Friday, June 29, 2012

Review: 'Newsies The Musical' Delivers at the Nederlander Theatre

'Newsies The Musical' Playbill. (photo: TheHopefulTraveler)
The cast of 'Newsies' (production photos: Deen van Meer)
In 1992 I was one of the few persons who saw the Disney live-action musical “Newsies” during its run in movie theaters. Despite its faults and due to my hunger for movie musicals, I enjoyed the film enough that I'm not ashamed to own a copy of the motion picture soundtrack. However the movie was a box office misfire grossing a little over $2 million on a budget of $15 million.

Kara Lindsey and Jeremy Jordan
The late Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times succinctly described the plot, which more or less is retained for the stage, in his 1.5 star review (out of four stars):
“Newsies,” we are informed as the movie opens, is based on actual events. I do not doubt this. I am sure that shortly before the turn of the century, newsboys organized a strike against the greedy Joseph Pulitzer, and were cheered on by a dance-hall madam with a heart of gold. Nor do I doubt that the lads, some of them boys of 9 or 10, hung out in saloons and bought rounds of beer while making their plans, or that the proprietor of an evil city orphanage made himself rich by collecting fees from the city. I don’t even doubt that the newsboys printed their own strike paper on an old flatbed press in the basement of Pulitzer’s building. Of course I believe….Yes, Virginia….What I find hard to believe, however, is that anyone thought the screenplay based on these actual events was of compelling interest” (Trivia: Oscar winner and Batman actor Christian Bale played the lead character of Jack Kelly).

The Newsies
Perhaps having faith in Alan Menken’s success with the songs and score for “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast,” Disney took a gamble and lost.

Twenty-five years later the movie is reborn as a full-fledged Broadway musical. Over the years the film has gained a cult following through home video and television. Seeing an ancillary market, Disney brought Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman to cut and add songs with Harvey Fierstein (book) and Jeff Calhoun (director) to re-imagine the endeavor as a stage production targeted towards licensing for community theaters and schools.

After an enthusiastic reception in 2011 during the tryout at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, Disney Theatricals brought the show to Broadway with further improvements. Advertised as a limited run in 2012 at the Nederlander Theatre, the show is now an open-ended run. With the 'The Lion King' still roaring strong and ‘Mary Poppins' hanging by the edge of her umbrella, Disney has a new show to peddle to its core family audience.

My expectations were set low knowing the original intention of the stage version was not for Broadway. It turns out this is one of the most thoroughly entertaining and energetic musicals ever. If I felt exhausted by the drive and stamina of the ensemble especially those cast members assigned Christopher Gatelli’s acrobatic choreography, I can only imagine how the ensemble feels at the end of each performance.

The ensemble
Jeremy Jordan
Menken and Feldman has retained six songs from the movie (in the process discarding half of the songs) and added seven new songs for the stage. The score sounds fresh and re-invigorated (finely tuned by Daniel Troob’s orchestrations). The songs are of economic efficiency. Though they could be interchangeable within the show or could from another musical, they are memorable and keep the story moving along. From the sincere longing of “Sante Fe” to the exuberant “Seize The Day” and “King of New York” and triumphant “The World Will Know”, the score is augmented by the decisive “Watch What Happens” and obligatory romantic duet “Something to Believe In.”

Production designer Tobin Ost’s practical set consists of three erector-set towers made up of three levels and stairs which move into various configurations to depict the various settings and serves as the screen to display projections to great effect to flash “newsprint headlines” across the stage. Combined with the period costumes by Jess Goldstein, it helps us to buy into the simplistic David versus Goliath tale of the time.

There is a running joke about the show is the newsboys look far too adult for their characters. I quickly dismissed this observation once I found myself hooked by the appealing ensemble. Jeremy Jordan ably plays the rough around the edges leader Jack Kelly with enough charm for us to root for his cause and his romance with spunky Kara Lindsey as a journalist in the making willing to expose the wrongs made against the Newsies. Fine support is contributed by John Dossett as Pulitzer; Ben Frankhauser and Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Kelly’s co-newsboys; Matthew J. Schechter (who alternates in the role of Les), the youngest Newsie; and big-voiced Capathia Jenkins as Medda Larkin, the show hall owner and ally of the boys.

The Tony-winning choreography by Gatelli is a standout. It probably didn’t hurt that director Calhoun is a veteran Broadway choreographer as well. What the ensemble of 16 boys accomplishes is a feat of unending visual pleasure. They jump, they flip, they spin and even dance on “papes” (the newsies term for newspapers). After seeing this show I can believe in dancing newsboys more than the pirouetting Jets or Sharks of ‘West Side Story.’


  • Website:
  • Where: Nederlander Theatre
  • Location: 208 West 41st Street, New York City
  • When: Mon-Wed 7:30pm; Fri & Sat 8pm; Wed & Sat 2pm; Sun 3pm
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 30 min
  • Ticket Prices: $67-$142 (premium $177)
  • Opening: Mar 29, 2012 (previews from Mar 15, 2012)
  • Closing: Open Ended
  • Book Online:
  • Ticket Services: 1-866-870-2712
  • Cast Recording: Original Broadway Cast Recording

The cast of 'Newsies'
The 'Newsies' on the show's three-level set.
Kara Lindsey (center) and the Newsies.
The cast of 'Newsies'
'Newsies' billboard in Times Square. (photo: TheHopefulTraveler)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...