Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Landmark Musicals / Sandia Preparatory School
Review by Dean Yannias

Also see Dean's recent review of The Drawer Boy

The Cast
Photo by Max Woltman
The Disney corporation has made billions of dollars by transforming its animated features into Broadway musicals. But when they made an original live-action movie musical called Newsies in 1992, it was a major flop. It cost $15 million and didn't even make $3 million back, even with actors like Ann-Margret, Robert Duvall, and a young Christian Bale. I wouldn't want to have been the exec who greenlighted that project.

You'd think Disney would just write off the loss and forget about it. But they took it to Broadway twenty years later and it was a hit. It ran for more than one thousand performances before touring the country. Those Disney people have the Midas touch, it would seem. Who would have thought that a show about singing and dancing newspaper boys in 1899 could ever become a success?

It turns out that it's a really charming, even heartwarming show about a scrappy bunch of underprivileged kids who take on the capitalist oppressors (in this case, Joseph Pulitzer and other newspaper publishers in New York City) and win some concessions. Essentially, it's a story about the beginnings of the labor movement in this country–with a love story thrown in.

Mounting a show like this is a major undertaking, and Landmark Musicals has done a fantastic job of staging it. There are 32 cast members plus several scene changes, so when you consider all the costumes and hair and wigs and makeup and microphones and sets and props, it's a miracle it can all be pulled together–but they have done it. Praise cannot be too high for Laurie Finnegan, who directs the whole shebang, and for Louis Giannini, who produced and choreographed it along with Courtney Giannini (and there's a lot of dancing).

Likewise, accolades for Dahl Delu for the set design, Erin Moots and Gayle Smart for costuming, Kandy Thorn and Michele Cappel for hair and wigs, and Mary Starr Smith for makeup. On the technical side, the lighting by Diego Garcia, sound by Jared Crean and Simon Welter, and Rodey Theatre tech direction by Richard Hess are all excellent. Stage managers Scout Lovato and Virginia Clark have their work cut out for them with such a big production, and it is accomplished seamlessly. Darby Fegan conducts the live orchestra, which sounds fine.

The only thing that might have gotten in the way at the performance I attended was COVID-19, but it didn't. The two leads (Chris Arellano and Jaimasan Sutton) performed on opening night, but the next day they had to quarantine, so four of the major roles had to be shifted around, and the actors assuming new roles had scripts in hand much of the time. It made it all the more impressive that this hardly affected their performances at all. What a bunch of troupers, and so young. Almost half of the cast is still in high school or even younger. (Sandia Preparatory School collaborated with Landmark Musicals for this production.)

Cameron Illidge-Welch and Hannah Lilly stepped into the lead roles with just hours' notice and were terrific. Katya Ivanchov assumed the role of Crutchie as if it were hers all along, and was touching in her solo number. Among the adult roles, Sheneille Wilson and Zane Barker were impressive, but it's almost unfair to single certain performers out since the ensemble is so important in this show. Everybody sang and danced their hearts out. Despite what I just said about singling individuals out, I can't help but recognize the littlest member of the cast, Lucca Giannini. This kid seems to have been born for the stage, and steals the show every time on it.

A lot of energy went into creating this production and it shows on stage. It deserves an equally energetic audience, so go see it and have a great time at the theatre.

Newsies runs through April 2, 2023, at the University of New Mexico, Rodey Theatre, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:00, Sunday at 2:00. Student rush tickets are available at 50% off for high school and college students with ID. For tickets and information, please visit