Regional Reviews: Seattle
Also see David's review of Stupid Fucking Bird
Harvey Fierstein's book is faithful in spirit to the original Bob Tzudiker and Noni White, which had its problems, and for the author of the stage version of Kinky Boots and the seminal Tony winning play Torch Song Trilogy it is a lesser effort. The score by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman has been augmented but the standout tunes remain "Santa Fe", "Seize the Day" and "King of the World" from the film (even though "Santa Fe" is over-reprised here). Jeff Calhoun's direction is professional but not distinctive, though Christopher Gatelli's high-octane choreography astounds, and the solid cast mostly delivers in all departments.
Newsies is inspired by the true story of the newsboys' strike of 1899. Jack Kelly and his ragtag team of newsboys make a meager living selling newspapers on the city streets. But when the price of "papes" is hiked and the newsies are hung out to dry, there is nothing left to do but "open the gates and seize the day!" Led by charismatic Jack and independent, young newspaper reporter Katherine Plummer (a lady with a secret), the newsies form a union and organize a strike against the greedy publisher of the New York World. Violent clashes occur between the law and Jack's closet pal Crutchie. Entertainer and vaudeville house owner Medda Larkin serves as a kind of den mother to Jack and the boys. Jack's dream of ditching New York City for Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a paramount part of the plotline. So, can a group of idealistic newsboys win against a foe as powerful as acclaimed publisher Joseph Pulitzer? Not hard to guess the answer to that.
As Jack, Joey Barreiro has the required swagger, charm, voice, and hoofer expertise to handily fill this pivotal role. The role of Katherine is played with technical skill but little charisma by Morgan Keene, though admittedly the role is ill-conceived (a hybrid of two characters from the film). Keene and Barreiro strike no sparks as a romantic coupling, and that hurts the production. In the large cast, standouts include Steve Blanchard, who brings some welcome shading (and a rich voice) to the unlikable role of Pulitzer (and this is the same guy the Pulitzer Prize is named for!). Aisha De Haas is a robust charmer with a knockout voice as Medda, sings the new song "Watch What Happens" with distinction, and given that the character is never fully established as written (a problem when Ann-Margret played the role in the film as well), kudos to her for making the role memorable,. Stephen Michael Langston as Davey is earnest and likable, and as his brother (at certain performances), Turner Birthisel has the wise-cracking kid brother thing down pat, and gets all his laughs. Zachary Sayle is tender and touching but not saccharine as Crutchie. He tenderly sings his solo "Letter from the Refuge," a worthy addition to the score that went in for this tour.
James Judy is properly imposing as Snyder, the lout who runs the Refuge (aka a reformatory) where Crutchie ends up after a beating, and fellow old pro Bill Bateman is suitably smarmy as Pulitzer lackey Bunsen. Every single member of the youth dancing ensemble is amazing in their tirelessness and dexterity, but one young man really stood out for me, Anthony Zas, an 18-year-old company member whose bravado, focus, and energy stood out and drew my eyes to him. Bravo, Anthony!
Scenic design by Tobin Ost and projection design Sven Ortel are streamlined and generally effective, and Jeff Croiter's lighting design is notable as well. Costume design by Jess Goldstein captures the period with dead-on accuracy, and Nedda's vaudeville number outfit is most stylish, a la Dolly Levi.
Disney's Newsies isn't on a par with other Menken scored-shows like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, or The Lion King, but it is presented to its best advantage here. And boy, will this one sell when it is released to regional and high school companies.
See Newsies at the Paramount Theatre, 9th and through May 1st. For tickets or information visit Seattle Theatre Group online at www.stgpresents.org. For more information on the tour, visit newsiesthemusical.com.