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Review: REVIEW: DISNEY'S NEWSIES at Southern Theatre

Review: REVIEW: DISNEY'S NEWSIES at Southern Theatre

Strong performances, dancing lifts maudlin musical

Aristotle is credited with coming up with the phrase, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Had he witnessed the Columbus Children Theatre's production of DISNEY'S NEWSIES, the philosopher may have reversed the quotation to "the parts are greater than the sum of the whole." An energetic cast, sharp management by director Joe Deer and choreographer Vincent Sylvester, and tight orchestration by musical director Lara Brooks lifted a cheesy musical to stellar heights.

DISNEY'S NEWSIES runs Sept. 23 through Oct. 2 at the Southern Theatre (21 E. Main Street in downtown Columbus).

NEWSIES has so much going for it. It is inspired by a real-life event. In 1899, news hawkers in the streets of New York went on strike to protest the unfair practices of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. It is, as the character Katherine Pulitzer/Pullman describes in the show, "a real David and Goliath showdown" with the underclass and destitute workers going up against "the fat cats" - the power brokers who seem to hold all the cards.

Although newspapers are currently in the death throes, the subplot of how the media often controls the narrative of what is happening in the world is just as poignant (if not more important) today as it was in the 1890s. Just substitute the names of Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner in for the names for Pulitzer and Hearst and a large chunk of the show could be reset in 2022.

Adding to the win column for this run of NEWSIES is the way CCT, which enters its 60th season this year, brings the show to life. Hunter Minor is masterful as Jack Kelly, the charismatic leader of the newsies' strike. His booming tenor voice overcame some of the opening night sound miscues at the theatre and was captivating as the focal point of the show. The songs "Santa Fe" and "Something to Believe" shed light on Minor's singing range. In addition to his vocal gymnastics, Minor handles the show's considerable physical challenges including being chased through a labyrinth of escape ladders without appearing winded.

Deer surrounds Minor with equally talented actors including Alexa Clint (Katherine Pullman/Pulitzer), Matthew Phillips ("Crutchie"), Nick Van Atta (Davey), and Michael Broadhurst (Les) and Tirzah Washington (Medda Larkin).

Clint and Minor play off each other well as one of those couples whose relationship walks a thin line between love and hate. During the first meeting, Kelly is instantly smitten with Katherine while she does her best to ignore him. As the show progresses, Katherine's admiration for Kelly turns to love. At the time, Kelly begins to trust her less and less. Clint's highpoint is her navigation of the perilous dictional challenge of "Watch What Happens," a high-speed chase of a song similar to "The Speed Test" from THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE and "Modern Major General" from the HMS PINAFORE.

While Katherine pulls out a love story from Kelly, Phillips, Van Atta, Broadhurst and Washington also expose other sides of Kelly's and the show's personality. "Crutchie," a hobbled newsie, gives the show its heart/sentimentality, brothers Davey and Les keep Kelly grounded and focused and Larkin exposes Kelly's artistic side.

Chad Baker is the chief antagonist in the show as Joseph Pulitzer. However Baker's skillful portrayal of Pulitzer raises the character to much more than a greedy newspaper editor.

In fact, in the CCT version of NEWSIES, it is often hard to tell who the good guys are and who are the bad ones, often because they are played by the same people. Todd Covert plays the aptly named Wiesel, who enforces the price hikes of the newspapers, is also cast as the likeable deli owner Mr. Jacobi and the mayor while Brandon Boring also handles the dual roles of the affable Seitz, one of Mr. Pulitzer's office workers, and the villainous Snyder, who runs a refuge for wayward boys. Patrick Doss is multi-casted as Bunsen, the stage manager, and of course, Governor Roosevelt.

Some of the best parts of the show are the elaborate and jubilant dance sequences choreographed by Vincent Sylvester. Sylvester takes a diverse group of dancers ranging from college graduates like Reese Anthony, Megan Gifford and Ryan Patrick Jones to high school students like Tori Edwardson and Isidora Diaz to elementary school students like Josephine Boyd and lets them showcase their skills in tap and other high energy performances.

Providing the musical backbone of the show is a talented orchestra of Tony Richards and Harrison Ponce (keyboards), Mathew Kinnear (violin), James McDermott (cello), Robert Brooks (reed), Ben Guegold (trumpet), Parker Lewis (trombone), Larry Marotta (guitar/banjo), Josh Newburry (electric bass), Drew Martin (drums), and Will Mayer (percussion).

Where NEWSIES misses the mark is not in its performance but in its storytelling. Disney had a chance to make something real and powerful. Instead the audience is left with a 'Disneyification' of history. It adds a love story when it doesn't need one, makes some interesting characters one dimensional and hollow, and bacon wraps it in the mawkish lyrics of Jack Feldman.

