Updated: Jun 20, 2020
They Delivered the Papers, Until They Made the Headlines...
Direct from Broadway comes “Newsies,” the smash-hit musical from Disney, now playing at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont through November 23rd. Winner of the 2012 Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Choreography, “Newsies” has audiences calling it “a musical worth singing about!” Filled with one heart-pounding number after another, this show is a high-energy explosion of song and dance not to be missed.
With its spring-loaded backflips, airborne spins, rambunctious kicks and balletic pivots, the athletic ensemble in “Newsies” puts up a persuasive struggle against corporate greed. But the irrepressible physicality of that scrappy band of ragamuffins is only part of why Disney’s 1992 big-screen misfire is now a crowd pleaser. Originally inspired by David Nasaw’s book “Children of the City: At Work and at Play,” along with a revivification of the Disney flop but cult favorite film (starring a young, and uncomfortable looking Christian Bale) – the musical follows Jack Kelly (Jimmy Saiz), Crutchie (KC Archer), Davey (James Everts) and a rag-tag group of children hawking papers across New York City.
Primarily the brainchild of Harvey Fierstein, who has chiseled a sweet, funny, emotionally satisfying book from Bob Tzudiker and Noni White’s screenplay, he strengthened the story, adding warmth to the characters, notably the newsboys’ leader, Jack, a 17-year-old runaway from a juvenile detention center, played with winning charm and robust voice by Mr. Saiz.
Looking more like a dark Leonardo DiCaprio than the pic’s kid star Christian Bale, Mr. Saiz shines as the brave, brooding charismatic union organizer. Able backup comes from Mr. Everts as Jack’s better-bred eventual comrade, Davey, whose level-headed reasoning balances Jack’s passionate volatility, Mr. Archer as best friend, semi-disabled Crutchie, as well as gifted 12-year old Levi Gomes as Davey’s plucky kid brother, Les. And John George Campbell stays just on the right side of cartoonish villainy as Joseph Pulitzer.
In a complete remodel, Fierstein also regendered Bill Pullman’s screen character, ditched the film’s undercooked romance and fashioned a sturdier love interest for Jack out of Katherine, vivaciously played by Elizabeth Curtain, a spunky, well-heeled reporter who hopes the strike story will be her ticket off the society pages into hard news (Ms. Curtain was last seen as Eva’s understudy in P3’s recent “Evita” in Long Beach).
Extra songs by original creatives Alan Menken and Jack Feldman were included, further elevating the show with buoyant melodies and fluidly incorporating Feldman’s rousing lyrics into a story with characters worth rooting for.
The result is a surprisingly fresh show that hits every angle — story, writing, acting, visual representation, music, dancing — and then some. So instead of “Oliver” meets “Annie,” as in the film, this lusty saga of striking newsboys in yesteryear Gotham now has mass appeal to all ages, from twenty- somethings who have been teethed on DVD’s, as well as the older crowd who enjoy the more traditional musicals.
The action, centered on that consequential historical event, the New York Newsboy Strike of 1899, casts the antihero as unbridled commerce exemplified by child labor with maximum exploitation for profit. Its spokesman is publishing mogul Pulitzer (a ripely sordid Mr. Campbell), owner of the New York World, and a buddy of William Randolph Hearst, owner of the New York Journal, who is mentioned but is not in the play.
Newsies were the poorest class of society, earning an average of 30¢ a day, and often sleeping on the streets. When the cost of a bundle of 100 newspapers rose from 50¢ to 60¢, a large number of New York City newsboys formed a unionized strike and demonstrated with over 5000 newsboys across the Brooklyn Bridge for several days, effectively bringing traffic to a standstill. In that given day, that action is credited with precipitating wide-reaching child labor reform.
The boys have plenty of complications, as one would expect in any strike. There are tough scabs, strikebreakers, and Pulitzer himself using intimidation and roughhousing, along with his cronies. Even the Governor of New York, Teddy Roosevelt (Greg Nicholas), shows up to weigh in. A horrific juvenile detention center and its boss Snyder (Matthew Shuster) play a significant role as does Medda Larkin (RaShonda Johnson), who runs a theater of dancing girls.
