BWW Review: NEWSIES at Paramount Theatre
Paramount Theatre's production of DISNEY'S NEWSIES THE MUSICAL, directed by Jim Corti, offers a spirited, heartfelt take on the popular Tony Award winner. Originally a 1992 Disney movie musical, the cult favorite has attracted a whole new fandom since the stage adaptation opened on Broadway in 2012, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and book by Harvey Fierstein. Based on the true story of the 1899 New York City newsboys' strike, NEWSIES is best known for its rousing tunes and jaw-dropping dancing. With music direction by Tom Vendafreddo and choreography by Joshua Blake Carter, Corti's production nails these essential elements, while the cast give moving, layered performances as the ragtag band of brothers who faced down the giants of the 19th century press.
Alex Prakken stars as Jack Kelly, a 17-year-old orphan with dreams of trading the streets of New York for the open skies of Santa Fe. When Joseph Pulitzer (Bret Tuomi) initiates a citywide increase of the price newsies pay for their papers, Jack emerges as the leader of a strike that eventually encompasses all the child laborers of New York. In addition to impressive vocals, Prakken perfectly captures Jack's charm and charisma, with a mischievous sense of humor in lighter moments and fierce oratory skills when firing up his fellow strikers. He also brings a great deal of empathy to the role. From his opening scene with Crutchie, the crippled young newsie who looks up to Jack as a brother (Michael Kurowski), we see the heavy burden of care that he carries for his "family" of newsies. This sense of duty lays the groundwork for a character arc full of increasingly tough decisions as the strike drags on.
A strong supporting cast complements Prakken's performance. As an ensemble, the newsies deliver soaring harmonies and highly athletic dancing. Kurowski's Crutchie is endearingly sweet and unfailingly optimistic, even when imprisoned in a juvenile detention center euphemistically called "The Refuge." Koray Tarhan adds solid vocals as newest newsie Davey, who joins the workforce with little brother Les (played by Nathaniel Buescher on press night) when their father is injured on the job. Justine Cameron makes a poised professional debut as Katherine Plumber, the aspiring young reporter who lends her impassioned pen to the newsies' cause. With the newsies up against all the powers that be, the show has so many antagonists that their stage time is spread rather thin. However, Michael Ehlers deserves a special mention as Snyder, warden of The Refuge, whose sinister sneer and pencil-thin mustache bring to mind villains like Monsieur D'Arque and the Child Catcher.
Joshua Blake Carter's energetic choreography lives in the world of leaps, handsprings, pirouettes, and fist pumps that fans have come to expect from the movie and filmed Broadway production. Carter and Corti manipulate Paramount's large stage with innovative ways of moving cast members in and out, up and down, and all around William Boles' grandiose set. In tandem with Joe Burke's projections, Boles uses forced perspective to evoke the imposing cityscape that looms above the grimy streets where the newsies live and work. Jordan Ross's costumes distinguish Jack's Manhattan newsies--sporting a motley array of plaids, stripes, and checkered patterns--from the darker tones of their tough Brooklyn counterparts. The cohesive work of this creative team effectively draws the audience into the world of the show.
Perhaps the most lingering aspect of this production is its emphasis on unity. When the newsies convince child workers across the city to join their strike, a beautiful moment occurs. While reprising the stirring number, "Seize the Day," the ensemble carry picket signs in English, Italian, German, Greek, and Hebrew. This powerful image of young, diverse Americans standing together for justice is clearly meant to speak to our times. In the words of one biblically allusive sign, "A little child shall lead them"... if we will follow.
NEWSIES plays through October 20 at Paramount Theatre, 23 East Galena Boulevard, Aurora, IL 60506. Tickets are priced from $36 - $74 and are available at 630.896.6666 or ParamountAurora.com.
Photo by Liz Lauren
Review by Emily McClanathan