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Review: 3-D Theatricals Returns with Disney's Triumphant, High-Energy Musical NEWSIES

A plucky, high-spirited new mounting of the Broadway hit NEWSIES marks the long-awaited return of 3-D Theatrical's dazzling productions to So. Cal.

Review: 3-D Theatricals Returns with Disney's Triumphant, High-Energy Musical NEWSIES
The cast of 3-D Theatricals' NEWSIES

Full disclosure: I am, for lack of a better term, a self-identifying "Fansie"---the cutesy nickname affectionately given to devoted fans of Disney's hit Broadway stage musical adaptation NEWSIES, the valiant little-show-that-could that rose from a quiet out-of-town limited-run tryout into a surprise smash hit that earned multiple Tony Award nominations and continues to be enjoyed by all ages in regional productions worldwide.

Not only was it the very first Broadway production I ever saw (with most of its original cast) on my first ever trip to New York City, the show has also earned a soft spot in my heart via its subsequent national tour stops over the years, culminating in the closing tour production at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood that was eventually captured live for a feature-length theatrically-released film (that is now available to stream on Disney+).

My love of the show, however, actually stretches even further back to its original source material: Disney's 1992 Kenny Ortega-directed live action movie musical starring Bill Pullman and a (then) very young Christian Bale. As a much younger musical theater nut at the time, I was one of the few people (that I directly knew of) who asked their parents for a few bucks to see the film on the big screen during its opening weekend. Alas, despite my paltry contribution of a ticket purchase, the film---written for the screen by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White and features original songs from composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman---ended up becoming both a critical and box office bomb.

But thanks to the magic of repeat Disney Channel airings and a home video release, the film soon earned a rabid and very vocal cult following, particularly amongst younger audiences of the time who unapologetically enjoyed the movie's hummable songs, its rousing dance numbers, and its charismatic (if weakly formed) characters. Finally, younger me didn't feel so alone---it felt great knowing that many of my peers loved it, too, despite its undeniable and sometimes laughable flaws.

Review: 3-D Theatricals Returns with Disney's Triumphant, High-Energy Musical NEWSIES
Allison Sheppard (center) and the cast of 3-D Theatricals' NEWSIES

In the decades since, NEWSIES' nostalgic hold over Gen-X'ers, Millennials, and even some older Gen-Z'ers reportedly propelled it to become the most frequently requested IP to be made available for theatrical productions from Disney.

So, naturally, when a stage adaptation of the movie finally went from being just a mere rumor to an actual, honest-to-goodness fully-produced stage show at the Paper Mill Playhouse in 2011, Fansies like myself lost their collective marbles. At long last, the stage iteration of the movie musical inspired by the real-life New York City Newsboys Strike of 1899 is finally going to be a reality!

What's even more awesome is that not only do audiences get additional songs written by Menken and Feldman for the stage adaptation, it also now gets a retooled/enhanced book courtesy of Tony Award-winning playwright Harvey Fierstein, too! The resulting stage adaptation of NEWSIES---which transferred to Broadway in 2012 under the direction of Jeff Calhoun---is, in my opinion, quite an improvement from the original movie. Period.

Thankfully, unlike the movie, the Broadway adaptation was a huge, instant hit and is now the basis for a brand new regional production currently on stage at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts through May 29, 2022. After a two-year delay due to COVID shutdowns, this long-awaited So. Cal. revival of NEWSIES marks the much-anticipated live and in-person return of 3-D Theatricals, the award-winning production company whose past shows in this state-of-the-art venue have been uniformly spectacular and top-notch.

The wait, as they say, was worth it.

Review: 3-D Theatricals Returns with Disney's Triumphant, High-Energy Musical NEWSIES
The cast of 3-D Theatricals' NEWSIES

To no one's surprise, 3-DT's NEWSIES---directed with explosive rah-rah bombast by 3-DT's own artistic director TJ Dawson---is immensely enjoyable and highly-entertaining at its deepest core. From its memorable vocal performances and colorful, eye-popping visuals to its rousing, high-energy dance numbers that urges all to cheer, this production's thematic goal is to keep things as buoyant and as celebratory as possible---and they handily succeed.

Chief in that effort is the recruitment of choreographer Chaz Wolcott, a veteran cast member of the NEWSIES first national tour for two years, who has come to Cerritos to faithfully recreate Christopher Gattelli's Tony Award-winning dance routines full-tilt. And, wow, it is just stunning at times---and, yes, the dancing-on-newspapers have returned! The power and athleticism and über-caffeinated energy on full display is simply outstanding (on a side note, my friend and I seated fourth row in the center section were sooo nervous for the tumblers the whole time, as they kept successfully landing their acrobatic finishes mere inches from the edge of the orchestra pit).