The chemistry between the two main leads is scorching as they render their ballad, “Something to Believe In,” and Ms. Curtain’s feisty solo, “Watch What Happens,” neatly establishes her spirited nature. Picturesquely garbed by Mark Gamez in raggedy pantaloons, short trousers, knickers, newsboy Scally caps and vests, the smudge-faced ensemble of newsies physically range from hunky to adorable as they whirl energetically through Janet Renslow's athletic choreography. A knockout in the dance-driven show is the gang’s clattering second-act opening tap number with Katherine in the rousing “King of New York.”
“Newsies” has a stirring, old-school sincerity that’s hard to resist in its call to arms, its refusal to back down to big business and its fight for basic human dignity. Sure, the score bulks up on galvanic, stirring anthems and slathers on the sentiment. But it does so in an honorable Disney tradition that connects with the embattled kid in all of us. And Director Renslow’s dynamic staging keeps the exuberance infectious, marshaling the nimble cast up, down and around the three tiers of Chuck Ketter’s versatile erector set design structure, and even occasionally in the audience.
With one of the largest ensembles ever on stage at the Candlelight, the chorus of newsies command the production and virtually steal the show, succeeding with an intense group of staggeringly talented dancers. The cast includes Fisher Kaake as Race, Grayson J. Smith as Albert, Anthony Vacio as Specs, Conner Stevens as Henry and Jeffrey Bonser as Finch. Trevor Helms is Elmer, Charlie Orozco is Romeo, Sebastian Twohey-Jacobs is Mush and Tristen Ross is Blink. Josh Kurator is Tommy Boy, Shelby O’Rourke is Shoelace, Bailey Day Sonner is Buttons, and Jenna Stocks is Mud.
Racheal Yeomans is Trax, Sebastian Twohey-Jacobs also plays Darcy, and Shelby Monson, Jenna Stocks and Racheal Yeomans also plays the Nuns. Matthew Ollson is Morris Delancey, Bobby Collins is Oscar Delancey, Jim Skousen is Wiesel and James Everts is Davey. Levi Gomes is Les, John George Campbell is Joseph Pulitzer, Greg Nicholas is Nunzio and Matthew Shuster is Seitz.
Harrison Schultz is Bunsen, Jenna Stocks also is Hannah, Matthew Shuster also is Snyder, and RaShonda Johnson is Medda Larkin. Shelby Monson, Jenna Stocks and Racheal Yeomans also plays the Bowery Beauties, Jim Skousen is also Mr. Jacobi, Josh Kurator, Bailey Day Sonner and Conner Stevens play the Scabs. Jim Skousen also is the Mayor, Charlie Orozco is also Spot Conlon, Conner Stevens also plays Bill, and Greg Nicholas is also Governor Roosevelt.
The Citizens of New York are played by Jeffrey Bonser, Bobby Collins, Trevor Helms, Fisher Kaake, Josh Kurator, Shelby Monson, Greg Nicholas, Matthew Ollson, Shelley O’Rourke, Charlie Orozco, Tristen Ross, Harrison Schultz, Matt Shuster, Jim Skousen, Grayson J. Smith, Bailey Day Sonner, Conner Stevens, Jenna Stocks, Sebastian Twohey-Jacobs, Anthony Vacio and Racheal Yeomans.
Directed and Choreographed by Disney’s Janet Renslow, the Music Director is Kevin Gasio (“The Bodyguard,” “Ragtime”); Jim Skousen (“The Addams Family”) is Stage Manager. Sets coordinated by Chuck Ketter and are provided by RCC Fine & Performing Arts; Costume Coordinator is Mark Gamez, with Costumes provided by The Theatre Company; Lighting Design is by Aspen Rogers of 4Wall Entertainment. Wigs are by Michon Gruber-Gonzales, and Fight Coordinator is by John Paul Batista.
It’s hard not to like an upbeat tale about a group of young foundlings, mostly orphaned, who beat the odds and win the day in such a vigorous David-and-Goliath style victory. For what was essentially designed to be a charming family musical, "Newsies" turned out to be one of the most ardently pro-union productions since “Norma Rae.” Even in the current day, where the idea of workers unite to fight back against the abuses of corporate power, the show still has bite. Its signature song, “Seize the Day,” speaks to the core idea of individuals being stronger together, fighting against the bullying tactics of the too rich and powerful. As the show’s lyrics potently remind us, “One for all and all for one.”
Disney’s "Newsies," The Broadway Musical, continues at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater through November 23rd with performances scheduled Fridays through Sundays. For tickets and dinner reservations, please see https://www.candlelightpavilion.com/ This show is very highly recommended.
The Show Report
Production Photos by Demetrios Katsantonis