Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Amadeus
The musical by Alan Menken (music), Jack Feldman (lyrics), and Harvey Fierstein (book), adapted from a 1992 Disney movie, recounts a true story of poor newsboysand, in this production, a few newsgirlsin 1899 New York City, taking on the unfair tactics of newspaper titan Joseph Pulitzer (Edward Gero). Smith finds a parallel between the newsies of more than a century ago and contemporary activism by young people on gun violence, climate change, and other issues, but she is never heavy-handed about it.
Fierstein's solidly plotted book focuses on Jack Kelly (Daniel J. Maldonado), the leader of the newsies and the one who holds them together in both good and bad times. As Ken MacDonald's ever-shifting scenic designwhich at times includes the aisles and the walkway behind the seating areasdemonstrates, many of the newsies are homeless, sleeping on tenement roofs and fed by kindly nuns and tavern owners; a few have left school to support their families because a parent is unable to work; and some end up in a Dickensian for-profit youth prison (another subject with modern parallels).
Maldonado has the necessary swagger and powerful voice, and is well-matched by the actresses playing two women who help Jack along the way. The redoubtable Nova Y. Payton, in Alejo Vietti's most glittery costumes, is Medda Larkin, vaudeville star and theater owner, and Erin Weaver, recipient of six solo Helen Hayes Awards and one ensemble award, is Katherine Plumber, a young woman fighting the odds to become a journalist in a male-dominated field.
While Pulitzer is undeniably the heavy in this story, well-respected Washington actor Gero gives him a gloss of self-justification: he really believes that, if he's going to boost his profits, gouging the kids at the bottom will teach them a valuable lesson. (Of course, the lesson they learn is somewhat different.)
But back to Esse's choreography. The newsies fly through the air with cartwheels, somersaults, leapfrog, stage-filling acrobatics, a bit of an Irish jig, even a tap routine on tabletops, and never seem winded.