Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Carla's review of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
It's hard to believe that Newsies ever made it to Broadway. It began life in 1992 as an original live-action movie musical, just what nobody was waiting for. It was a tremendous flop for Disney studios, costing $15 million to make and recouping less than $3 million. In days gone by, it would have faded into oblivion like so many thousands of other films have, but somehow it got a second wind on video (Christian Bale, of all people, was the star). In 2012, Disney, having already turned many of its animated features into megahit Broadway shows, put Newsies onto the stage, with a book by Harvey Fierstein (based on Bob Tzudiker Noni White's screenplay) but with the same composer and lyricist, Alan Menken and Jack Feldman. It ran for more than 1,000 performances, additional evidence that Disney still has the Midas touch.
Yet Newsies has to be the most un-Disney of all Disney shows. No fairy tales, no magic, no princesses, not an animal anywhere. It's the gritty story of the New York newsboys strike against Joseph Pulitzer in 1899. The way the business worked back then is that the newsboys had to buy their papers every day, 50 cents for a hundred, and try to sell them all. No refunds for unsold papers. Any loss was purely at the expense of the boys, not of the publishers. Pulitzer, depicted in this show as an archetypal capitalist pig, decides that the best way to up his profits is to charge the boys 60 cents for a hundred, and still not give them a refund.
What can you do when you're living hand to mouth, and ten cents is a lot of money? Strike! Strike! Strike! If the boys don't buy the papers, Pulitzer gets no money either. Does this sound like material for a musical, let alone a Disney musical? And yet it works.
Much of the pleasure it yields comes from the joy of seeing an energetic young cast giving it their all. Wow, this production has been well rehearsed. On opening night, I usually expect a flub or twoespecially when there's a cast of 24 wearing microphones, a live orchestra, a lot of set and lighting changes, and complex choreographybut it was flawless. Congratulations to Robb Sisneros (director), Jonathan Ragsdale (choreographer), Jenni Hipólito (music director), and Elizabeth Ponic (stage manager)also, Lando Ruiz (technical director), Dane Hopkins (sound), Joel Paul McKenzie (set design), Angela Robinson (props), and Shannon Scheffler and Katy Jacome (costumes). A fantastic job is done by all.
That includes the actors. When there are so many of them, and all of them are good, it's not quite fair to single out a few, but I'll do it anyway. Colin Burdge, in the lead role of Jack Kelly, has a fine tenor voice and is a good actor. Katherine Plumber, a journalist and romantic interest for Jack, is played well by Devon Griste; she has a rapid-fire Sondheim-esque song that she pulls off perfectly. This is the best performance I've seen from Lando Ruiz, as Davey. J. Mark Danley is appropriately despicable as Pulitzer. It's fun watching Jordan Embree change roles and accents. Evangeline Long is wonderful as the owner and star of a vaudeville/burlesque theater, Medda Larkin. As Crutchie, Corban Mejia overacts a bit early on, but has a very touching letter-writing scene from a reformatory.
All the other newsboys (augmented by a few women in male costuming) are amazing dancers and most of them create distinct characters that they portray very effectively. Jaaziah Vallano, Bradley Fuller, Jackson Murrieta, Seth Hanson, Daniel Ruddell, Santiago Baca, and Kale Brown (and a few more that I apologize for not mentioning) form this athletic and talented bunch. The one person I couldn't take my eyes off of is child actor Allen Dominguez, who plays Les; he is such a natural on stage that it's uncanny.
Newsies is the show that Musical Theatre Southwest had to cancel last year due to lack of funds. It's a big production, and I imagine that the licensing does not come cheap, since it's Disney. Fortunately for Albuquerque, MTS has survived to mount this show after all. It was definitely worth the wait.
Newsies, through August 11, 2019, at Musical Theatre Southwest, 6320 Domingo NE (just east of San Pedro, between Central and Copper), Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Tickets $23 to $25. For information and tickets, visit mtsabq.org. Even though this is an extended run of five weeks, the Black Box is a small theater, and a lot of performances are already sold out.