Newsies

Theater, Musicals
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Newsies
Photograph: Deen van Meer
Dan DeLuca, center, and the cast of the first North American touring production of Newsies

Oriental Theatre. Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Jack Feldman. Book by Harvey Fierstein. Directed by Jeff Calhoun. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 30mins; one intermission.

Theater review by Kris Vire

Sometimes the early edition doesn’t sell so well, so you rework the story for the evening edition and it flies off the stands. Or at least that’s how I’m going to imagine the days when newspapers printed multiple editions in a day, to serve my metaphor for this Disney tale loosely based on New York City’s newsboys strike of 1899.

The original 1992 film musical, inspired by a relatively academic book about child labor in American cities at the turn of the century, gave topline credit to secondary players Robert Duvall and Ann-Margret but really starred a young and mostly unknown Christian Bale and Bill Pullman; it bombed at the box office, but later found a loyal cult following on home video.

Nearly two decades later, Disney brought back songwriting team Alan Menken and Jack Feldman to rework their score and brought in book writer Harvey Fierstein to adapt the movie for a stage version that was, by most reports, intended as a licensing property rather than a Broadway hit. But like the striking urchins of its plot, it became an underdog that made headlines.

Charismatic bad boy Jack Kelly (the winning Dan DeLuca) is the unofficial leader of the newsies selling “papes”—specifically, Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World—across Lower Manhattan. Davey (Jacob Kemp) is the brainy new newsboy, pulled out of school to support his family while his father recovers from a work injury, along with his natural-salesman little brother Les (played at alternating performances by kid actors Vincent Crocilla and Anthony Rosenthal).

When Pulitzer pulls a fast one on his poorest freelance employees, raising the price he charges the newsies for papes overnight and colluding with his fellow newspaper owners to do the same, Jack and Davey find themselves organizing a union almost by accident. Aspiring girl reporter and protofeminist Katherine Plumber (Stephanie Styles, an actor of great spark who makes her first-act solo “Watch What Happens” as exciting as any group dance number) is there to document the new movement—and fall for artful dodger Jack.

If there’s a hyperspecific target audience for shows that champion the powers of on-the-ground organizing and journalism, I’m likely right there in it (even when I can recognize the irony of it coming from an 800-pound-gorilla megacorporation like Disney). But Menken and Feldman’s score, which retains six great numbers from the film and augments them with enough new material to have earned the Tony Award for best score of 2012, is heavy on the kind of soaring, inspiring anthems and multipart boy-band harmonies that are difficult to resist.

And this first national touring cast performs Christopher Gattelli’s thrillingly athletic, Tony-winning choreography like they’re here for the tenth day of Christmas: These newsboys are lords of leaping. The authors’ and actor Steve Blanchard’s reduction of Pulitzer to a snarling, cartoonish—well—Disney villain seems a bit much. But the enthralling powers of DeLuca, Styles and this truckload of triple-threats deserve front-page, above-the-fold exposure.

By: Kris Vire

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