'Newsies' the Broadway Musical
When I saw that Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire had “Newsies, the Broadway Musical” on their season, I was stunned. Anyone who knows this in-the-round-venue is aware that the stage is far smaller than any of the Broadway In Chicago stages, and when I first saw the touring company of this show, I felt that none of our regional theaters’ could take on a big show with a large set like this. Once again, the people at Marriott have proven me wrong. They took this powerful Tony Award-Winning “phenomenon” based on the Disney movie of 1992 to new heights ( lower than before in set design, but extremely high in quality of performances, total design and energy. Wow! This cast is about as high in energy as I have ever witnessed!
Directed and choreographed by Alex Sanchez with music direction by Ryan T. Nelson, this is probably a show that will get numerous Jeff Award nominations ( for those of you not in the know, the Jeff Awards are Chicago’s version of The Tony Awards). Sanchez has taken this powerful work that is amazing on a large stage, and brought it to us with even more power to go along with the intimacy of being able to look into the eyes of the characters. By the way, the book by Harvey Fierstein makes this film VERY Broadway and the music (Alan Menken) and lyrics (Jack Feldman) utilize the original words of Tzudiker and White’s film, making them tell the story in musical terms. I know that for many this film has become a “cult” thing, and watching the youthful opening night audience, I see that the musical version has attracted its own crowd of followers.
For those unfamiliar with the story, it takes place at the turn of the century (1800’s to 1900’s) in New York. The newspaper people were seeing their profits and circulation dwindling, so in order to raise their own profits, they opted to make the “Newsies” ( the young lads who walked the streets hacking the papers) pay a little more. The way it worked- the newsies bought the papers and sold them keeping the profit or taking the loss on those left unsold. By charging them more, the papers made more and since the kids had no alternative, they were caught between a rock and a hard place. Either they went along, or they went without dinner. These were orphans and run-aways who were struggling to stay alive.
Names like Hearst and Pulitzer, leaders in the industry were self-serving and controlling. They had the power, while the youngsters had their dreams. The story is about these young kids who knew the streets and had the moxie to work them, and with the help of a teen-ager, one Jack Kelly ( Patrick Rooney is absolutely amazing- in voice, in character and in the spirit he brings to this role) who helps the others organize what becomes a “union”. He is greatly helped by a newcomer to the newsboys, Davey (deftly handled by Nick Graffagna) who along with his little brother Hot Shot (the adorable Carter Graf, who will win you over in moments and I am certain alternate Zachary Uzarraga will do just the same) have taken to the streets to help out their parents. These were hard times, indeed!
Jack’s best friend is Crutchie (Matthew Uzarraga, shows just how versatile he is after just finishing another side-kick role down in Glencoe at Writer’s Theatre). And then their are the newsboys (and two females). I always speak to the importance of the ensemble in a musical production and this particular provides proof positive that this is very true. These performers are filled with energy, understanding of the story and TALENT!! A tip of the hat to: Zachary Porter, Garrett Lutz, Nicholas Dantes, Sam Griffin, Zachary Porter, Andy Toffa, Alejandro Fonseca, Martin Ortiz Tapia, Eean Cochran, David Wright Jr., Laura Savage, Adrienne Storrs and Jonny Stein. As the “Newsies” they are astounding and the dance numbers they bring to this small stage are worth the price of the ticket on their own!
The rest of the cast is the adorable Eliza Palasz as Katherine, a cub reporter who falls for Jack (as he does for her) only to find out they are from worlds apart. But hold on! This IS based on a Disney feature, and they all have happy endings, don’t they?, Pulitzer is well played by the always reliable Kevin Kudahl. Medda Larkin is handled by Stephanie Pope who will send chills down your spine as she sings “That’s Rich”. Others in the cast are:Shea Coffman, Bill Bannon, James Rank, Richard Strimer, Tiffany Tatreau, Peter Sipla Stephen Stafford, Liam Quealy and Jeff Pierpont.
The music (the Marriott orchestra is conducted by Patti Garwood, who with her 7 musicians fills the theater with the great work of Menken. The opening number is about 9 minutes and is spellbinding as we meet the main characters, but the one number that truly stands out is “The Bottom Line” (this number alone is worth buying a ticket for) where you will bear witness to somersaults, tumbling, flips and a number of great dance routines. While the set (Kevin Depinet) is not near as fancy as the original, it is very practical and does not block the audience from having great sight lines for the entire 2-hours-30 minutes (including a 15 minute intermission). The lighting (Jesse Klug) and the sound Robert E. Gilmartin ) were as always “on target” as were the costumes (Sally Dolembo) and the props (Sally Weiss). A very impressive production and one that Marriott can be proud of. Monday night, when we attend this year’s Jeff Awards, we will be thinking a year in the future when this production will probably claim a few plaques.