Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
As a musical based on a true event, the 1899 strike of the kids who hawked the local papers, the opportunity for empathy and understanding seemed ample. The plot revolves around New York publication head honcho Joseph Pulitzer (played by ex-Beast Steve Blanchard, doing the most professional job in the cast), who was raising the per bundle price of the dailies when the newsies decide to strike. Essentially, that's the plot, with a bit of expected romance thrown in. That the empathy never evolved for me is due to the fact that there are clichés upon clichés thrown at us as fast as the headstands, pirouettes, and great leaps occur time and time and time and time again in the overly redundant choreography. Luckily, Tony winner Christopher Gattelli's creations are danced by a thrilling group of male dancers. If several of them appear a tad, ahem, more adult than the other kids, their sheer exuberance and talent shine through.
Technically, the trio of steel towers, designed by Tobin Ost, move as they should without incident. Unfortunately, sound is a major issue. From my perfect seats in the 16th row center of the orchestra, I could understand not a word when the newsies were singing in unison. Add to the mix that each chorale sounds exactly like "Solidarity" from Billy Elliot. The costumes by Jess Goldstein are wonderfully of the period, right down to the caps used to emphasize a line, by yanking them down, by certain actors.
Purposely, I did not consult the Playbill beforehand and I was surprised to read afterward that Harvey Fierstein had written the book for the show. He obviously didn't have to work too hard. As for the score, an anthem here, an anthem there is bolstered by a Sondheim-esque solo, "Watch What Happens," for love interest Katherine, played by Morgan Keene. Throw into the cliché-mix "That's Rich," the number for the burlesque house owner played by Aisha deHaas, and we have a pair of songs that take us away from the rest of the similar sounding score.
It's interesting that the supporting characters stand out as much as they do, especially Crutchie, played by Zachary Sayle; Wiesel, played by Michael Gorman (along with several other roles); and Teddy Roosevelt, played by Kevin Carolan. Carolan brings a true characterization to a role that could easily have been caricatured. Director Jeff Calhoun repeats his Broadway duties. His leading man, Joey Barreiro, channeling John Travolta from several of his dese-dem-dose-type roles, is charming and self-effacing, and manages to win over the audience with grace and style.
Is it a generational thing? I don't think so. Good is good. Period. Everyone has their own opinions and the audience, which seemed child-freesurprising, since "Disney" is all over the placeappeared to enjoy it. Hmmm.
Newsies runs through November 29th, 2015, at Broward Center for the Performing Arts: 201 West 5th Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale, FL. For more information, call 954-462-0222 or visit www.browardcenter.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.newsiesthemusical.com.