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Extra! Extra!: 'Newsies' Is Strikingly Good at Marriott Theatre

I recently posted a list of my favorite stage musicals of the 21st Century, in which I ranked my Top 11, then cited 22 others.

Although in 2014 I had seen and enjoyed a touring rendition of Newsies derived from its successful Broadway run--a live adaptation based on the 1992 Disney movie--it did not make my list.

Since compiling said list, I've watched Newsies the Broadway Musical on Netflix--a full rendition, though filmed in Los Angeles after the Broadway run had ended--and attended the show's first regional production, at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, which is what I'm presently reviewing.

Both of these stellar versions have convinced me the Newsies should probably rank among the top musicals of the millennium, though still toward the bottom of my Honorable Mentions.

This may still only sound like middling praise, but while I can't honestly call Newsies one of the greatest musicals ever created, how thoroughly I enjoyed it at Marriott bespeaks not only the quality of the the theater's productions, but the depth of the musical art form at a time when many others--rock 'n roll, film, fine art, etc.--seem to be experiencing a dearth.

Or maybe I'm just a sucker for powerful ensemble singing, electrifying dancing and a whole lot of youthful exuberance, from a Marriott cast older than their characters but not by that much.

Starring as Jack Kelly, the street smart leader of the newsies, is Patrick Rooney, nicely complemented by Eliza Palasz as Katherine, an ambitious young reporter who catches his eye.

Both leads are quite likable and handle their vocal duties well. The same can be said for those embodying other major characters, including Matthew Uzarraga (as Crutchie), Nick Graffagna (Davey), Carter Graf (Les), the great Chicagoland stage veteran Kevin Gudahl playing the newsies' nemesis, Joseph Pulitzer, and Stephanie Pope, as Medda Larkin, a theater-owning singer who provides kinship and refuge in key moments.

But Newsies is a show that shines more so due to group efforts.

After all, it chronicles the formation of a union and the potency of organized protest, and at Marriott, strength-in-numbers numbers like "Carrying the Banner," "The World Will Know" and "Seize the Day" rang out quite powerfully.

With great choreography by director Alex Sanchez--derived from the Broadway version and probably the movie, which I've never seen--"King of New York" early in Act Two dazzles with so much impressive singing, dancing and gymnastics as to just make one appreciate all the talented people onstage, in theater anywhere and in the world.

As such, opening the show with Jack plaintively singing to Crutchie about his desire to escape the city and head west to "Santa Fe" feels like an oddly low-key and intimate choice, but I get the narrative necessity of the song and--probably like the great Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the musical's book--couldn't suggest where better to place it than at the beginning. (Alan Mencken is the show's composer, with Jack Feldman writing the lyrics.)

"Santa Fe" also can't help but remind of a similar song in Rent, but this one--from the 1992 Newsies film, as with several of the 2012 Broadway musical's best songs--actually came first.

While watching Newsies at Marriott on opening night, I had the thought--as I did in seeing the touring version in 2014--that it's a musical that, while quite good, just doesn't have the heft or depth of Les Miserables or Billy Elliot, two shows it brought to to mind, and which I'd seen again recently.

Yet while @@@@ (out of 5) might fairly assess Newsies' place within the pantheon of musicals, everything I witnessed onstage--including clever scenery by Kevin Depinet that well adapted Manhattan to the Marriott auditorium's in-the-round stage with limited airspace--was so effusively and thoroughly enjoyable that I'd feel like the show's grumpy Mr. Pulitzer if I withheld another 1/2@.

I've been going to shows at the Lincolnshire resort venue for years and have always found the quality--and creative spatial reformatting--quite estimable.

So it needn't make headlines that I thought their rendition of a rather-likable-if-not-quite-sensational recent Broadway musical to be quite delightful. (I really hope it brings many teens to Marriott, much as the balcony was filled with busloads at the downtown Oriental Palace.)

No, Newsies won't go down as the best thing I've seen at Marriott, even just this year. (Their exquisite take on The Bridges of Madison County musical was one of the best shows I've seen anywhere in 2017.)

But like the rest of the crowd, I instantly got to my feet to give the mostly-young cast a much-deserved standing ovation.

It's hard to imagine many seen this show and not at least liking and admiring it, and many should truly love it.

No matter how often that may be the case, or how many musicals may simply be better, such eminent enjoyment is never less than newsworthy.

And especially for suburban families who want to indoctrinate their kids to the wonders of live musical theater without heading downtown--and with easy parking to boot--this Disney musical would seem to have "Start here" written all over it.