NEWSIES – Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Jack Feldman; Book by Harvey Feinstein; Directed by Bernie Cardell; Choreography by Rebecca Scott Dean; Musical Direction by Heather Iris Holt. Produced by Performance Now Theatre Company (Presented at Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 South Allison Parkway, Lakewood) through January 21. Tickets available at 303-987-7845 or Tickets@Lakewood.org.
I’ve always thought that knowing about a show’s origins can give you a little more understanding about what you are watching. This musical started way back in 1899, the year of the original Newsboys Strike in New York. This gem of an idea of a group of ragtag newsboys scratching out a living (barely) by selling newspapers on the street standing up to the publishers – one of whom was Joseph Pulitzer – to get a few more pennies a day and better working conditions had to be appealing to the writers of the movie that grew out of this incident. Bob Tzudiker and Noni White took the story of Kid Blink, the real-life ringleader for the strike, and wrote a movie script that was turned into a film released in 1992 – almost 100 years later. Not a successful movie financially, it only made about $3 million when first released, but, of course, has now become a favorite of those who like strong masculine dancing and watching Christian Bale in his breakout movie.
What about the other people that appeared in the movie? Did they fare as well as Bale because of their appearance in the flick? Of the 25 dancers in the movie, sixteen went on to make a life in the theatre. Two have won Emmy’s; some became dancers and choreographers for Michael Jackson and Madonna; one was even lucky enough to marry Idina Menzel. Others stayed in the movie industry but became sound designers, editors, voice talent, actors and dancers in not as well-known movies and TV programs, but working, nevertheless. The original movie cast included Trey Parker (and we all know how successful he’s become) who played Kid Blink, but the part had been reduced to a small role with the lead character becoming Jack (Christian Bale). Another notable in the movie was Deborra-Lee Furness, until quite recently married to Hugh Jackman. It should be noted that Jackman was still at University in Australia in 1992 and married up in 1996 when they met on the set of his first TV role. Adult roles were played by Bill Pullman, Robert Duvall and Ann Margret.
But enough of the past. This cast of dancers and singers continue the tradition of strong masculine dancing with leaps and athletic moves performed by both men and women in the ensemble of newsboys. Choreographer Rebecca Scott Dean created a seventeen-soul ensemble that exuded confidence and swagger. They yelled with their bodies, “We can do this!! They can’t keep us down!” so strongly that the audience was rooting for them before the first dance was over. Since this show is all about the dancing, they came through like a well-trained synchronized harmonic army. They “Carry the Banner” with pride using slides, high-jumps and flips. This made the times that they began to think they were going to lose their battle or when their numbers were sent to jail even more touching.
Levi Randolph as Jack and Sarah Atkinson as Katherine gave us sweet attraction and equally sweet love songs. Jack’s dream of travelling to “Santa Fe” where there’s space, not just air, adds another layer of longing to his life. In a touching duet, they reveal that neither ever thought they would find love, but “now I have something to believe in.”
One of the newsies struggles with a limp which makes it hard for him to walk and keep up with the other boys. Crutchie’s struggle is authentically portrayed by Eli Schroeder who sings a poignant song from the prison he’s been thrown into begging Jack to come rescue him and coming up with an impossibly elaborate scheme for how they could make that happen. Another character Medda Larkin played by Micheala Murray who owns a burlesque house also helps Jack survive and has one hotsy-totsy number called “That’s Rich.”
The combination of the administrative and technical team of Performance Now Theatre Company and the Lakewood Cultural Center work well together and provide a professional production well lit, well dressed, with a balanced sound design and an outstanding 8-piece pit band. Special praise is to be heaped on Propmaster Kelly Mann for this outing. This show calls for the creation and destruction of hundreds of newspapers for each performance. Kelly always makes her arduous task look easy. But it’s not! As an organization, they just get stronger and stronger and deserve your attention.
A WOW factor of 8.75!!