Review: ‘Newsies’ a great addition to musical standards |
Theater & Arts

Review: ‘Newsies’ a great addition to musical standards

The North American tour of 'Newsies,' a Disney Theatrical Production under the direction of Jeff Calhoun.

Brace yourself for a flood of “Newsies” that will almost assuredly be coming to a high school near you in about two years.

It’s a smart, upbeat musical with themes and roles that are age-appropriate for high school audiences and performers but thoroughly appealing to adult ticket buyers. As an added bonus, the show’s plot is based on a little-known-but-inspiring piece of American history.

Based loosely on an 1899 strike by young newsboys who sold single copies of the New York World and the New York Journal on street corners, it’s a tale of underdogs who band together and triumph against all odds over a powerful man — publisher Joseph Pulitzer.

Though the strike begins over a price increase that would diminish the boys’ earnings, it’s ultimately about the respect that employers owe their employees, no matter their ages or the jobs they perform.

If you’d like to get an advance look at it, there’s a thoroughly professional, highly polished production playing at the Benedum Center, Downtown, through Nov. 30 as a presentation of the PNC Broadway Across America — Pittsburgh series.

The success of “Newsies” came as a surprise to its creators and producers. The production was adapted from Walt Disney Pictures 1992 movie musical of the same title in response to numerous requests from school educators and administrators looking for a stage version.

After its world-premiere run at Papermill Playhouse played to sold-out houses, producers decided to polish its credentials with a 12-week run on Broadway. It ended up running for two years and received Tony awards for best original score of a musical and best scene design.

It’s easy to see why it was popular.

Director and Pine-Richland graduate Jeff Calhoun and choreographer Christopher Gattelli shaped it into a musical that is lively, engaging and fun to watch.

It’s sincere without being sappy and has an abundance of rousing anthems and a couple of ballads from composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman and a smart, articulate book by Harvey Fierstein.

Scenic designer Tobin Ost solves a multiplicity of technical challenges with a four-story set of metal towers that slide apart or join together to keep the action moving while the locations change.

But what makes this show a joy to watch is its huge cast of young, talented and skilled male dancers who swoop, tumble, cartwheel, pirouette and tap through some highly muscular dance numbers and make it look effortless.

“Newsies” offers all the exuberant songs and dance moves of “Footloose” but has the advantage of a story with real-life issues, concerns and consequences.

The cast is headed by Peters native Dan DeLuca, who plays strike leader Jack Kelly with a cocky street-smart swagger that almost conceals his softer side. Among his compatriots in the strike are the more timid-but-shrewd Davey, played by Jacob Kemp, and Davey’s scrappy little brother Les, who was played by Anthony Rosenthal at the Nov. 25 performance.

Providing far more than a love interest is Stephanie Styles as Katherine, an aspiring female reporter who is independent, outspoken and savvy enough to devise a scheme that leads the strikers to a positive resolution. DeLuca and Styles have a nice second-act duet — “Something to Believe In.”

The few adults in the cast serve mostly as corrupt villains, such as Steve Blanchard who appears as the greedy, uncaring, cranky Pulitzer. Two exceptions are Kevin Carolyn, who brings good humor to the show with his portrayal of New York Gov. Teddy Roosevelt, and audience favorite Angela Grovey, who brought down the house with a splashy show-biz turn as theater owner Medda Larkin, vamping her way through “That’s Rich.”

The net result is a solidly entertaining show you can look forward to seeing staged repeatedly as a refreshing alternative to oft-produced high-school musical classics such as “Oklahoma,” “The Sound of Music” and “Annie.”

It’s also a well-done, brand-new musical that you can enjoy right now with or without your children.

Alice Carter is theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or [email protected].

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