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NEWSIES THE MUSICAL delights with impressive dancing and melodic score

NEWSIES THE MUSICAL delights with impressive dancing and a melodic score

Roy Berko

(American Theatre Critics Association; Cleveland Critics Circle)

Have you every wondered if the second time you see a production of a Broadway show it can live up to the first viewing?   Or, whether, after a show runs for a while, does it get stale, loses its spontaneity?

Having seen NEWSIES just before it officially opened, I followed the “rules of the critic”…never review a show in previews.  So I was curious if, when I saw it for the second time, it would be as dynamic, emotionally charged and high flying as the first seeing.

The answer is a resounding “YES!”

NEWSIES is the Disney produced musical that was inspired by the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in which a group of ragtag ruffian youth, who were the breadwinners for their impoverished immigrant families, stood up to the powerful Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, the owners of New York’s major newspapers.

Much like the musical URINETOWN, NEWSIES is a tale of the struggle against corporate greed.  URINETOWN took on the control of water, while NEWSIES illuminates the tale of publishing tycoons who try to raise the price of the papers bought by the boys and sold for meager profits in order to increase the tycoons’ larders at the expense of child labor and greediness.   Though the musical embellishes the facts of the real strike, it makes for a first-rate good show, which gives good guys to root for and highlights how the upright can triumph over the gluttonous.

NEWSIES opened on Broadway as a limited engagement offering on March 29, 2012.  Because of strong critical accolades, and a cult group of followers of the 1992 screen version, a movie which ironically garnered negative reviews, it is now in an open-ended run.

The show has catchy, toe-tapping music by Alan Menken, which lends itself to dynamic choreography by Christopher Gattelli.  Jack Feldman’s lyrics and Harvey Fierstein’s book give director Jeff Calhoun a chance to do much creative staging and play for both laughs and pathos.

In the mold of the traditional musical, the songs are melodic, the two-act format ends with the first act leaving the audience with a cliff hanger regarding whether good guy Jack or the bad guy tycoons will prevail, and offers a satisfying ending.

The score includes ballads, marches, and toe tapping/tap dancing inducing sounds.   “Santa Fe” is a song of longing, the show-stopping “Seize the Day” is a choreographic explosion of determination, “The Bottom Line” illustrates greed and corruption, “Brooklyn’s Here” shows the power of solidarity of purpose and how enemies can form a bond when it comes to forging change,” and “Something to Believe In” is an illustration of love and inspiration.  It’s almost impossible to leave the theatre without one of those songs repeating itself in your mind.

Corey Cott lacks some of the dynamism of Jeremy Jordan who was the original Jack Kelly.  Jordan left the cast to become a character in the television series, SMASH.  Cott, however, is believable as Jack, the leader of the Newsies, the tough guy with a tender underbelly.  He has a strong singing voice and is a skilled dancer.

Beautiful Kara Lindsay charms as Jacks’ love interest and defiant daughter of Joseph Pulitzer.  Cott and Richardson’s rendition of “Something to Believe In” is one of the show’s highlights.

John Dossett was so convincing as the nasty Pulitzer, much in the tradition of reactions to the bad buys in a melodrama, he earned him a chorus of “boos” in the curtain call.

Andy Richardson tugs at the heartstrings as Crutchie, the crippled orphan.  Young Joshua Colley charmed as Les, a youngster forced to work with Davey, his older brother, the brains behind the Newsies, when their father loses his job.  The kid knows how to steal a show.  Ben Fankhauser develops a believable Davey.

The highlight of the production, however, is the choreography.  Flips, somersaults, line dancing, tapping, contemporary moves, balletic perfection explode on the stage, resulting in prolonged cheers, applause and demands for reprisals.   Wow!  This is Broadway dance at its very best.  What’s even more impressive, these guys can sing effectively as well as dance.

If some of the dancers look familiar, any viewer of television’s SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE will hone in on familiar faces.

Ken Travis’s set design and Sven Ortel’s projections helped create the right moods, as did Jeff Croiter’s lighting.

Capsule judgement:  NEWSIES THE MUSICAL is Broadway at its best.  A story based on a real tale of good versus evil, a love connection of opposites attracting, a multi-textured melodic score, and dynamic choreography, add up to a wonderful evening of theatre!   To date, unfortunately, no plans have been announced for a touring show, so it’s see it on Broadway, or probably not at all.  Hopefully the powers that be will change their minds and realize that this is a show that would sell on the road!

NEWSIES THE MUSICAL is in production at the Nederlander Theatre, 208 W 41st St, New York, NY.