Run, don’t walk, to see the North Carolina Theatre‘s production of Disney’s Newsies. This show is bursting with so much buoyant energy that you won’t want to be left behind. The musical, originally a film made in 1992, has been adapted by the story-telling powerhouse studio into an exceedingly pleasing theatrical experience.
Based on the real-life revolutionary endeavors of New York City’s newsboys (mostly underaged newspaper sellers of questionable employment status) who, in 1899, stood up to the megalithic newspaper entities of their day and fought for some admirable changes in social justice. If it sounds like a David-and-Goliath story, well that’s because it is; and Disney makes no secret of playing to that effect. Based on real-life events during the 1899 New York City newspaper strike, this story resonates with astonishing relevance in today’s world is merely an added bonus and makes this a must-see show.
The story features Jack Kelly (played with boyish charisma by Jason Gotay), a fictional street ruffian with a certain charm and a knack for being a leader. When unabashed capitalist mogul Joseph Pulitzer (played by a deliciously pompous Merwin Foard) decides to raise the cost of newspapers, knowingly undercutting his “newsie” work force in order to pad his newspaper’s bottom line, Jack starts a resistance that quickly blossoms into a full-blown strike.
There to capture events is Katherine Plumber, an ambitious female reporter, hoping to make a name for herself by covering the one story no newspaper wants to cover — because giving the voiceless that kind of platform would undermine the very monopoly that stands as the real antagonist of the tale. Shannon O’Boyle plays one of the only female roles to the hilt; Katherine’s razor-sharp wit and indefatigable determination to change the world for the better make her one of the most compelling pieces of the story.
O’Boyle’s performance is so winning that it almost makes the romance that blossoms between her character and Jack a sidebar (pun intended). Still, one cannot help but root for Jack and his rough-and-rowdy family of street boys as they go up against insurmountable odds, with little more than youthful determination, some incredibly catchy songs, and dance numbers that will make your head spin.
The production itself is nothing short of Broadway-worthy. Steve Bebout’s direction left out no details, and every element of the show comes together in a top-notch work of art. The set design by Bruce Brockman is as ambitious as the show itself, and highly effective. Against a backdrop of highrise buildings and skyline drops, three segmented fire escape set pieces dance around the stage, weaving in and out of different configurations to create different NYC spaces.
The lighting (designed by Samuel Rushen) played mostly in the amber range, allowing a sepia-tone to color most of the show, in keeping with the time period, but switching to bright spotlights and dreamy blues and purples as needed for effect. Aline Johnson’s properties, likewise, paid attention to all the right details, right down to dust flying off the newspapers.
The costumes (by Dixon Reynolds) were well-designed to express the characters while leaving them free to fly into dance at a moment’s notice — which happens a lot in this show. Speaking of which, the choreography by Parker Esse is everything that you want to see in a Broadway show — razor-sharp, expressive, eloquent, and right on the money. Edward G. Robinson’s music direction kept the show on pace, flying through the numbers with effortless fervor.
While some of the story oozes into Disneyland® territory, the cast’s incredible talent and high energy kept the show from getting gauzy. Steve Raymond’s Crutchie was a delightful underdog-of-underdogs, with powerful vocals to play off the physical handicap of his character, making him a bit larger-than-life and delightfully sympathetic. Yolanda W. Rabun’s Medda Larkin didn’t have nearly enough stage time in this reviewer’s opinion; but it might be just as well, since she may have stolen the show otherwise. Likewise, Daniel Plimpton plays Davey, a hard-on-his-luck youth who gets caught up in the movement and surprises by becoming one of its strongest voices, and his brother Les (played with youthful zeal by Huck Borden) delighted with some deliciosuly strong moments of his own. The entire ensemble was on-point, never once disappointing, but it must be said that Caylie Rose Newcome as the only female in the “newsie” crowd stood out every moment she was on stage.
Alan Menken’s music (together with lyrics by Jack Feldman and book by none other than Harvey Fierstein) has enchanted and inspired audiences for decades, and it’s on good display here. In a day and age when younger and younger individuals are discovering how desperately needed their voices are in the shaping and molding of the culture, country and world they will soon inherit, this show is an inspiration to what can be accomplished when young people band together to do what must be done to make the world a better place, no matter what the cost.
If you don’t find yourself humming the songs and dancing a few steps back to your car at the end of the night … then, perhaps, you need to see the show again and remember what it was like to be young and have the whole world full of possibilities stretched out before you, just waiting for you to seize the day. Newsies plays through Sunday, July 29th, in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts.
The North Carolina Theatre presents Disney’s NEWSIES at 7:30 p.m. July 27 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. July 28 and 29 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $25.15-$108.15, except $25 college-student tickets.
BOX OFFICE: NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944, or http://www.nctheatre.com/tickets/season-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/369155/2485834.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941, ext. 6949; firstname.lastname@example.org; or http://nctheatre.com/groups.
SHOW: https://nctheatre.com/shows/newsies, https://www.facebook.com/events/336524473437996/, and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/disneys-newsies-7902.
2017-18 SEASON: https://nctheatre.com/show-season/201718-season.
NCT NEWS RELEASE: https://nctheatre.com/blog/nc-theatre-announces-cast-disneys-newsies-0.
PRESENTER: http://www.nctheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre, https://twitter.com/nctheatre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/nctheatre.
NCT BLOG (Stage Notes): http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Saturday, July 28th, performance.
Newsies (1992 movie musical): http://movies.disney.com/newsies (official website), http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/21492/Newsies/ (Turner Classic Movies page), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104990/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newsies (Wikipedia).
Newsies (2011 Paper Mill Playhouse and 2012 Broadway musical): http://www.newsiesthemusical.com/ (official website), http://www.mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000427 (Music Theatre International), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/newsies-the-musical-491209 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.facebook.com/Newsies (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/Newsies (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newsies_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).
Alan Menken (music): http://www.alanmenken.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/alan-menken-12135 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.facebook.com/AlanMenkenStudio (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/aimenken (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Menken (Wikipedia).
Jack Feldman (lyrics): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/jack-feldman-79622 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Feldman_%28songwriter%29 (Wikipedia).
Harvey Fierstein (book): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/harvey-fierstein-6157 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.facebook.com/harvey.fierstein (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/harveyfierstein (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvey_Fierstein (Wikipedia).
Melanie Simmons of Cary, NC is a film and stage actress with a BA degree in Theatre from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA. She also studied dance at San Diego Mesa College and acting with Sande Shurin Acting Studios in New York City and at The Actor’s Workshop in Los Angeles, CA. She has performed locally at the Holly Springs Cultural Center in Holly Springs, Sonorous Road Theatre & Film Studio in Raleigh, and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum in Cary. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.