By PK Greenfield
At the tail end of the turn-of-the-century, a newspaper was as popular and relevant as the Internet in this era; the public trusted and devoured almost every word in print — the “rag” during ragtime. It was also a business owned by elitists and operated by thugs. Today, some people rely on news from a source called Comedy Central and that alone demonstrates how The Times have changed. But the ‘business called show’ hasn’t differed so much. To read, see and hear all about it, Disney’s “Newsies, the Musical” is now playing on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre.
Loosely based on the newspaper strike of 1899, this labor movement sings, high-kicks and leaps into action as well as the dirty past of the free press. Robber baron, Joseph Pulitzer (John Dossett), inflates the price of the paper on the backs of the distributors, the newsies, just to increase his profits. Number 1 peddler, Jack Kelly (Jeremy Jordan), organizes the carriers to unionize and strike. Covering the dispute between the slave laborers and the privileged class is a clandestine reporter: Katherine (Kara Lindsay).
Jeremy Jordan (center) and the “Newsies” ensemble
Jeremy Jordan takes to the role of Jack Kelley like a prize fighter takes to a boxing ring and his New Yorkisms are as raw and historic as the time when 33rd and 3rd was pronounced, “thoiddy-thoid ‘n thoid.” Journalist, Katherine, is a Disney female character we’ve encountered before: under an umbrella with Poppins, in a tomb with Aida and submerged at sea like Ariel. Kara Lindsay brings this storybook leading lady a lot of charm, stage presence and a stunning voice.
Kara Lindsay and Jeremy Jordan
The intoxicating, high-energy performance of the entire ensemble electrifies the stage with more testosterone and tour jetés than you can throw a bundle of newspapers at. Featuring: Ben Fankhauser, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Lewis Grosso, Aaron J. Albano, Mark Aldrich, Tommy Bracco, John E. Brady, Ryan Breslin, Kevin Carolan, Caitlyn Caughell, Kyle Coffman, Mike Faist, Michael Fatica, Julie Foldesi, Garett Hawe, Thayne Jasperson, Evan Kasprzak, Stuart Marland, Andy Richardson, Jack Scott, Ryan Steele, Brendon Stimson, Nick Sullivan, Ephraim Sykes, Laurie Veldheer, Alex Wong, Stuart Zagnit and my personal favorite, Jess Le Protto, from “So You Think You Can Dance.” Bravo!
Jess LeProtto (right) and Aaron Albono (left)
Alan Menken’s music, while not as memorable as his other Disney compositions, supports the storyline and soars with the choreography by Christopher Gattelli. Tobin Ost’s impressive, three-story scaffolding set reminded me of the Hollywood Squares — a tic-tac-toe board including helical staircases. It transforms and moves about the stage with the precision of a Magic Kingdom’s automaton.
While the 1992 movie version bombed, this “Newsies” will thrive in musical theater. Other reviewers have written obits for the show but I see it differently; I agree that it is not a great work of art so much as a brilliant business model. The David vs. Goliath theme should resonate extremely well in this day of “Occupy Something,” and there are seats at the Nederlander ranging from $30 to $infinity so many street urchins and bankers can sit under one roof to help fill two of the grandest entertainment corporate coffers.
With its built-in cult following of kids who grew up on “High School Musical” and “Smash,” I predict “Newsies, The Musical,” might be extended past August and will definitely go on tour. Furthermore, this could be the next high school and college theater department juggernaut with more girls donning news caps, suspenders and britches. Imagine “Annie” and “Oliver” give birth to a mega-brood and a theatrical machine that operates more efficiently than the printing press.
“Newsies, the Musical,” ensemble
If my paper carrier performed this well, I’d go back to home delivery and stop surfing the Internet for news.
For more information and tickets visit: http://newsiesthemusical.com
Photos: Courtesy of Disney Theatrical Productions and Deen van Meer.