Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Jack Feldman. Book by Harvey Fierstein. Directed and choreographed by Julie Tomaino. A Theatre Under the Stars production. At Malkin Bowl on Wednesday, July 10. Continues until August 17
Based on the 1992 Disney film of the same name, Newsies is a musical set in 1899 about exploited children and teens working in media who band together and unionize. If singing plus dancing plus organized labour doesn’t sound like a dream come true, then you haven’t seen Newsies. Theatre Under the Stars’ ambitious production isn’t quite flawless, but it does boast charming performances and some of the most epic and impressive dance numbers in the company’s history.
Jack (Adam Charles) is the swaggering leader of the Lower Manhattan newsies, a group of young folks who scrape out a living for themselves and whatever family they have—if they have any family at all—buying newspapers and selling them on the streets. When Pulitzer (Jovanni Sy), the powerful newspaper publisher, decides he wants even more money, he jacks up the price it will cost the newsies to purchase the papers, thereby cutting into the kids' and teens’ meagre profits. Jack convinces his fellow newsies to unionize and strike for fair working conditions, which doesn’t sit well with the greedy Pulitzer or any of the other rich publishing magnates in New York.
Charles is a winning leading man and he shines on-stage. Jack is a complex character and a demanding role, and Charles handles it with the right combination of talent, heart, and attitude. Sy is having a blast as the pompous Pulitzer, and Julia Ullrich is excellent as Katherine, a young reporter who spars and flirts with Jack. Her solo is a vocal standout, and all of the ensemble numbers are powerfully executed, but there were a couple instances where it felt like a few different actors were more searching for a note than singing it. The cast’s varying capacities to handle the 1899 New York accent also proved jarring and a bit distracting from what is otherwise an exciting and inspiring production.
What’s most impressive and enjoyable about Newsies is just how cohesively this cast comes together, particularly in the incredible dance numbers. It’s a marvel to watch the group tackle such physically daunting and elaborate choreography. In part, it’s a testament to the vision and leadership of director and choreographer Julie Tomaino, and, just like a union, it’s also a testament to the power of the collective.