STOP THE PRESSES: NEWSIES is a smash! The voices! The dancing! The sets! If you’re looking for some rip-roaring entertainment to add to the fireworks this 4rth of July week, head to Boston’s Opera House for a terrific production of the Tony Award-winning Boston premiere of Disney’s NEWSIES! It’s an industrial strength musical about all-American pluck and ingenuity and I loved it from the get go!
Harvey Fierstein’s book, based on the film and inspired by the book CHILDREN OF THE CITY by David Nasaw, packs a hefty social conscience and is originally ripped from the headlines of the newsboys strike of 1899 in New York City. That’s when orphaned and runaway boys sold “papes” on the streets for pennies; but when their meager profits were pinched even tighter by newspaper magnates Pulitzer and Hearst, they fought back and made front page news themselves by organizing a strike and a union. In the musical there’s also a romance between a spunky female reporter who breaks the story and fights to be taken seriously as a working woman in a man’s world. It’s all about brotherhood, freedom, and equality that cut across gender and class lines, a real David and Goliath tale culminating in Governor Teddy Roosevelt and Joseph Pulitzer squaring off over who gets a square deal.
NEWSIES won Tonys in 2012 for score and choreography, the latter richly deserved. The songs by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman are rousing without being particularly memorable. The anthemically titled “Seize The Day” and “Watch What Happens” are born in Act I and reprised to triumphant effect in Act II. The performers are perfectly cast, their voices particularly suited to the characters they play. Dan Deluca as Jack Kelly feisty leader of the newsboys, is lean and longing for a sweeter life in Santa Fe, and sings in a soaring, aching tenor which suggests both his artistic soul (this kid can draw!) and hardscrabble background. Stephanie Styles as Katherine the perky reporter has a sparkling soprano, and Zachary Sayle as “Crutchie” Jack’s crutch-bound sidekick sings with a noble, elegant roundness that belies his compromised physical condition. Angela Grovey as Medda the madame of a theater which is also a safe haven for the boys, brings the house down in the middle of ACT I with the sassy and jubilant “That’s Rich.”
The set? Dynamic and full service– is a moving iron grid that says industrial revolution, overlayed with transparencies and video projections, seamlessly reconfiguring itself as cityscape, tenement housing, skycraper penthouses, or dark institutional prisons suggesting bureaucratic mazes and entrenched hierarchies that must be scaled and conquered, and finally bridges to something better …
And then there’s the dancing. I’m talking a tsunami of dancing–pirouetting, cartwheeling, tapping, triple axel spinning, head-over-heels hurtling– DANCING that just doesn’t quit. Like these gutsy never-say-die newsboys, this ensemble is a goosebump inducing, supercharged engine, spontaneously combusting before our very eyes. I have no idea how they do two shows a day without burning up. I must stop now, before I have a heart attack. DON’T MISS NEWSIES presented by Broadway in Boston runs through July 5 at the Boston Opera House!