BWW Review: DISNEY'S NEWSIES - Delights With A Young, High Energy Cast
Playing this month at the Georgetown Palace Theatre is DISNEY'S NEWSIES, a high voltage new musical about the newspaper strikes in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. The show follows a group of newspaper boys who are struggling to make enough to help feed their families. Prior to child labor laws, children of all ages did everything from hawk papers on street corners to deliver groceries or work in factories doing minimal paying tasks for pennies a day. Grueling work for kids but for families in dire financial situations the jobs were a godsend.
The movie of the same name debuted in 1992 starring Christian Bale, Bill Pullman and Robert Duvall, while not a huge hit at the time, the film gained a loyal cult following and hit Broadway in 2011. Where the film failed to develop an audience, the musical from The Great White Way was an unmitigated success and for years has been touring the US to packed houses.
DISNEY'S NEWSIES is a perfect fit for The Palace in a multitude of ways. A trained corps of young dancers who fly effortlessly around the stage, clear, well taught voices who sing as one and David Sray a director who has an impeccable eye and a passion for new style musicals. His LEGALLY BLONDE was an utter delight. Sray strikes gold again with his very young cast, their obvious delight in performing is infectious.
The story begins with Joe (Jamaun Willis) and his friend Crutchie (Ben Schiesser) waking on a New York rooftop and heading to pick up their 'papes' (newspapers) to sell during the day. The system required the Newsies to purchase 'papes' at a set price, then go sell them at the cover the cost. The profit they make (pennies a paper) is what the get to keep. Enter Mr Pulitzer, who, like most businessmen wants a higher profit margin on his newspaper sales. The question is where to cut back? It's decided to charge the Newsies more per paper and make more profit out of the pockets of children. Pulitzer was a real prince, right? A strike of all the Newsies is organized by Jack and the long struggle for control begins. I won't spoil the ending here, but remember this is a Disney product and Disney shows don't have sad endings.
The entire cast is absolutely charming, their faces are so sweet and the energy expended on the Springer Stage could light Georgetown for a year. It's the choreography that is the real highlight of the production though. High leaps, ballet turns and acrobatics are a true delight. Choreographer Jesee Smart does an outstanding job of recreating the dance movies in the movie along with her own touches. The numbers are pure high voltage magic provided perfectly under David Blackburn's masterful music direction. The cast standouts are far too many to mention here but a few go above and beyond. Kali McBurney is charming and effervescent as Katherine, the young reporter trying to get her first byline. As Jack, Jamaun Willis is a perfect young leading man. He has the presence to capture our attention any time he is on stage and rouse our spirits to join his battle. Joel Johnson is so stinking adorable as the little brother you just want to pack him up and take him home. The performance I attended had some technical oopses that I'm certain have been fixed by now. The amazing set designed by Justin Dam, while it is perfection for the show is huge and requires a number of technicians to move it into place. A uniformed tech team moving quickly is a dream, but a single mover in a novelty t shirt can still be distracting (but then, I'm very picky about the technical aspects of theatre). Faith Castaneda's lighting design is simply glorious. Using color to evoke a nearly spiritual response is her forte and Castaneda is at the top of her game for NEWSIES. Costumes by Vivian Rico and A Cut Above Costumes are varied and period perfect. Which leads me to another thing that bugged me, Joseph Pulitzer played by Ross Millsap wore his long hair in a ponytail. While I understand not wanting to cut his beautiful red hair, it made him less believable in the role. Hair choices aside the show is well done and a joy to watch.
Ultimately, DISNEY'S NEWSIES is a high quality production in the Palace tradition. Delightfully fun from beginning to end, it's great entertainment for the entire family. If you have the opportunity to see it, I know you will agree. Director David Sray and his cast know how to get the most out of every moment and leave the audience with a song in their hearts and a skip in their step. Seize The Day indeed!
Directed by David Sray
The Palace Theatre
August 30 - September 29
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission
Tickets: $32 - $15 georgetownpalace.com