BWW Review: NEWSIES at Theatre Harrisburg
While the 1992 movie Newsies received mixed reviews and did not perform well in movie theaters, it developed quite a following as a home movie. The inspirational movie, based loosely on the historical newsboys' strike of 1899, starred Christian Bale as Jack Kelly and David Moscow as David Jacobs. In 2011 Disney Theatrical Productions adapted Newsies for the stage, and it opened on Broadway in 2012, earning eight Tony Award nominations. Disney's Newsies: The Broadway Musical, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and book by Harvey Fierstein, has found its way onto stages in many schools and community theatres, building up a new generation of Newsies fans. With its rousing musical numbers and high-energy dancing, Newsies is sure to bring audiences to their feet. Under the direction of Adam Gustafson and Kyle Weary, Theatre Harrisburg's Newsies opened at the Whitaker Center on November 2nd, when I had the opportunity to view this delightful show.
There were a few hiccups (not unusual for opening night). The group numbers through "The World Will Know" were often difficult to understand. It could be that this was a diction issue, as it's not always easy to enunciate while maintaining a New York accent. However, since the group numbers were much easier to understand later in the show, it may have been more of an issue of sound levels between the mics and the orchestra. Sadly, during Medda Larkin's main song, actress Abigail Weinel's mic kept cutting out. Weinel handled the situation beautifully, and her gorgeous voice carried through in spite of the sound issues. The pacing at the beginning of the show was a little slow as well, and there were a few times when it was obvious that actors were waiting and listening for their entrances on songs. As they got through their nerves and found their rhythm, the orchestra and cast came together beautifully.
Focusing for a moment on the production itself, the many volunteers who made this production possible are to be commended. The costumes, set, and lighting were wonderful and served to transport the audience to New York City at the time of the newsboys' strike. Set changes moved swiftly and smoothly with minimal fuss. The orchestra deserves special mention. From the opening music to the final number, the musicians were in synch, and it was easy to get carried away by the energy and emotion infused into the music.
Theatre Harrisburg put together a tremendous cast for Newsies. While there isn't room to mention each individual, there are a few performances that stood out in particular.
Garrett Curfman plays lead character Jack Kelly, leader of the newsies strike, with appropriate swagger and attitude. His chemistry with Katherine Lindsley's Katherine Plummer is heartwarming and adorable, as is his friendship with Jeremiah Joel's Crutchie. While Curfman's solo singing in this vocally difficult role is not always up to the challenge, his voice shines in his duet with Lindsley "Something to Believe In" as well as in his duet, trio, and quartet singing with Lindsley, Evan Beddia (who plays Davey Jacobs), and Alex King (as Les). The most spectacular part of Curfman's Jack Kelly is his dancing, which is equally athletic, energetic, and beautiful-the perfect combination for Newsies. Curfman's dancing chops are also evident in his work as the choreographer for the production.
Jeremiah Joel's portrayal of Crutchie is flawless, and I hope to see him in many more Theatre Harrisburg productions. His voice is beautiful and the emotion he can put into his singing captures the audience's attention and tugs at their heartstrings in "Letter from the Refuge". Even though his character cannot engage in the dancing, Joel's energy, body language, and facial expressions make him just as captivating to watch during the group numbers as those who are dancing. Joel's Crutchie is so good, I found myself wishing he had a larger role to play in this production.
Katherine Lindsley, as newswoman Katherine Plummer, is absolutely adorable. Her desire to become a "real" reporter in spite of her gender is at war with her insecurities, and Lindsley plays the part well-helping the audience to see and feel her excitement as well as her nervousness. "Watch What Happens" and "Something to Believe In" show off Lindsley's acting and vocal talent. The scene where Katherine finds Jack on his rooftop is one of the most touching scenes in the show. And when Katherine takes steps to defy her father, Joseph Pulitzer, by using his own printing press to further the cause of the newsies and other child workers, it is easy to get caught up in her devotion and fervor.
Alex King and Evan Beddia take on the roles of brothers Les and Davey Jacobs, and are definitely highlights in the show. King and Beddia balance each other well, really seeming like brothers, with Beddia capably playing the over-protective and responsible older brother while King entertains the audience as the playful and outgoing younger brother. Their voices are smooth and strong. Beddia's solo in "Seize the Day" is just what audience's who are familiar with Newsies hope to hear-it is clear and uplifting and makes the audience wish they could join in the fight.
Roger Lentz is the Joseph Pulitzer audiences will love to hate. Tyquan Reddick, Emmitt McKell, and Robb Papapietro as the Delancey brothers and Wiesl are great in their roles as the "muscle" behind Pulitzer's power. Aubrey Krepps and Grace Wolfe are delightful as the Bowery Beauties under the direction of Abigail Weinel's Medda Larkin, whose amazing voice soars in "That's Rich". Doug Macut, Larissa Curcio as Snyder (the despicable manager of the Refuge), Sam Krepps, and Timothy Weber round out the other non-newsie characters in the show. Curcio's demeanor and body language fit her role extremely well. Reddick, Krepps, Wolfe, Papapietro, Macut, Krepps, and Weber all portray various characters throughout the show and display great agility and versatility in their acting.
The Newsies, which include actors Jordan Marie Lewis, Cameron Snelbaker, Nicoletta Ariano, Grace Bowmaster, Daniel Hutchins, Natalie Mann, Lucy Martin, Danielle Miller, Fletcher Smith, Julia Toyer, and Chris Hobson, are a wonderful ensemble. Their harmonies in the group numbers are spot-on, and their dancing is fantastic. Of particular note is Jordan Marie Lewis, who also portrays Spot Conlon. Lewis is mesmerizing on stage as a featured dancer in many of the group numbers. Her fellow castmates seem to feed on her energy, heightening the experience of the entire show for the audience. The ensemble of Newsies work well together overall, creating a high-energy performance filled with passion and emotion.
Overall, in spite of a few flaws, Theatre Harrisburg's Newsies is a fun, inspirational, and exciting production. The fantastic dancing, authentic emotion, and chemistry between characters create a show that audiences of all ages will enjoy. Newsies is playing at the Whitaker Center through November 18th, so visit www.theatreharrisburg.com for your tickets today.