Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Newsies: Carrying the Banner

Can a movie, widely considered “disappointing” on release, but later a cult hit on video, become an amazing musical on Broadway?  Depends on the movie; with Cry Baby, not so much.  However Newsies is an altogether different beast.
Newsies with Jeremy Jordan (center) storms into the Nederlander Theater
Newsies, in case you are one of the few Broadway fans that hasn’t heard, is based on the cult film of the same name, which luckily came with some fine songs and the bones of a good story.  Twenty years later, Team Disney brought in an excellent group to refresh the piece. Alan Menken and Jack Feldmen reworked much of their own music, and then wrote some new pieces for this show.  Harvey Fierstein reworked the book to streamline the story.  This show was created, and launched at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, as a vehicle for Disney productions to license the rights.  But an appreciative audience and great reviews brought this show to Broadway, a true to life “let’s put on a show” story.

And it is a hell of a show.  A cast of exuberant and talented singers and dancers bring a vibrancy to Newsies that rivals anything else on Broadway.  It is the story of the Newsboy union strike in the late 1890s, based – however loosely – on real events.  Generous liberties have been taken, but underneath is still the story of the underdogs taking on the powerful.  And that story gives Newsies its heart. 

Jeremy Jordan plays Jack Kelly, unofficial patriarch of a chaotic clan of boys selling the New York World newspaper.  After an arbitrary rise in the wholesale prices, he leads a rag-tag gang of Newsboys in a strike.  Mr. Jordan has the voice, expression and defiance to bring to life what might easily have been a cartoon character, in a cartoon show.

Mr. Jordan played Jack Kelly in the New Jersey incarnation of the show, while rehearsing for Bonnie and Clyde.  The producers were lucky he was available for Newsies again, because Mr. Jordan can carry much of this production with a wink and a grin, not to mention the exceptional voice he has.  His presence, as much as anything grounds the show in the real world.

His love interest, written for the show, is Katherine, sweetly played by Kara Lindsey.  There is just enough sass to make her Katherine likeable.  But Jack’s real family is the newsboys he works with day in and day out – this is the family he has to sacrifice for.  The newsboys are an amazing ensemble of dancers and singers that raise the energy from the second they appear until the curtain falls.

Sven Ortel matches their non-stop energy in the production design (with scenic design by Tobin Ost).  Newsies is played on a set reminiscent of girders and tenements, which functions perfectly, without overpowering the actors.  Special credit has to go to Christopher Gattelli for choreography that is youthful and fun, befitting the young men who are dancing.  Director Jeff Calhoun does a great job with a story which drift quickly into the schmaltzy - getting the emotions underneath.

Like in the movie, which I confess to having seen once or twice myself, the adult characters are rather thin.  Good actors, like John Dosset and Capathia Jones, do a fine job with what they have, but they aren’t the focus of the story.

Newsies is a terrifically fun show and a welcome addition to Broadway. Like many Disney shows, it is kid friendly, but, unlike many, it isn’t child focused.  It is aimed squarely at musical theater lovers, and it delivers.

Newsies at Nederlander Theatre
Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Jack Feldman
Book by: Harvey Fierstein (based on the film by Bob Tzudiker & Noni White)
Director: Jeff Calhoun
Cast includes: Jeremy Jordan, John Dosset, Kara Lindsey, Capathis Jenkins, Ben Frankhauser, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Lewis Grosso, Matthew J. Schechter
Runs Through: Aug 19th

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