Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Theater Review: Newsies -- The Bushnell

The original North American Tour company of Newsies. Disney Photo: Deen van Meer
Newsboys Flip, and So Does the Audience
By Lauren Yarger
A huge cast jumps, spins, sings, dances and flips across the stage – and the audience flips as well for Newsies, the stage adaptation of Disney’s 1992 movie making a tour stop at The Bushnell.

Think “Mickey Mouse Club on steroids” and you have a pretty quick picture of this wholesome crowd pleaser featuring a cast of more than 30 performing Christopher Gattelli’s over-the-top, Tony-Award-winning choreography to a peppy, pounding score by Alan Menken (of Beauty and the Beast fame. He won a Tony for Newsies, despite the repetitive sound of the score, driven by too many belts and reprises. Lyrics are by Jack Feldman.

Director Jeff Calhoun directs the story, inspired by the real-life ‘Newsboy Strike of 1899,’ when newsboy Kid Blink led a band of orphan and runaway newsies on a two-week-long action against Pulitzer, Hearst and other powerful newspaper publishers. Harvey Fierstein pens the stage adaptation of Bob Tzudiker and Noni White’s screenplay.

The newsboys (although in this musical the boys are mostly all young men in their 20s) go on strike when publisher Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard) decides to increase the amount the boys must pay to purchase their papers

Leading the revolt is streetwise Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro) who teams up with newbie newsboy, Davey (Stephen Michael Langton ) and his kid brother, Les (shared by Jonathan Fenton, Ethan Steiner, John Michael Pitera – I saw Steiner who was terrific), who have left school to support their family while their father recovers from a work-related accident. If the father had been in a union, they discover, things might have been different, so they eagerly join the newsies’ efforts to organize and make a stand against the sleazy Pulitzer.  

Assisting them in their efforts is a woman reporter, Katherine (Morgan Keene, who has a powerful vocal instrument), who hopes reporting on the strike will bump her from reviewing theater to the front page. There might also be some romance in store between her and Jack.

Also lending a hand to their efforts is Medda Larkin (Aisha De Haas) who offers her theater as a rallying point for the strikers. Standing out from the ensemble in other roles are Zachary Sayle as Crutchie, a newsie who walks with a limp and who takes a terrible beating (not seen) for the cause, and Kevin Carolan reprising his Broadway role as Gov. Teddy Roosevelt. Sayle has a great singing voice and stage presence and would be playing the role of Jack if I were casting. 

The action takes place around or on a three-story, three-piece moving truss (Tobin Ost). Jack’s sketches (he’s an artist) and some location paintings are projected onto it (Swen Ortel, projection design). Costumes are by Jess Goldstein.

Michael Kosarin supervises the music played by a full-sounding orchestra and provides the vocal arrangements. The orchestrations by Danny Troob tend to make the accompaniment sound different from the melodies being sung. The sound mix (designed by Ken Travis) often has vocals straining to be heard over the music.

The audience loved it, though, giving enthusiastic applause and cheers after many of the belting, numbers reprised many times during the two and a half hours of flipping, spinning and jumping. I felt like I got a work out just watching it.

Newsies flip on the stage at The Bushnell through Oct.18. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Saturdays at 2 pm; Sundays 1 and 6:30 pm Tickets $29.50-$100.50: (860) 987-5900;

Additional cast:
Michael Gorman - Wiesel, Mr. Jacobi, Mayor, Ensemble
Alex Prakken - Oscar Delancey, Ensemble
Michael Ryan - Morris Delancey, Ensemble
Josh Assor, Bill Bateman, Josh Burrage, Benjamin Cook, DeMarius Cope, Nico DeJesus, J.P Ferreri, Sky Flaherty, Kaitlyn Frank, David Guzman, Evan Kasprzak, Eric Scott Kincaid, Melissa Steadman Hart Jeff Heimbrock, Stephen Hernandez, Meredith Inglesby, James Judy, Eric Jon Mahlum, Nicholas Masson Jordan Samuels Andrew Wilson, Chaz Wolcott

Creative team:
Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Jack Feldman; Book by Harry Fierstein, based on the film by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White Direction by Jeff Calhoun; Choreography by Christopher Gattelli , Music Supervision, Vocal and Incidental Music Arrangements by Michael Kosarin, Orchestrations by Danny Troob , Dance Music Arrangements by Mark Hummel, Set Design by Tobin Ost, Costume design by Jess Goldstein, Hair and Wig Design by Charles G. LaPointe, Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter, Sound Design by Ken Travis, Projection design by Sven Ortel

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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