BWW Review: NEWSIES at CM Performing Arts Center
You don't have to be in the newspaper business to appreciate the magic of Disney's "Newsies" - currently running at CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale. What began as a box-office flop has become a beloved cult movie, hit Broadway musical, and now a sure-to-be community theatre staple. However, as always, CM's production goes above and beyond in terms of production value and talent - making for an exhilarating night at the theater.
Only a few minutes into the "won't-be-able-to-get-it-out-of-your-head-for-a-week" opening number, "Carrying the Banner," the audience met the cast with thunderous applause as the ragtag ensemble of newsboys filled the stage on opening night. It delightfully sets the tone for what's in store for the next two hours or so with male dancers executing backflips and leaps with ease.
For non-"fansies" - the self-proclaimed name of fans of the cult classic musical film turned hit stage production - the plot revolves around newsboy Jack Kelly and his fellow "newsies" as they face off against newspaper giant Joseph Pulitzer after he hikes up the price of the papers for the young workers. Although Harvey Fierstein's book takes many liberties - like the original film - the musical is based on the true story of the Newsboys' strike of 1899.
Bobby Peterson - a swing in Engeman's impressive production last summer - plays strike-leader Jack Kelly. Mr. Peterson radiates the inherent bravado of the character while balancing the vulnerability he tries to hide. He excels vocally while leading many group numbers and ending the first act with the powerful solo "Santa Fe."
By his side are the talented Hans Paul Hendrickson and Jojo Minasi. Mr. Hendrickson - last seen as Joseph in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" - plays Crutchie, providing both endearing comedic relief and pathos. The part is inherently written to create a beloved character and Mr. Hendrickson uses that to his advantage, stealing many a scene. He shines brightest in the quieter scenes of the show, especially the emotional "Letter from the Refuge" - added to the musical for touring productions and remaining for licensing.
Meanwhile, Mr. Minasi plays Davey - a new newsboy who left school to work while his father recovers from an injury. While Jack is the face of the strike, Davey is the brains of the operation. However, he finds his own voice over the course of the show and inspires his fellow newsies with the heartfelt "Seize the Day," showcasing Mr. Minasi's impressive vocal and acting abilities. By his side is his little brother Les, played by the talented young Ray Zerner - who earns the honor of being the first actor in the role I've actually found endearing despite the cliche kid one-liners.
"Newsies" improves upon the characters of Davey's sister and a male reporter in the film by fusing them into the fleshed out character of Katherine Plumber - a plucky, female reporter covering the strike who eventually develops feelings for Jack. Emily Sarra does a fine job in the role as she zips Jack and the newsboys with cheeky comments despite her ultimate affection for them and their cause. Ms. Sarra performs "Watch What Happens" - a love letter to anyone who has ever dealt with writer's block - with gusto, despite a few hitches with breathing during the challenging, rapidly paced song.
"Newsies" has no shortage of supporting roles. Gregg Sixt embodies a worthy villain for the newsboys as Joseph Pulitzer. While I wish Alan Menken - despite his incredible talents - penned a stronger song for the character, Mr. Sixt executes "The Bottom Line" perfectly. Meanwhile, Shaina Stroh is an absolute delight at vaudeville diva Medda Larkin, an ally for Jack Kelly and his friends. Her big number - "That's Rich" - seemingly comes out of left field in terms of plot, but Ms. Stroh charms with natural charisma and shows off incredible vocal chops. Additionally, Brendan Noble stands out with an appearance as then-governor Theodore Roosevelt - famous mustache and all.
However, the heart of the show is within its ensemble of newsies. It is obvious that each member of the cast is putting in 500 percent as they perform number after number of leaps, kicks, and other challenging pieces of choreography. All the while they are able to carve out specific personalities for their characters. It is a sheer feat to bring together so many male triple threats together on one stage, but CM has done it again!
With this production, director and choreographer Ashley Nicastro has cemented herself as an undeniable asset to CM and the Long Island theatre community in general. In addition to "Newsies," she also choreographed the production of "Evita" currently running at Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts. It is always inspiring to see such young talent on the rise and I'm sure we'll be seeing more from Ms. Nicastro in the near future.
As with every CM production, the entire team both on-stage and behind-the-scenes does a phenomenal job. Patrick Grossman's impressive set provides a view into the world of fire escapes on New York City skyline while Ronald Green III's period costumes are perfectly tailored for each member of this large cast.
Long Island has no shortage of theaters or productions running this month, but if you're looking for fun night of lighthearted musical theatre at its finest, "Newsies" at CM Performing Arts Center is the show to see. Visit CMPAC.com for tickets and additional information.