Kids, gather ‘round the glow of your smartphone screens and listen to a story.
Once upon a time, there was a thing called newspapers—thick stacks of paper with words printed on them, words that formed news stories that were reported, well-written and fact-checked. Most of the stories were accompanied by photos—no, not selfies—or illustrations that provided compelling images of what was being reported.
People used to read these newspaper doohickeys every day without fail—sometimes more than once, since there was a morning and evening edition. In cities and towns, they were sold by newsboys who stood on the street with their sacks full of papers, yelling headlines like “Headless Body Found in Topless Bar!”
In the words of one of the newsboys in the musical Newsies, “if it wasn’t in the papers, it didn’t happen.” The era of when newspapers mattered and there was such a thing as the power of the press is affectionately recalled in the high-energy Newsies, the Disney musical based on the 1992 movie of the same name.
This largely male-driven show is high on spirit and the acrobatic leaps, turns, backflips and Russian-style splits that show off the athletic prowess of the cast and the agile footwork of choreographer Christopher Cattelli. They perform the lively, percussive dances amid a towering steel girder set that transforms into laundry-lined tenement slums and rooftops of the lower east side as well as the gleaming steel skyscrapers of the newspaper headquarters in Manhattan.
Based on the real-life newsboy strike of 1899 in New York City, Newsies centers on a rag-tag bunch of orphans and runaways who band together to take on meanie media mogul Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard) when he raises distribution prices to fatten his coffers.
Led by Jack Kelly (Dan DeLuca, a heartthrob with Gene Kelly moves), the toughie with a tender artistic bent, the newsies take on the city’s arrogant newspaper barons, and fight for the rights of exploited child workers everywhere. Harvey Fierstein’s book throws in a sweet love story (what musical would be without one?) between Jack and Katherine (Stephanie Styles, possessed of a fine light opera voice and a lilting manner), a burgeoning suffragette who wants to break into the male-dominated hard news reporting beat.
Closes December 7, 2014
The Hippodrome Theatre
12 North Eutaw Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
2 hours, 20 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $30 – $150
Thursday thru Sunday
Details and Tickets
You may wonder why the songs haven’t been mentioned yet. The music and lyrics are largely forgettable, an amiable blur of ballads, rallying cries a la Les Misèrables, and rousing anthems. Nothing in particular stands out, it all just goes by pleasantly, like a quick scan of today’s headlines. One of the best songs by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman is new for the stage version, “Watch What Happens,” a paean to the awfulness of writer’s block sung with whip-smart conviction by Styles.
Even rousers like “Seize the Day,” “The World Will Know” and “King of New York,” featuring a dynamo synchronized tap dancing, are lifted to giddy heights by the dancing—at one point, they soft-shoe on torn newspaper pages–not the score or lyrics. Smaller moments, like the plaintive “Letter from the Refuge”—sung by a lame child with the regrettable moniker of Crutchie (Zachary Sayle)—and the rooftop love song “Something to Believe In” seem borrowed from other shows, as does the requisite curvy black woman belting number, this time around titled “That’s Rich” and although a bit trite is robustly performed by Angela Grovey.
The show’s lack of innovation is made up by the sheer vitality of the performances. And you cannot help but be charmed by a musical that provides a deus ex machina in the form of Teddy Roosevelt (Kevin Carolan, who plays the role with jovial manliness), governor of New York who pops in at the last minute to save the day, say “Bully!” a couple times and do a bit of soft shoe.
You can’t come down too cruelly on a musical that features a singing Roosevelt, hunky urchins and a tribute to the heyday of newspapers. For that, Newsies deserves extra! extra! attention.
National tour of Newsies . Music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein . Based on the Disney film written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White . Directed by Jeff Calhoun . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
Closes Dec 7
John Harding . DCMetroTheaterArts a big, shiny helium balloon of a musical. Everything in it is designed for maximum lift and minimum drag — so you’ll have to jump fast and reach high to catch it in its short stay at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre.