Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Hale Centre Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Lea Salonga: The Human Heart and Guys and Dolls

The Cast
Photo by photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw
With musical adaptations of the hit films Tootsie, Pretty Woman and Beetlejuice reaching Broadway this season, it seems like we'll never see the end of producers attempting to turn a popular movie into a big, splashy and, hopefully, successful Broadway production. So, it's a bit of a shock that the Disney company would decide to turn their 1992 film Newsies, which was a huge flop at movie theaters, into a stage musical. Fortunately, not only did it go on to be a crowd pleasing, Tony winning show but also a musical that is receiving numerous productions across the country, including three in the Phoenix area this month alone. Hale Centre Theatre's production features stellar leads and a rousing ensemble who instill the show with an infectious amount of joy. Hale's intimate in-the-round space provides a strong connection to the heightened sense of urgency and plight of the characters in the show.

The film and musical were both inspired by the real-life newsboys' strike of 1899. The plot follows a group of newsboys, most of whom are orphans, who make an earning by selling newspapers on the streets of New York City. When publisher Joseph Pulitzer raises the price the "newsies" must pay for their supply of papers, which he does only to boost his own profits, the boys stage a protest. The group is led by the headstrong Jack Kelly, along with Davey, the older of two brothers who are selling papers due to their father being out of work. They find inspiration for their cause from the ongoing trolley workers, who are also striking and have found a way to organize themselves. However, the group of boys quickly learn that it's harder than they first thought for downtrodden kids to stand up against a city that's run by privileged adults.

The original score, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman, has been expanded for the stage musical and features many crowd-pleasing, rousing anthems as well as some romantic ballads and introspective numbers. Harvey Fierstein's book makes subtle but smart changes to the original screenplay by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White, adding plenty of humor, an abundance of heart, and a few new and fun twists.

The Hale cast is led by Kade Bailey as Jack and Kaitlyn Russell as Katherine Plumber, the feisty female reporter who latches onto the newsies' mission as a way to hopefully make a name for herself in the publishing world. Both are exceptional in their roles, with beautiful and clear singing voices, creating strong and engaging characters you root to succeed. Bailey instills Jack with a combination of streets smarts, charm and strength, which works well to depict a young man who reluctantly, yet realistically, ends up as the natural leader of a group of youngsters. Bailey and Russell bring a sense of urgency to their parts to portray the young man who has a fire in his eyes and a devotion to those even less fortunate than him and the young woman who is trying to find her place in a business where men rule. They also create a strong and realistic connection with each other and with their fellow castmates. Their solo songs shine and soar, with Bailey's "Santa Fe" especially moving and Russell's "Watch What Happens" infused with spunk and intelligence.

In the supporting cast, Joey Morrison is quite good as Pulitzer, making him more of a three-dimensional person instead of just the evil villain of the show. Trustin Adams and Charlie Hall form a charming duo as brothers Davey and Les. Adams ensures Davey comes across as both intelligent and warm, and Hall is sweet and hilarious, with good comic timing, as the lovable Les. Brandon Brown played the part of Crutchie, Jack's friend who has a bum leg, in Phoenix Theatre Company's 2017 production of the show and he is once again perfect as this small but pivotal character who you deeply care for. He and Bailey depict a beautiful brotherly bond as these two close friends. Ashley Jackson is lovable and fun as the strong, independent Medda, who is a friend of Jack's and the owner of a club that comes into play in the plot. Ryan Ardelt, Kyle Atkinson, Daniel Bargen, Jeremy Cruz, Patrick Devine, Albert Johnston, Brandt Norris, and Charlie Siegel portray the other newsies and each gets a moment or two to shine. In smaller parts, Matthew R. Harris plays a few varied roles with a refined clarity, while Audrey Sullivan is a riot as Pulitzer's wise-talking secretary, and JT Ziervogel has a fun time bringing Teddy Roosevelt vividly to life.

Director and choreographer Cambrian James ensures his cast create realistic, natural characters while also keeping the show moving along at a fast and fun pace. His choreography features a perfect blend of athleticism and ballet, with plenty of leaps, jumps and twists, and the large cast do well in delivering the steps with ease. However, while the size of the stage provides a wonderful connection to the cast, the slight downside is that there isn't always enough room for the entire male ensemble to fully display the moves James has created. It often feels like they are keeping things a bit tight and confined in order to not collide with another cast member. Fortunately, the dance numbers where there are only a few people onstage work well as does the tap number "King of New York" that opens act two, which is a major crowd-pleaser.

The vocals from the cast sound gorgeous, full and rich, with harmonies that blend beautifully, under the music direction of Elizabeth Spencer. Scenic designer Brian Daily uses several large, static set pieces made of metal in the corners of the Hale stage to portray the tenements, rooftops, and various locations in the show. The media design by Jessica Ottley combines with Daily's effective scenic elements to depict several beautiful views of Manhattan, as well as being a creative way to show the artwork Jack creates in the show. Lighting designer Tim Dietlein paints the stage in a range of colors that work well to portray various times of day effectively, and Sherrie Diaz's costumes are full of rich detail and warm and bright colors for the period suits and dresses.

Newsies is a crowd-pleasing musical, and Hale's production features a talented cast who bring an infectious joy to the energetic musical numbers along with a deep connection to the characters. It makes for a rousing, engaging and highly entertaining good time.

Newsies, through June 29th, 2019, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling 480-497-1181.

Directed and choreographed by Cambrian James
Music Director: Elizabeth Spencer
Set Technical Director: Brian Daily
Costume Designer: Sherrie Diaz
Lighting Designer: Tim Dietlein
Media Design: Jessica Ottley
Wigs & Make-Up: Cambrian James
Props: McKenna Carpenter & Monica Christiansen
Stage Manager: Justin Peterson

Jack Kelly: Kade Bailey
Katherine Plumber: Kaitlyn Russell
Crutchie: Brandon Brown
Davey: Trustin Adams
Les: Charlie Hall
Joseph Pulitzer: Joey Morrison
Medda Larkin: Ashley Jackson
Albert: Ryan Ardelt
Finch: Kyle Atkinson
Romeo: Daniel Bargen
Buttons: Jeremy Cruz
JoJo: Patrick Devine
Race: Albert Johnston
Specs: Brandt Norris
Henry: Charlie Siegel
Wiesel: Matthew R. Harris
Governor Teddy Roosevelt: JT Ziervogel
Oscar Delancey: Alex Partida
Morris Delancey: Cameron Rollins
Snyder: Jeff Huffman
Mush: Abbi Cavanaugh
Sally: Ashley Harkey
Hannah/Tommy Boy: Audrey Sullivan

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