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BWW REVIEW: Dancers Bring Something Extra to NEWSIES National Tour

Music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Jack Feldman; book by Harvey Fierstein; based on the Disney film written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White; directed by Jeff Calhoun; choreographed by Christopher Gatelli; orchestrations by Danny Troob; music supervised and arranged by Michael Kosarin; music director, James Dodgson; scenic design, Tobin Ost; costume design, Jess Goldstein; lighting design, Jeff Croiter; sound design, Ken Travis; original Broadway projection design, Sven Ortel; projection adaptation, Daniel Brodie; hair and wig design, Charles G. LaPointe; fight direction, J. Allen Suddeth

Cast in Order of Appearance:

Jack Kelly, Dan DeLuca; Crutchie, Zachary Sayle; Race, Benjamin Cook; Albert, Sky Flaherty; Specs, Jordan Samuels; Henry, JP Ferreri at the reviewed performance; Finch, Julian DeGuzman; Elmer, Jeff Heimbrock; Romeo, Nico DeJesus; Mush, Jack Sippel; Katherine, Stephanie Styles; Darcy, Joshua Burrage; Nuns, Angela Grovey, Meredith Inglesby, Morgan Keene; Morris Delancey, Michael Ryan; Oscar Delancey, Alex Prakken; Wiesel, Mr. Jacobi and Mayor, Michael Gorman; Davey, Jacob Kemp; Les, Vincent Croccilla at the reviewed performance alternating with Anthony Rosenthal; Joseph Pulitzer, Steve Blanchard; Seitz, Mark Aldrich; Bunsen and Stage Manager, Bill Bateman; Hannah, Meredith Insglesby; Snyder, James Judy; Medda Larkin, Angela Grovey; Scab, Evan Autio, Sky Flaherty, Chaz Wolcott; Spot Conlon, Jeff Heimbrock; Bill, Jack Sippel; Governor Roosevelt, Kevin Carolan

Performances and Tickets:

Now through July 5, Broadway in Boston, Boston Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston, Mass.; Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday, July 3 at 1:00 and 8:00 p.m., Saturday, July 4 at 2 p.m. (no 8:00 p.m. performance), Sunday at 1:00 and 6:30 p.m.; tickets start at $44 and are available at the Boston Opera House Box Office Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., online at www.BroadwayinBoston.com or by calling Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787.

One generally knows what to expect when attending a Disney stage musical: the wholesome triumph of good over evil; a handsome if somewhat cocky young hero who's usually bested by a beautiful if somewhat feisty young heroine; a lovable sidekick who either needs saving or helps save the day; and an assortment of one-dimensional villains and cartoon stereotypes who add mild dramatic tension and comic relief. All of these familiar family-friendly tropes and more can be found in NEWSIES, the high-energy 2012 Broadway musical currently on tour at the Boston Opera House.

NEWSIES is based on the popular 1992 movie musical of the same name and is inspired by the real-life "Newsboy Strike of 1899." When then newsboy Kid Blink (here renamed Jack Kelly) led a band of orphan and runaway "newsies" to fight the oppressive business practices of New York newspaper publishing giants Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, their daring two-week-long work stoppage caused so much turmoil and gained so much attention that it became one of the catalysts for unionization, fairer wages and child labor reform.

The physical staging of NEWSIES captures much of that gritty early American industrial era with a looming set of three-storied steel girders and perfectly detailed Victorian garb. But the music tips heavily toward the modern, with Disney mainstay Alan Menken infusing his eclectic Tony Award-winning score with pop inflections we have heard before. The sound design is also heavily electronic with so much amplification and programming that some of the characters appear to be auto-tuned. Dan DeLuca as Jack in particular could be appearing in a music video given how pinched, nasal and affected his singing is. This annoyance is unfortunate since it detracts from an otherwise terrific performance.

As the street-wise Jack, DeLuca has just the right amount of swagger and sincerity to rally disparate gangs of newsies from the Bronx to Brooklyn and everywhere in between. He's not afraid to stand up to the most powerful publishers in the city, and he does so with considerable wit and very appealing bad-boy charm. DeLuca also reveals Jack's sensitive artist side when dreaming of a better life in "Santa Fe" or when finally letting himself have "Something to Believe In" alongside Katherine (Stephanie Styles), the cub reporter whose break-out story about the newsboy strike has catapulted their cause into the headlines, onto the front page above the fold.

Styles is a crackerjack as Katherine, refined yet spirited, ambitious yet principled. She spars with Jack toe to toe in the early going, but as they warm to each other and gain mutual respect, she dives right in to work shoulder to shoulder. Styles has a great singing voice, with that characteristic Disney princess clarity, and she triumphs with the best solo in the show, "Watch What Happens." During this rousing self-motivating soliloquy she juggles determination with indecision, processing the various angles she could take in writing a hard news story. As she struggles - sometimes seriously, sometimes comically - to find just the right words to crack the newspaper industry's corrupt child labor practices wide open, she reveals her own inner story, as well.

Many fine supporting performances buoy the musical along the way to its predictable "love conquers all" conclusion. Jacob Kemp is a likable Davey, the nervous newcomer who gains strength and conviction once he finds his niche as Jack's strategic adviser. Vincent Crocilla is a delightful Les, Davey's younger, gutsier brother. Steve Blanchard is suitably pompous as Joseph Pulitzer, the newspaper mogul who cares only about money and power, while Angela Grovey brings a big voice and even bigger heart to the role of Medda Larkin, the burlesque theater owner who offers refuge and common sense to Jack and his ragtag cohorts. Zachary Sayle is the quintessential poster boy Crutchie, the wistful orphan who looks to Jack for inspiration but ends up inspiring him, instead. His heartfelt "Letter from the Refuge" is one of the vocal highlights of the show.

At the end of the day, though, it is the leaping, tumbling, athletic and acrobatic newsies who make Disney's NEWSIES soar. The dozen or so fit-as-a-fiddle chorus boys defy gravity in any number of gasp-inducing positions, scaling tables, fire escapes, wagons and even the Brooklyn Bridge. In "Seize the Day" they literally make mincemeat out of the city's newspapers by ripping them apart in unison with their feet. In "King of New York" they exuberantly celebrate their moral victory against the establishment, even though their physical battle was lost.

Book writer Harvey Fierstein has woven a typical Disney romance into the heart of NEWSIES, but it is the rough and tumble story of the newsboys that really makes this musical sing. When the scrappy band of tough-talking orphans take center stage, it is obvious that they are fighting for their lives. When they ratchet up the testosterone and kick up their heels to dance, they deliver the knock-out punch.

PHOTOS BY DEEN VAN MEER: The national touring cast of NEWSIES; Stephanie Styles as Katherine and Dan DeLuca as Jack Kelly; Dan DeLuca (center) and the cast of NEWSIES; Dan DeLuca (center) and the cast of NEWSIES; the cast of NEWSIES


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From This Author Jan Nargi