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The talented acrobatic singing paperboys of New York from the Disney cult-classic film are now onstage at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa until May 29th. This wildly popular upbeat musical has been bringing joy to theatergoers since its inception in 2011. There is no doubt Newsies is well deserving of its two Tony Awards for Best Choreography and Original Score. Disney legend Alan Menken and director Jeff Calhoun along with the rest of Disney Theatrical have teamed up to bring to stage something fans were craving for nearly 20 years. NEWSIES THE MUSICAL hits the stage running with one showstopper after the next. It’s a show filled with a plethora of bursts of high-flying dance numbers and songs you’ll be humming for an entire week. You’ll think there is nothing more they could do to impressive you and then the next song starts. NEWSIES contains nothing but pure adrenaline and joy until the lights come up!
Set in 1899 New York City, NEWSIES tells the story of Jack Kelly, a charismatic leader of the cities ‘newsies’, who only desires for a better life far from his troubled adolescent years on the streets of New York. Surrounded by the poor youth of the turn of the century, Jack rallies his boys against the ever powerful Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst from their price hikes of their distribution of ‘papes’ at the expense of newsboys.
Inspired by the real ‘Newsboy Strike of 1899’ where newsboy Kid Blink led a band of orphan and runaways on a two week-long strike, Jack gets the rest of the boys to go up against the greedy Pulitzer with the help of new paperboy Davey and his younger brother Les. Along the way he gets a little help from a young reporter, Katherine, who may have a few tricks up her sleeves. However, it will take the support of all the Newsies to take down Goliath.
The stage version contains most songs from the film including the overall overture and theme “Santa Fe” to the powerful juggernauts of “Carrying the Banner”, “Seize the Day” and “Once and for All” along with seven brand-new songs by the original team. Also added for the tour is “Letter from the Refuge”, a brand new solo number for the now less featured newsboy, Crutchie. I couldn’t imagine this show without this added piece.
One cannot review NEWSIES THE MUSICAL without mentioning the most talked about change to the stage adaptation. While generally true to the film with a few songs omitted, the stage production writes out Jack’s original love interest Sarah Jacobs and the New York Sun reporter Brian Denton (Bill Pullman) who helped bring light to their cause. The two are replaced with new love interest Katherine Plumber, an overly sarcastic news reporter that serves as both purposes to the former.
While Jack Kelly’s character is played nearly identical to that of the film and lead by Joey Barreiro who carried the show well, the character of Katherine Plumber is absolutely rubbish. I wont put too much blame on Morgan Keene, who had a tough spot to fill. The character is written with such disgust toward Jack that she never comes off as kind. Her rude sarcasm and annoying undertones left toward Jack are downright irritating and uncharismatic. There was nothing redeeming about this character except that she had a heart to help with the ‘newsies’ strike.
We can dissect this adjusted plot line to no end, but overall I think it’s best to mention that Jack’s original love interest was clearly and afterthought in the film feeling pushed and hurried. The addition of Katherine could be nice if she was a more endearing counterpart. However, Denton the reporter is sorely missed with his devoted support for the boys as well as the bigger subtext of taking down the behemoth newspaper conglomerate that had such political power. Plus, there’s less of focus on Jack’s desire to have a caring family like Davey had in the film.
NEWSIES THE MUSICAL doesn’t have much to pick apart though. It’s a giant ensemble cast of incredible talent that somehow seems to outdo themselves with each dance number. The new adjusted storyline works, and works well, but it’s the strong musical numbers and amazing dance numbers that shine. All the ‘newsies’ are incredibly fun to watch with moments of astonishment as each choreographed routine gets bigger.
The whole production is meant to wow. Stage design is unique and LARGE with gigantic moving parts that surely will leave you impressed. The lighting, costuming, staging, and overall production value will just have you blown away. Even the curtain call is engaging and an act all on its own. This is non-stop fun that never tries to take things too seriously or push too much of a political undertone. The show could very easily add a large subtext but instead focuses on one boys dream to make things right with his band of brother.
Fans of the film can’t miss this production and theatergoers of all ages shouldn’t skip this refined and pristine show. Every number, every note, every dance step hits its beat. No flaws in the songs adaptations or characterization except for those previously mentioned. Be prepared to cheer with everything you have, these performers deserve it.
NEWSIES THE MUSICAL is now playing at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa until May 29th. Visit scfta.org for more information!