Theatre Review: Newsies’ Dance and Music Delights
Disney’s touring production of Newsies marched its way into a fairly packed Ohio Theatre last night.
Based on the 1992 movie, this show tells the story of a band of 1899 New York newsboys unionizing and striking against newspaper tycoon, Joseph Pulitzer. When Pulitzer raises the cost from fifty to sixty cents for 100 papers, the boys respond, risking their lives and incomes to fight for their rights. The movie and musical both loosely follow the details of the real 1899 newsboy strike.
The show begins on the rooftop where protagonist, Jack Kelly, portrayed coolly by Dan DeLuca, wakes up to his friend and fellow newsie, Crutchie (Zachary Sayle), as he tries to leave for the papers before anyone realizes his crutch helps a real injury. Jack sings a somber song (Santa Fe Prologue) longing for something more than the drudgery of NYC newspaper peddling. This scene, along with several microphone and mixing issues, sets an odd tone for the show. The energy feels wrong for the start of a giant spectacle of a Broadway musical tour.
Immediately after, the audience transports to Newsie Square, where we meet the rest of the ragtag group and witness an amazing actual opening number “Carrying the Banner,” full of rich dancing and strong vocals. Before this goes any farther, it must be stated that this show remains incredibly campy; it is, after all, Disney. However, the music sounds wonderful and the dance alone makes the show worthwhile. Christopher Gattelli’s stunning choreography showcases the performers during several outstanding dance numbers including the famed “Seize the Day,” where they slide and flip across the stage, often while holding a newspaper. Simultaneously, James Dodgson’s music direction ensures nearly each song receives seemingly effortless belting. This is truly a talented group of performers.
Dan DeLuca plays a smart kind of guy—the Artful Dodger type—as he struggles to lead a strike while coping with guilt felt for his hurt friends as well as his westward wanderlust. In all of that madness, he begins falling in love with an eager, young reporter, the determined yet mysterious Katherine Plumber, portrayed quite energetically by Stephanie Styles. DeLuca and Styles share a beautifully quirky and real butterfly-filled moment on the rooftop in the song “Something to Believe in.”
Of course, Jack Kelly gains assistance from other newsies as well as Katherine. Zachary Sayle plays a light-hearted best friend of Crutchie who backs Jack up until taken away by the authorities. He pours his heart out in the beautiful “Letter from the Refuge.” Jacob Kemp portrays a solid Davey, the kid who recently starts hawking papers while his dad recovers from a severe injury at work. He gives the backbone Jack needs whenever it begins to break.
Contrasting all of that youthful energy, Steve Blanchard plays a stoic and cold-hearted Joseph Pulitzer without caricature. The power we feel as he makes an initial offer to Jack makes this production more than a song and dance piece. DeLuca and Blanchard share a unique chemistry that creates a real rivalry.
Overall, director Jeff Calhoun hones the grandiose storyline. Certainly, most of the characters remain quite one-dimensional or minor, but many strong moments also stick out as well, particularly the aforementioned. Intentional or not, the show plays with idea of big verses small, bluntly illustrated by Jack’s drawing of Pulitzer’s boot crushing the workers.
This theme occurs often in the design elements as well. Newsies utilizes a massive, moving set designed by Tobin Ost reminiscent of New York City fire escapes. It sometimes feels too big or too moving in an almost distracting way, but it occasionally highlights the smallness of the newsies as they fight the giant. Additionally, Sven Ortel’s projections, adapted for the tour by Daniel Brodie, often feel disrupting and unnecessary, as though they are filling in for the missing gaps in the set rather than setting a mood. A couple exceptions for that come with the real-time drawing of Katherine and the hazy moonlight, further aided by Jeff Croiter’s lighting, during Katherine and Jack’s moment on the roof.
Jess Goldstein’s costumes are simple and unadorned and work so well in this show. Ken Travis’s sound design fits almost flawlessly into the production as well.
On the whole, Newsies tries a bit to show off the talent and skill that created this tour, but it does remain an excellent production that will surely delight and awe most audience members.
Newsies is in town through Jan. 19 at the Ohio Theatre, 39 E. State Street and plays Wed.-Thurs. at 7:30 pm; Fri.-Sat. at 8 pm; Sat. at 2 pm; Sun. at 1 and 6:30 pm. Ticket prices range. More information can be found online at www.capa.com.