The filmed production of Disney’s hit musical “Newsies”, which concluded its recording breaking run in movie theaters on February 22nd, left audiences with a smile on their face and a song in their hearts.
This crowd pleasing musical, which is inspired by the 1992 Disney film of the same name, follows the lives of New York newsboys and their struggles during the 1899 Newsboy Strike. The strike begins after the newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard) decides to raise the price of newspapers to outweigh the competition. The strike is led by a rebellious newspaper boy named Jack Kelly (Jeremy Jordan), who just wants justice for his fellow newsies. While Jack may seem mischievous, his aspirations to get out of New York and escape to the small island of Santa Fe is at the very heart of this musical.
Aiding Jack in his quest for justice is his disabled friend Crutchie (Andrew Keenan Bolger), the spirited Davey (Ben Fankhauser), his scene stealing little brother Les (Ethan Steiner), and the new character of Katherine (Kara Lindsay) who serves as Jack’s love interest as well as the journalist covering their strike.
Jeremy Jordan delivers an electric star turn as Jack Kelly. Jordan originated the role of Jack Kelly in the Broadway and original Paper Mill Playhouse productions of “Newsies”, and he truly shines here as he reprises this iconic role. His charismatic singing and dancing simply bounced right off the screen. With Jordan, Jack is a leader that you root for, and simply cannot take your eyes off of.
Andrew Keenan Bolger creates an incredibly sympathetic character as Crutchie. Although he does not have as much stage time in Act Two, he still manages to impress in his second half showcase A letter from the refuge. The audience’s hearts simply pour for Bolger’s Crutchie during his struggles in the strike. Bolger makes the most of his time on stage, and ends up delivering one of the most memorable performances of the evening.
Ben Fankhauser was a joy to watch as Davey. The character of Davey is skeptical at first about Jack’s plan to strike, but seeing Davey rally and form a bond with the newsies was a highlight of the evening. Ethan Steiner brought great humor as Davey’s one-liner spouting little brother Les. The character of Les is purely comic relief, and Steiner made each of his comic moments land like a true professional.
Kara Lindsay delivered a wonderful performance as the spunky journalist Katherine. Her act one number “Watch What Happens” stopped the show cold with her comic timing and winning delivery. Lindsay also impressed the audience with her tap dancing skills in the exuberant act two opener “King of New York”. Along with her strong vocals and comic timing, Lindsay displayed excellent chemistry with her leading man Jeremy Jordan. Their act two love song “Something to Believe in” left the audience swooning.
Steve Blanchard as Joseph Pulitzer was a villain that the audience just loved to hate. He was deliciously evil in his act one number “The Bottom Line”, and expertly walked the fine line of being sinister while still being comedic. Aisha De Haas also shined in the small but pivotal role of theatre performer Medda Larkin. Her number “That’s Rich” was simply delightful, and put a smile on everyone’s faces. Another actor who made the most of a small role was Kevin Carolan as Governor Roosevelt. He comes in at the very end of the show, but his one-liners and various Roosevelt puns left the audience wanting more.
Last, but certainly not least the ensemble of “Newsies” were simply a force to be reckoned with. Their precision and energy while dancing Christopher Gattelli’s athletic choreography left the audience on their feet.
Harvey Fierstein provided a smart and witty book for the stage adaption of “Newsies”. Although the show is mainly about the dancing, Fierstein’s book managed to be compelling while still moving the plot along in an economic fashion.
The score with music by the incomparable Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman, was a marvelous blend of classic songs from the movie which include the triumphant anthem Seize the Day and the extremely infectious new songs: “Watch What Happens” and “Brooklyn’s Here”. Along with high energy numbers, the ballads in the show, which included the iconic “Santa Fe” and the lush “Something to Believe in”, provided a nice balance to the proceedings. Menken is masterful at creating unforgettable scores, and his contribution to “Newsies” is no exception.
Tobin Ost’s sprawling scaffolding set is greatly complimented by Daniel Brodie’s detailed projections and Jeff Croiter’s colorful lighting design. The costumes and wigs by Jess Goldstein and Charles G. Lapointe manage to be character appropriate while also being pleasing to the audience. “Newsies” is an extremely fast moving musical, and all of the creative elements enhanced the strong material on stage.
The direction of Jeff Calhoun moves the story along at a brisk pace, while also not being afraid to allow room for intimacy in the more emotional scenes. Barrett Schumacher, who also filmed “Billy Elliot Live”, did a fine job of adapting the stage production of “Newsies” to the big screen. While at times the camera had too many close ups on the newsies instead of the overall stage, Schumacher still did an admirable job of replicating the excitement of the live show.
Christopher Gattelli’s stunning Tony award winning choreography has the newsies doing complex acrobatics with ballet level precision. Gattelli’s work on newsies’ thrills, and is worth the price of admission alone.
Disney’s “Newsies” offers a thrilling night of entertainment, that boasts strong performances and stunning choreography, along with an infectious score by Alan Menken and a memorable book by Harvey Fierstein. This musical gives audiences something to believe in, and its message to “Seize the Day” is as relevant as ever.
Running time: 149 minutes