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A CurtainUp Review
Now that I've had a chance to see if Simon's enthusiastic review of the Papermill Playhouse production held up on Broadway, I'll begin with an EXTRA! EXTRA! Newsies is the go-to show for the whole family, from the kids to grandma and grandpa. Sure it's hokey, with every typical Disney feel good element on display -- but with so much creative and decidedly sophisticated ingenuity and performance talent to make the often pooh-poohed as too bland Disney label more asset then liability. After all, who can resist a handsome leading man and lovely leading lady, an ensemble of lovable Dickensian Newsies that includes an aptly named cripped boy, the Goliath (publishing tyccoon Joseph Pulitzer ) from whom these Davids will per a Les Miz like anthem will "Seize the Day."
I can't think of a better way to facilitate the never in doubt happy ending, than with a Lillian Russell/Dolly Levy-like vaudeville house impresario, a famous historical figure like Governor (and future president) Teddy Roosevelt. If the several times reprised anthems at times evoke memories of Les Miz, well that's just one more much beloved hit show to add to the referential pleasures, most obviously Annie and Oliver,, not to mention the golden oldie movies featuring the Dead End kids.
As is inevitable in a transfer like this, there's been some tweaking: Even more and more of Christopher Gattelli's eye-popping, mind-boggling choreography for the amazingly fleet footed cast and additions and changes in the Mencken-Feldman songs. There are also a few cast changes. Capathia Jenkins is just fine and dandy as the good fairy who not only provides the artistic Jack Kelly with extra income but serves as the mediator between the Newsies and neanie bottom-line fixated publisher (naturally, singing a song titled "The Bottom Line"). Ben Frankenhauser, the Broadway Davey is a standout among standouts, as is the young actor playing his kid brother Les (Lewis Grosso at the performance I attended).
While the critic in chief at that newspaper complex down the street may have been less than enthusiastic about Newsies, most critics agree with Simon's review, speaking of which-- he was at the same performance I saw with his grandson Ben who loved every minute and danced and when the show ended, danced and leaped all the way to their car. The kids seated all around me seemed to share Ben's enthusiasm -- and these are the critics who really count!
A word of advice to all who can afford this delightful theatrical outing, make the front mezzanine your first choice when buying tickets. It will provide the best view of that entire moving and sliding set and the agile dancers.
For more details, see the Original Review
Broadway Production Notes
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Jack Feldman, Book by Harvey Fierstein
Based on the Disney film written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
Choreography by Christopher Gattelli
Principal Cast Members: Jeremy Jordan (Jack Kelly), John Dossett (Joseph Pulitzer), Kara Lindsay (Katherine), Capathia Jenkins (Nun/Medda Larkin), Ben Fankhauser (Davey), Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Crutchie), Lewis Grosso and Matthew J. Schechter (alternating as Les) and Kevin Carolan (Governor Roosevelt).
Music supervision, incidental music and vocal arrangements: Michael Kosarin
Orchestrations: Danny Troob
Sets: Tobin Ost
Costumes: Jess Goldstein
Lighting: Jeff Croiter
Sound: Ken Travis
Projections: Sven Ortel]
Hair and wig design: Charles G. LaPointe
Fight director, J. Allen Suddeth
Music director and dance arrangements: Mark Hummel
Music coordinator, John Miller
Stage manager: Thomas J. Gates
Running Time: : 2 hours 30 minutes, including intermission
Nederlander Theater, 208 West 41st Streetnewsiesthemusical.com. From 3/15/12; opening 3/29/12; closing 8/19/12
Original Review at Papermill Playhouse
There is nothing quite like the excitement, anticipation and expectation that accompanies the world premiere of a new musical, especially one that is the result of work by some of the most creative and lauded talents in the theater. To really experience the full pleasure of the new and improved Newsies now at the Paper Mill Playhouse under the direction of Jeff Calhoun, you have to appreciate the fact that this musical has its roots in a Disney film musical that not only failed to garner many enthusiastic reviews when it was released in 1992, but also generated virtually no box office interest.
In typical fashion for a bomb, Newsies died and went to TV/DVD heaven where the strangest thing happened. It developed a devoted and adoring cult following that grew to the point where a better life for it was ordained by the film’s eight-time Academy Award-winning composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman with the help of the Disney Theatrical Productions. With an expanded/enhanced exhilarating score, a more than commendably revised book by four time Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein (based on the original screenplay by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White) plenty of vigorously athletic choreography by Christopher Gattelli, Newsies has everything it needs to secure its future as a popular stage entertainment for the entire family.
