No one knows what to do with newspapers these days. They kill trees, get your fingers smeary and, in the event their stories are actually true, lag behind the Internet. Anyone who works at a daily (or even—gulp!—a weekly) frets constantly about impending obsolescence. So imagine what a joy it is to see the dear old things so gainfully employed in Disney’s barnstorming, four-alarm delight Newsies. The “papes,” as they’re called by the show’s scrappy New Yawk street hawkers, are indispensable props. They’re stuffed greedily into sacks, hurled as missiles during fights, even spread on the floor for an impromptu dance surface. But it’s not just the clever recycling of tabloid sheets that endears you to this bright, invigorating extravaganza: Not since Wicked has there been a big-tent, family-friendly Broadway musical that gets so much so right.
Set during the city’s newsboy strike in the summer of 1899, Newsies takes the diverting Disney film and adds extra tunes and many more high-jumping dances for the spunky male ensemble. The Alan Menken–Jack Feldman score pleasingly blends music-hall orchestral swing and power pop, and Feldman’s lyrics are more graceful than you’d expect from a show aimed primarily at tweens. Harvey Fierstein’s book brims with sass and big-hearted sympathy for the underdog. And director Jeff Calhoun’s designers balance a gray-brown palette with splashes of color (mostly from costumes), creating grit to rub up against the material’s built-in melodrama and sentimentality.
Jeremy Jordan is a charismatic wonder in the lead role of Jack Kelly, the kindhearted teen who dreams of escaping to Santa Fe but accepts the mantle of hero, unionizing the newsies and standing up to antilabor magnate Joseph Pulitzer (John Dossett, squeezing notes of subtlety from a villain role). Old-fashioned book musicals with pluck, brains and heart are so rare these days; when you see one as blissfully fun as Newsies, it belongs on the front page in 72-point type.—David Cote
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