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A CurtainUp D Review
In 2011 the show began small at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse moved to Broadway , was a big hit, was nominated for 8 awards and took home two. The ensemble's performance at the Tony awards that year certainly helped spread the word and gather a following that bode well for its future. Now, mid-2015, its 36-city tour which began last night at Washington's National Theater is on the road.
While some tours are tacky knock-offs of the real thing, this touring production is as highly-polished, fast moving and well performed as any musical on Broadway thanks to the high standards of its producers, Disney Theatrical Productions. The show has all the right elements for a crowd pleaser: pleasant but not particularly original music by Alan Menken, sweet lyrics by Jack Feldman, and a book by Harvey Fierstein that has its moments although it is often predictable. Based on the true story of orphans and runaways who, in New York, circa 1899, took on the big guys and won.
The kids who sell newspapers, "newsies" resent the increase in price of the "papes" that would increase the publishers wealth while diminishing their take in the process. For the newsies the difference is between having enough money to buy food or starve. Today their plight would be called income inequality.
What makes Newsies such fun is Christopher Gattelli's choreography with some help from director Jeff Calhoun. Together they push their cast of 33, backed by 11 musicians, to sing out, jump higher, and move faster than seems humanly possible. I have not seen dancing like this since Twyla Tharp's Moving Out.
pe The tour's young performers are extraordinarily talented. Their phrasing and harmonizing is clearly influenced by Les Mis, which is not a bad thing. Their movements are perfectly in sync with every step particularly well articulated and every leg at the same height (i.e. very high.) They move in unison. This exceptional ensemble leaps, jumps, taps, does cartwheels and other acrobatics alarmingly fast. But they never seem to lose their breath while some in the audience may be holding theirs.
The huge cast is lead by Dan DeLuca in a convincing performance as Jack Kelly, leader of the unionized strikers and love interest of neophyte reporter Katherine (Stephanie Styles.) The most empathy goes to the impish Zachary Sayle as Crutchie,(he's got a bad leg and uses a crutch) whose ability to get up and down stairs, move to the beat and run with the crowd is remarkable. Nine-year old Vincent Crocilla as Les is endearing, particularly when he is placed in an oil drum that is rolled across the stage. Anthony Rosenthal alternates in the role of Les.
The three-tiered set by Tobin Ost resembles scaffolding. The grit of New York City just before the turn of the century (to 1900) comes through Jeff Croiter's lighting and the ragged clothing worn by the kids and elegant dresses and suits on everyone else are designed by Jess Goldstein.
The musical is not without its corny moments and the ending is in sight from the very beginning but that should not stop anyone's enjoyment of the vitality and skill of this very well choreographed ensemble's highly entertaining show. If last night's audience is indicative of what reaction will be to the 36-city tour, Newsies will have patrons jumping to their feet for a standing ovation. Just what the folks at the Tony Awards and Disney Theatricals hoped for.
For the song list see the original New Jersey/New York reviews
Fun Home -CD
Our review of the Best Musical Tony winner
The King and I -CD
Our review of the Best Musical revival Tony winner