Disney’s Newsies is making its Pennsylvania premiere at The Fulton Theatre, and delivering audiences a thrilling night at the theatre.
This crowd-pleasing musical, inspired by the 1992 Disney film of the same title, follows the lives of New York newsboys and their struggles during the 1899 Newsboy Strike. The strike begins after the newspaper publishers Joseph Pulitzer (Brian Sutherland) and William Randolph Hearst decide to raise the price of newspapers to outweigh the competition.
The strike is led by a rebellious and charismatic newspaper boy. named Jack Kelly (Matt Farcher), who wants justice for his fellow newsboys. 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 (Blake Stadnik), the spirited Davey (Justin Schuman), his scene stealing little brother Les (Timmy Woodward Jr.), and the new character of Katherine (Kate Fahrner) who serves as Jack’s love interest as well as the journalist covering the strike.
Matt Farcher delivers an excellent star turn as Jack Kelly. Farcher effectively illustrates Jack’s love for his fellow newsboys, and his desire to get a new start in Santa Fe. Along with being a strong actor, Farcher is an incredible triple threat who’s got a voice for days and a true command of the stage.
Blake Stadnik does fine work in the supporting role of Crutchie, who serves as one of Jack’s most trusted companions. Although Stadnik has minimal stage time in the second act, he makes the most out of the time he has, especially in his Act Two showcase: “Letters from the Refuge.” Angela Grovey makes a strong impression as the nightclub singer, Medda Larkin. The character of Medda does not get as much to-do, but Grovey’s energy and humor brings great flair to the production. Her outstanding solo, “That’s Rich,” not only comes close to stopping the show, but also turns out to be one of the strongest numbers of the evening.
Justin Schuman was a joy to watch as Davey. The character of Davey is initially skeptical of Jack’s rebellious leadership; as the evening goes on, Davey warms to Jack and truly forms a voice among the Newsies. Schuman as Davey creates an excellent arc for his character, as seeing Davey’s growth with the newsboys is one of the highlights of this production. Timmy Woodward Jr., while a little showy at times as Davey’s little brother, Les, still manages to have the audience in stitches.
Kate Fahrner was absolutely delightful as the spunky journalist Katherine. Fahrner displays strong chemistry with Farcher’s Jack Kelly, brings excellent comic timing, and an amazing delivery to the show stopping number, “Watch What Happens.” Fahrner also impresses the audience with her tap dancing skills in the exuberant Act Two opener “King of New York.”
Brian Sutherland brings great fun to the menacing role of Joseph Pulitzer. Sutherland’s Pulitzer is a villain that the audience loves to hate. Other standouts in the supporting cast include Mark Aldrich as President Roosevelt and Bill Bateman in the small but comedic role of the waiter, Mr. Jacobi.
The supporting cast does a commendable job, but the ensemble of newsboys is a true force to be reckoned with. Although some of them look a bit too old to pass as seventeen year old newsboys, they make up for it in their awe inspiring enthusiasm and endless acrobatics. They dance Marc Robin’s sensational choreography with outstanding athleticism and are arguably the true stars of the show.
Harvey Fierstein’s book, while definitely not the deepest writing in the theatre, still manages to get the audience on the Newsies side. Fierstein’s book brings great comedy through the characters of Katherine and Les.
The score by the legendary, Alan Menken, with lyrics by Jack Feldman is an utter delight. Menken has composed some of Disney’s classics which include: Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and of course Beauty and the Beast. Although Menken’s work on Newsies may not be as memorable as his previous contributions to Disney, his score for this production still manages to be incredibly rousing and catchy, nevertheless. The orchestra, led by Ray Fellman, plays Alan Menken’s infectious score with true flair and clarity.
Charles Kading’s gritty set design effectively brings the audience right into the New York City of the Newsboy strike. Dan Efros’ lighting serves an excellent extension to Kadling’s gritty New York set design. Efros’ lighting brings a pulsing intensity to the rousing number “Once and For All,” and an incredible brightness to the crowd-pleasing “Seize the Day.” Anthony Lascoskie Jr.’s eye catching costumes and wigs work well with Kadling’s and Efros’ creative elements in bringing the audience into New York City circa 1800.
Marc Robin’s direction and choreography on Newsies is simply spellbinding. Even when the numbers start to get repetitive in the second half, Robin’s routines for Newsies never fail to astound and leave the audiences wanting more. Robin’s slick direction keeps the action moving at a fast pace, while also bringing a pulsating energy that is felt throughout the entire production.
While Newsies may not be the strongest piece in the Fulton Theatre’s landmark season, this production of the hit musical still proves to be a great time at the theatre that will leave audiences with a smile on their face and a song in their hearts.