Editor: Please welcome guest author Jim Dallas who is reviewing the April 20th showing of Newsies The Musical.
Newsies on Broadway is a must see!
I first became an avid fan of composer Alan Menken when I saw The Little Mermaid at the movies. But I knew he was really a Broadway composer when I first listened to the Beauty and the Beast sound track and could visualize how each scene could be animated. He brought the Broadway score to animation. So, back in 1992 I was excited to learn that Disney was producing a live action musical, Newsies, with a score by Alan Menken. It sounded like a sure fire hit. My family was in the theater that April weekend when Newsies had its’ theatrical debut. There was one problem: we were the only people in the theater! Newsies never found an audience, closed quickly and barely earned 2.8 million dollars. For all of the issues that plagued this film, the songs and score by Menken were still brilliant, allowing Newsies to grow in popularity and develop a cult following over the past two decades.
Last evening, 20 years later, I sat in the sold out Nederlander Theater in NYC amidst an exuberant audience to experience Newsies – the Broadway Musical. Newsies had come home, was on the stage where it always belonged and was in better form than ever. Newsies is an exhilarating evening of musical theater entertainment.
The production team did a outstanding job bringing the film to the stage. Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the book, retained the best elements from the screenplay while improving the script to create a libretto that seamlessly moved us through the plight of Jack Kelly and his orphaned band of newsboys.
Tobin Ost’s minimalist set effectively created the feel of New York at the turn of the century. Picture three 3-story towers built from your erector set, capable of moving independently around the stage, simulating various locations around New York City. Digital projections are also used, further elevating the impact of the modular set.
Choreography by Christopher Gattelli was spectacular. Gone were the pelvic thrusts and hip hop gyrations of the movie, replaced by a style reminiscent of the Jets and the Sharks from West Side Story. These newsboys can rumble and tumble but with traditional ballet and tap movement. The dance sequences were exhilarating, energized and exciting to the point that “Carrying the Banner”, “Seize the Day”, “Once And For All” and “King of New York” all stopped the show with deafening cheers, screams and applause from the audience.
Alan Menken and Jack Feldman delivered again by enhancing the original songs with extended versions and revised lyrics. The new songs composed for this production are perfect musical theater fare, developing the characters and progressing the storyline seamlessly from scene to scene. Of the new material, my personal favorite is “Watch What Happens”, sung beautifully by Kara Lindsay and “Something to Believe In”, a heartfelt duet between Jack and Katherine. “Santa Fe”, my least favorite song in the movie, was an emotional tour de force Friday evening as the opener of the show and as a reprise at the conclusion to act one. In this version of Newsies we learn of the bond of friendship between Jack and Crutchie as the show opens with “Santa Fe” presented as a duet. When Crutchie is cuffed and taken to the refuge at the end of act one, you ache for Jack’s loss as he sings with angst because of his inability to stand by his friend. Menken’s music is timeless, which is why Newsies didn’t disappear into the Disney vault in 1992 but has matured into a modern musical classic.
Without question the three leads – Jack Kelly (Jeremy Jordan), Crutchie (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) and Katherine (Kara Lindsay) carry the banner of Newsies, but the real star is the male ensemble that excited the audience into a frenzy with each song and dance number. Had the orchestra conductor not resumed the music, the ovations may still be going on.
There are a few slow moments in the second act as the plot begins to resolve. I also felt that there should have been an additional song between Jack and Crutchie at the top of the second act as Crutchie is now imprisoned in the refuge. Keenan-Bolger was such a compelling and sympathetic character as Crutchie that it was a let down that he did not appear on stage again until the conclusion of act two.
I don’t understand why Newsies has a limited engagement at The Nederlander. This show certainly deserves an open ended run so that a larger audience can enjoy this world class production.