Based on the 1992 Disney film written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White, which was inspired by the real-life newsboys' strike of 1899 in New York, Newsies opened on Broadway on March 29, 2012, intended for a run of 105 performances. However, its fans took on the spirit of the never-say-die newsies and it ran for two and a half years (1005 performances), selling over than 1 million ticket and grossing over $100M. Building on the popularity of the film, Menken and Feldman retained many of its songs, while writing six new numbers for the stage, and Fierstein introduced a crusading reporter, a strong female character who adds a twist to the story and also serves as a love interest for the leading man.
Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard) and William Randolph Hearst are the bad guys in Newsies, taking advantage of the children who hawk their papers by increasing the cost they pay per bundle in order to shore up their bottom line. In the fine tradition of Norma Rae, Jack Kelly (Dan DeLuca) and his ragtag crew decide they're not going to take it and hurriedly form a union to go out on strike. The newest newsboy among them, Davey (Jacob Kemp) has a keen intellect and maps out a strategy. He is the yang to artistic Kelly's yin, and together they organize a citywide campaign which eventually includes child laborers from a broad spectrum of employers, virtually shutting down New York City and arousing the attention of Governor Teddy Roosevelt himself.
Across the board, the touring company is brimming with energetic, talented performers, led by the charismatic DeLuca, charming and determined Stephanie Styles (reporter Katherine Plumber), and Zachary Sayle, spunky and endearing as Kelly's best buddy Crutchie. Needham native (and proud Wheelock Family Theatre alum) Kemp has one of the best voices on the stage, and pairs convincingly with Vincent Crocilla (at this performance, alternates with Anthony Rosenthal) as his little brother Les to create a darling duo who frequently spark the story. If there is any misstep in this show, it is that the book scenes flag a bit, but you don't have to wait long for a musical number to come to the rescue.
As the songs propel the story forward, there are a few that bring to mind other powerful musical theater moments, such as the striking miners in Billy Elliot ("The World Will Know"), the student revolutionaries in Les Misérables ("Once and For All") and the rival gangs coming together in West Side Story ("Brooklyn's Here"). We learn who the characters are as they sing and dance their way through the emotionally charged musical numbers. Gattelli's choreography shows so much more than words can tell us about these exuberant youth. They are tough, athletic, balletic, and unified into a corps that is ready to back each other up and take on any foe.
The staging of the dance numbers is inventive and often spectacular, none better than "Seize the Day" when the newsies stomp around on tear sheets and perform acrobatic feats. "King of New York" is a showcase of complex tap dancing, and the ensemble also put their hands to rhythmic use by playing spoons at the same time. Director Jeff Calhoun, a Tony nominee for the Broadway production, helms the tour and is joined by his original creative team: Tobin Ost (scenic design), Jess Goldstein (costumes), Jeff Croiter (lighting), Ken Travis (sound), and Sven Ortel (projections). The focal point of the design is a three-level structure that looks like an erector set with steps to each tier. It is reconfigured to represent many locationstenement fire escapes, a theatre's backstage and the Brooklyn Bridge, among othersand lighting and projections add to its versatility.
Newsies tells an American story that will continue to resonate as long as there are oppressed people, as long as the downtrodden find the resolve to fight back, and as long as families are formed by bonds other than blood. History is known to repeat itself, so it's a good bet that this musical will appeal to audiences for a long time. Its message of love, loyalty and standing up for what's right looms especially large on this historic day.
Newsies North American tour, performances through July 5, 2015, at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston, MA; Ticketmaster 800-982-2787 or www.BroadwayInBoston.com. For more information on the tour, visit www.newsiesthemusical.com.
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Jack Feldman, Book by Harvey Fierstein, Based on the Disney film written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White; Directed by Jeff Calhoun, Choreography by Christopher Gattelli; Scenic Design, Tobin Ost; Costume Design, Jess Goldstein; Lighting Design, Jeff Croiter; Sound Design, Ken Travis; Original Broadway Projection Design, Sven Ortel; Projection Adaptation, Daniel Brodie; Music Director, James Dodgson; Orchestrations, Danny Troob; Production Stage Manager, Jeff Norman
Cast: Dan DeLuca, Steve Blanchard, Stephanie Styles, Angela Grovey, Jacob Kemp, Zachary Sayle, Vincent Crocilla, Anthony Rosenthal, Mark Aldrich, Josh Assor, Evan Autio, Bill Bateman, Joshua Burrage, Kevin Carolan, DeMarius R. Copes, Benjamin Cook, Julian DeGuzman, Nico DeJesus, JP Ferreri, Sky Flaherty, Michael Gorman, Jeff Heimbrock, Stephen Hernandez, Meredith Inglesby, James Judy, Morgan Keene, Eric Jon Mahlum, Alex Prakken, Michael Ryan, Jordan Samuels, Jack Sippel, Melissa Steadman Hart, Andrew Wilson, Chaz Wolcott