BWW Chicago Reviews: NEWSIES Tour a hit!

The American labor union movement is at an all-time low with former solid union states like Wisconsin now "right to work (for less)" states. It makes the success of Disney's "Newsies" even more of a head-scratcher. There perhaps has never been a more pro-union musical than this. Perhaps if the average Teamster or UAW member looked and danced like the cast of NEWSIES it would be a different story, but I digress.

I suspect the masses might be glossing over the plot in which -in the days before child labor laws-a ragtag group of newspaper carriers stood up to the powerful news barons of the day to protest unfair work conditions.

And it's easy to gloss over the plot of the show thanks in particular to the choreography by Christopher Gattelli. Simply put, this is some of the best male dancing you are likely to see this or any other season. The cast leaps, somersaults and does soft-shoe on sheets of newsprint. It's exuberant and a joy to watch.

The heart of the show belongs to Dan DeLuca who stars as Jack Kelly. Street-wise and aged more than his 17 years, Kelly has the heart of a poet and when not hustling to sell newspapers, he paints scenic backdrops for a vaudeville house that contain all the places he hopes to someday see. DeLuca perfectly captures the youthful longing to break free in the opening numer "Sante Fe."

His ragtag "family" of other homeless NEWSIES also includes Crutchie (so named as he uses a crutch to walk; a sensative and comedic Zachary Sayle) and brothers Davey (Jacob Kemp) and Les (played on the night I saw the show by Vincent Crocilla) who are new to news peddling when their father is injured at work and laid off (least you take for granted Wokman's compensation, rest assured there was a time you could be injured at work and fired without compensation).

The rest of the NEWSIES have fleeting individual moments and personalities, but little to do with the plot. While their character work may not make them memorable, their footwork does. The ensemble includes Benjamin Cook, Sky Flaherty, Jordan Samuels, DeMarius R. Copes, Julian DeGuzman, Jeff Heimbrock, Nico DeJesus and Jack Sippel. It's hard to have a standout when your entire ensemble stands out. This was truly some of the most synchronized and visually stunning chorography I've seen in a national tour.

Rounding out the cast: Katherine (Stephanie Styles), a young journalist trying to make a name for herself in the male-dominated newspaper world, sees the strike for the "David vs. Goliath" battle that it is and begins to write about it. The pressure to get the story right almost proves to be too much for her. Anyone who has every filed on a deadline will certain appreciate her struggle to find the words that count while staring at the blank page as she does in the belter "Watch What Happens."

As the theater owner and vaudeville star who is Jack's arts patron Medda, Angela Grovey is equal parts Pearl Bailey and Mae West and makes the most of her bluesy solo number "That's Rich."

The book by Harvey Fierstein suffers from the same fate suffered in the original film by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White in that the ending is some what weak (one still gets the sense that noone is still quite sure how to end this show). The music by Alan Menken (with lyrics by Jack Feldman) contains more than its fair share of songs that could be anthems ("Carrying the Banner" and "Seize the Day"). Of the two, "Seize the Day" is certainly more rousing. It was the second act opener "King of New York" (a song I hated in the original film) that I strangely couldn't get out of my head. NEWSIES, you have worn me down. Your energy is infectious.

NEWSIES runs through Jan. 4, 2015 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph. Tickets, $40-$130. Call 800-775-2000.

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From This Author Misha Davenport