BWW Reviews: Extra! Extra! A Stellar NEWSIES At The Hobby Center!
What are the components of a great musical? Great music, entertaining choreography, and a storyline that draws you in. NEWSIES is popular for a reason- it has all the basic ingredients plus the pomp and liveliness of any Disney venture. What makes this production of NEWSIES special is that all of these elements are done with emotional commitment and drive. Every song is fully interpreted, the choreography is enacted with emotion and personal investment, the scenes are played out with passion and focus. Expertly directed by Jeff Calhoun, this is a cast that holds nothing back. I attended a Tuesday night performance and felt like I was getting a Saturday night closing show with a cast that was pulling out all the stops.
NEWSIES is based on a true story about New York paper buskers at the end of the 1800s. The poor orphans and homeless boys who sell the city's papers go on strike when the publisher of The World, Joseph Pulitzer, raises the rates on the price of newspapers. Jack Kelly (played by the wonderful Michael Ryan) and his band of newsies refuse to pay the inflated price and decide to start a union. As Jack enlists other newsboys in other burroughs of New York to join their strike, Pulitzer has it in for Jack and tries to end their objective. The crux of the script is the battle between the rich, puffed up Pulitzer and cronies, and Jack and the newsboys. There is, of course, a romance that runs through the main plot. Katherine (played by the plucky Stephanie Styles) is a writer, an aspiring journalist, and she joins in Jack's crusade as she writes news stories that chronicle their strike. The romance between Katherine and Jack is sassy and fun, with apparent class differences fueling the chemistry.
NEWSIES is known for it's energetic tunes and this production in particular is vocally excellent. "The World Will Know" and "Seize The Day" are superb anthems. The young men in the cast sound sublime together with sure harmonies and exultant energy. "Santa Fe", sung by understudy Michael Ryan (filling in for Dan DeLuca) at the end of Act One, is emotionally generous and revelatory. Ryan gives it everything he's got and it's exhilarating.
Stephanie Styles is eminently likable as Katherine, the scrappy engenue. This isn't a drippy girl pining after her man, but a young woman with goals and grit. The scenes with Styles and Ryan are spicy fun so that when the romance does happen it's enjoyable, not cloying. "Watch What Happens" is a tricky song with pattering lyrics and switch-up emotions and Styles handles it with appealing quirkiness.
Angela Grovey is sultry and warm as Medda Larkin, the dance hall singer who encourages Jack's artistic talent. Zachary Sayle is perfectly cast as the sympathetic Crutchie and sings "Letter From The Refuge" with with childlike innocence and humor. Jacob Kemp plays the book-smart Davey, the boy who actually has a home and parents, but is selling papers to help his out-of-work father. Kemp is very enjoyable to watch and listen to and he embodies the nice Jewish boy character nicely. Vincent Crocilla plays his little brother, Les, with good comedic timing and nice chemistry with the older actors.
Steve Blanchard fills the Hobby Center with his silky voice and authoritative presence. He plays a grand Joseph Pulitzer, the self-important newspaper baron, with natural ease.
One of the stars of the show is Christopher Gatelli's choreography. Stomp, tap, pirouettes, leaps, and various gymnastic feats are on display in several numbers. It's Broadway at it's visual best. The tap number in "King Of New York" is especially thrilling. The actors are dazzling in their execution and thoroughly present.
The incredible set by Tobin Ost is a three-story interlocking metal movable tower that slides back and forth, creating an industrialized New York where the boys live and work. Projected buildings, newsprint, and drawings are projected onto large screens on the tower, contributing details and visual interest to many scenes.
This is a must-see production, the kind of experience that is not unlike a great ride at Disneyland; when it's over you think, "Let's do it again!"
For Tickets to NEWSIES: http://www.thehobbycenter.org/
Photo Credits: Deen Van Meer