Based on the real-life story of a group of newsboys who went on a two-week long strike in New York City in 1899 against the unfair policies being initiated by the ruthless, prominent and powerful publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, Newsies is the story of a courageous young newsboy Jack Kelly (Jeremy Jordan) who organizes his fellow and mostly homeless newsboys. Their protest is prompted by Pulitzer's decision to raise the cost of the newspapers that the newsboys have to first buy before they can sell.
The result of the new collaboration is an exuberant mix of song, dance and some surprisingly topical and politically compelling dramatic action. (Background note: Although labor unions had begun being formed in the mid 19th century, it initial impact wasn’t sustained due to poor management.} This is a fast-moving, spectacularly designed, excitingly performed musical that should keep its intended family audiences well entertained.
With its setting at a time when Republicans had once again regained their power and control over the working classes, this musical is also a wake up call to all those who sit idly by today as collective bargaining by the Unions and the Unions themselves are being denounced by right wing governors, capitalists, corporatists, and industrialists. Does that mean that Newsies a message musical? You bet, and one that would undoubtedly have warmed the agitprop heart of the late political playwright/activist Bertolt Brecht.
Does the show's having a message also mean that we will be bludgeoned by the message? If dancing up a storm in protest to and support of a righteous cause is a kind of bludgeoning, then choreographer Gattelli and his tough corps of Newsies are guilty. If the singing of such rousing anthems as “Carrying the Banner,” “The World Will Know” and “Seize the Day” by Jack and the young activists gathered from all the boroughs of New York City tear at your heart and move you to cheer, it’s partially because we are urging them on.
With Jeremy Jordan's dynamic Jack leading his Newsies in their many, varied and boisterously athletic routines to confront the police, the hired goons, scabs and, finally, Pulitzer in his New York Sun office, this is a musical that is every bit as by-movement-and-song-propelled as any ever conceived by Twyla Tharp. We can sense that there is something extra special afoot when we spot the taps clamped onto the Newsies work-boots as they gather for a meeting at Jacobi’s Deli. Their zeal finds an outlet in a ferocious ensemble tap number during which every table feels the brunt of their collective determination.
Aside from the terrific dancing, all the Newsies are nicely individualized in Fierstein’s beautifully focused book. Jordan remains the principal mover and shaker-upper. Signed to portray Clyde Barrow in the new musical Bonnie and Clyde opening later this season on Broadway, Jordan demonstrates his star power by putting his “New Yawk” state of mind, body and voice to work, especially in his character’s wish-fulfillment theme song “Santa Fe.” That humdinger of a ballad opens the show with Jordan standing atop the spectacular, applause-deserving setting designed by Tobin Ost. This is a huge metal construction comprised of elevated, compartmentalized sections that pivot, move, and interlock with awesome ease.
Also impressive is the stream of cityscape projections provided by Sven Ortel. Kudos to Jeff Croiter's splendidly atmospheric lighting which stresses the grimmer hard-scrabble life on the streets for the Newsies. Costume designer Jess Goldstein is responsible for the Newsies authentically grubby attire.
The basic plot is enhanced winningly through Jack’s friendship with the physically challenged but brimming with personality “Crutchie” (Andrew Keenan-Bolger); as is his romance with Katherine (Kara Lindsay), a young woman journalist who wants to write an article in support of their protest but who is also hiding a secret. Despite my persistent griping about how often (as in this case as well) electronic amplification destroys a soprano’s voice, Lindsay gives a delightfully spunky performance. She and Jordan have an affecting romantic moment on a rooftop where they sing the poignant duet “Then I See You.”
Jack’s flair with a paint brush helps him earn a little extra money painting scenery at a neighborhood saloon where he also maintains a friendship with saloon singer Medda Larkin (Helen Anker.) Anker is put in the spotlight with a saucy number “Don’t Come a-Knockin’” accompanied by “the girls.”
Particularly endearing among the Newsies are the brainy Davey (Ben Fankhuser) and Les (Vincent Agnello) his younger and fearless 10 year-old brother who, despite not being homeless like the other Newsies, become committed to helping Jack to insure that “The World Will Know.”
The show's meanies also have their standouts, notably John Dosset as the power-hungry Pulitzer. Fierstein’s script makes it easy to also dislike John E. Brady, as the smarmy newspaper distributor “Wiesel, and Stuart Marland as the corrupt thug Snyder.
A lot of credit must go to director Jeff Calhoun who has rallied thirty-two performers, some playing multiple roles, to create an impressively unified ensemble. There is further comfort in knowing that Governor Theodore Roosevelt (Kevin Carolan) comes to the aid of the Newsies, just as another relative of his came to the rescue of Little Orphan Annie in another musical. Whether Newsies will have as long a life as Annie remains to be seen, which leads me to to recall the refrain that Katherine sings at her typewriter: “Watch What Happens.”
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