up to become Batman).

Anyway, this youth-drenched tale (“Old people talk too much,” one kid hypocritically opines) gives center stage to the incredible hoofing of these inexhaustible pyro tyros. Their pile-driving, perpetual-motion breakouts erupt in such incandescent rousers as “Carrying the Banner,” “Seize the Day,” and “King of New York.” If youth were a drug, the whole stage would be a crack house. And, if justice required somersaults, back flips, breathtaking arabesques and Olympic leaps, the newsies’ strike, histrionically called a “Children’s Crusade,” would have ended in two days, not two weeks. But, ultimately, it’s words, not steps, which count in a cause. (Alas, Fierstein’s anything-for-a-laugh script really bottom-feeds when a salacious Medda asks Teddy Roosevelt about his “big stick.” Hey, a year later the “happy warrior” would be President—a little respect already…)

Newsies, a Disney Theatrical Production under the direction of Thomas Schumacher presents Newsies, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein, starring Dan Deluca (Jack Kelly), Steve Blanchard (Joseph Pulitzer), Stephanie StyleAll this Terpsichorean, ADD-esque agitation as exultation is played against set designer Tobin Ost’s rapidly revolving iron scaffolding, an endlessly rotating set of fire escapes that perfectly frame Sven Ortel’s period projections and the flying props that depict Newsie Square, the “refuge” prison, Pulitzer’s office and cellar, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Medda’s unnamed theater.

No question, Newsies’ feel-good and showbiz savvy are well-earned too. Here sheer kinetic energy can more than pass for eloquence. Jack, the unelected king of New York, may never get to Santa Fe, but our time trip to a merry Manhattan is happiness on all cylinders.

photos by Deen Van Meer

Newsies
Broadway in Chicago
reviewed at the Oriental Theatre
24 W. Randolph St. in Chicago
ends on January 4, 2015
for tickets, call 800.775.2000 or visit Broadway in Chicago

tour continues through October, 2016
for cities and dates, visit Newsies The Musical

Comments on this entry are closed.