Disney can produce great music. Alan Menken, who wrote the music for NEWSIES, and his former colleague, the late lyricist Howard Ashman, delivered some of Disney's best lyrics. Who else could rhyme "decorating" and "expectorating"? However, Feldman (who also co-wrote the lyrics to Barry Manilow's Copacabana), gives the audience such maudlin clunkers as this one from Crutchie's "Song from the Refuge," "These here guards, they is rude. They say "jump", boy, you jump or you're screwed! But the food ain't so bad, 'least so far, 'cause so far, they ain't brung us no food!"

Had this show had been trusted into the hands of lesser performers, musicians, and directors, NEWSIES could have been a colossal disappointment. However, this talented cast was more than strong enough to make up for some of the aspects of this inane script. And that makes it a story worth telling.



Latest Standings Released For The 2022 BroadwayWorld Columbus Awards; Short North Stage Le Photo
The latest standings as of Monday, December 5th, have been released for the 2022 BroadwayWorld Columbus Awards! Nominations were reader-submitted and now our readers get to vote for their favorites.

Photos: First look at Gallery Players THE SECRET GARDEN Photo
Orphaned while living in India, 10-year-old Mary Lennox returns to Yorkshire, England to live with her embittered, reclusive Uncle Archibald, whom she has never met. There, the ill-tempered and lonely Mary meets Martha, a chambermaid, who tells her of a secret garden which belonged to her aunt Lily before she died. Mary’s search for the garden introduces her to a slew of other characters and a spirited robin that seems to be trying to talk to her. Book and Lyrics by Marsha Norman, Music by Lucy Simon, Directed by Ross Shirley, Music Direction by Allan Finkelstein. Cast: Nadia Marshall, Ashley Winer, Jennifer Myers, Jay Rittberger, Amy Silver Judd, Michael Ruehrmund, Thor Collard, Nick van Atta, Michael Broadhurst, Molly Domanski, Deborah Brennan, Brady Brennan, Jacob Erney, Sonny Pierce, Dan Hildebrand, Alexa Rybinski, David Boley, Karen Sahlin, Lauren Bandman, Ajay Kumar, Madhavi Sudhir, Wendy Cohen, Laura Dachenbach. Performances run Dec. 3 - 18, 2022. Gallery Players, 1125 College Ave., Columbus, Ohio 43209. Please visit https://columbusjcc.org/the-secret-garden/ to get specific showtimes and purchase tickets.

Photos: First look at Curtain Players GOODBYE FREDDY Photo
On the occasion of Freddy's funeral and at his behest, six of his friends gather at the home of Hank and Kate in Kansas City, where five of them grew up. Hank and Kate were childhood sweethearts whose apparently idyllic relationship has proceeded uninterrupted through the years. Andy and Nessa were childhood sweethearts also, but are now divorced and living in New York. He's a successful advertising executive; she's the author of a bestselling roman à clef based on her friends' lives. Paul is the new Undersecretary for Eastern Affairs in Washington, and his wife, Alice, the only one who has not known the others since grammar school, is a housewife obsessed with the many infidelities she imagines Paul has committed. Hovering over them all is the spirit of Freddy, the only admitted homosexual in the group. As the liquor flows and memories (and recriminations) become more telling, Hank, in an emotional outburst, admits that he had been having an affair with Freddy for years prior to his death. Kate is overwhelmed by this revelation, the friends take sides and, as the night winds down into morning, facades are stripped away as no-holds-barred truth-telling replaces the party atmosphere with which the evening began. In the end Hank and Kate agree to strive for a more honest relationship, and the others, each in his or her own way affected by the absent Freddy, resolve to use the legacy of directness and honesty which he left them to set their own lives on firmer paths. Performances run Dec. 2 - 18, 2022 at Curtain Players, 5691 Harlem Road, Galena, Ohio 43021. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit: http://curtainplayers.org

Photos: First look at Pickerington Community Theatres FROZEN JR Photo
A story of true love and acceptance between sisters, Disney Frozen Jr. expands upon the emotional relationship and journey between Princesses Anna and Elsa. When faced with danger, the two discover their hidden potential and the powerful bond of sisterhood. With a cast of beloved characters and loaded with magic, adventure, and plenty of humor, Disney Frozen Jr. is sure to thaw even the coldest heart! Performances run Dec. 2 - 11, 2022 at the Wigwam Theater 10190 Blacklick-Eastern Road, Pickerington, OH 43147. For tickets: http://pickeringtoncommunitytheatre.org/


From This Author - Paul Batterson


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