Visually, the show also pops much more with vigorous life. Recalling the movable tall metal structures of the Broadway and touring productions, scenic designer Bruce Brockman contrasts his versions of these dark mobile metallic scaffolding units with more colorful structures as well as Andrew Nagy's vibrant bursts of seemingly spray-painted color projections in the background, and enhanced further by Jean-Yves Tessier's lighting. Dixon Reynolds' costume designs meanwhile offer a modern-leaning wink embedded in the cast's turn-of-the-century garb. After all, the real newsies in 1899 didn't have to tumble like this to express their emotions.

Sound-wise, the pit orchestra under the meticulous baton of musical director Julie Lamoureux sounds full and well-rounded, but cast microphones---and the ongoing struggle of whether to keep them on at critical moments---could use further fine-tuning (friendly suggestion: with such a large ensemble of ping-ponging soloists uttering lyrical bon mots throughout, would it be possible to just keep every anticipated soloists' mics turned to the full-volume position until the end of the song?).

Review: 3-D Theatricals Returns with Disney's Triumphant, High-Energy Musical NEWSIES
Kyle Frattini and Dillon Klena

But when the entire company sings and dances together with unified purpose---like in the choruses of "Carrying the Banner," "The World Will Know," "Seize the Day," and the terrific Act 2 Opener " King of New York" everyone sounds AMAzing.

Much like the show's now more likable and more charming characters (something Fierstein should be thanked for), 3-DT's production itself is a similarly likable, smile-inducing presentation that endears itself quickly (and often). The show has been strategically designed to make theatergoers collectively root for the success of its motley band of tenacious teenage misfits---an ad hoc "family" of mostly orphaned and homeless ne'er-do-wells led by their charismatic, street-smart leader Jack Kelly (the ferociously intense Dillon Klena), a budding fine-artist who dreams of someday escaping far away to the clay-dusted vistas of the West, but is held back by the incessant pull of his neighborhood roots and their innate struggles.

Here, the main conflict is kept simple and yet still relatively engaging: Adults = bad. Young People = used and abused. It helps that we feel obliged to always cheer on their causes and missions at each turn because, daaaang, these kids can really sing and dance up a storm!

When profit-hungry New York World publisher Joseph Pulitzer (a ham-tastic Norman Large) decides to gouge every city newsboy of their already minuscule earnings by raising the price of 100 newspapers an extra 10 cents, Jack and his fellow "papes"-sellers defy conventional thinking and are urged to go on a city-wide strike, sparking a make-shift revolution towards unionizing the city's entire underage workforce.

Helping to make Jack's plan move forward is his trusted inner circle, which includes his best friend Crutchie (Kyle Frattini), Burlesque theater owner/performer and Jack's art patron Medda Larkin (the fab Carrie Compere), and some fresh newboys, smarty-pants Davey (Rod Bagheri) and his smart-alecky little brother Les (Colton Dorfman), a pair of non-orphan newbies who had to quit school in order to help their parents financially while their newly unemployed father is home-bound recovering from a work-related injury.

Along the way, Jack has a fortuitously-timed rom-com meet-cute with a strong-willed female journalist named Katherine (the lovely-voiced Allison Sheppard), an ambitious and enterprising young woman who is longing to break out of doing menial, small theater coverage and instead move into more headline-grabbing front-page news territory at her workplace, The New York Sun. She seizes on fulfilling this opportunity when she learns about the struggles of the newsies and their planned defiance of Pulitzer's price hike.

And even with her personal, um, "objections" to Jack (uh huh), she decides that dealing with him and his pushy, egotistical personality is worth the inconvenience---if it means she gets direct exclusive journalistic access to his crew's revolutionary machinations. Natch, the two are flirting real hard with each other during all of this.

As expected, obstacles and complications crop up at every turn as the newsboys (and, yes, newsgirls, too) try their hardest to earn their right to be heard and taken seriously---punctuated by high-flying, fierce dance moves while doing it.

Spirited and genuinely fun, this exciting new production of NEWSIES---despite many aforementioned Opening Night microphone gaffes that, sadly, left many ensemble members indecipherable and unheard---is, overall, a resounding theatrical triumph, filled with peppy, dynamic musical numbers, triumphant moments, and belt-tastic ballads that will ensure audiences of varying ages entertained.

The infectiously giddy energy and the sheer joy of performing beaming from the show's cast is palpable---which makes it all the more wonderful to experience as an audience member. And as a fansie, I was quite impressed.

Review: 3-D Theatricals Returns with Disney's Triumphant, High-Energy Musical NEWSIES
Allison Sheppard

As Jack Kelly, Dillon Klena exuded unmissable intensity with his character's many emotional peaks, which serves him well in the defiant "The World Will Know" and in his beautifully-delivered big Act 1 finalé ballad "Santa Fe" (talent obviously runs in the family---Dillon's older brother is Broadway star Derek, now starring in MOULIN ROUGE). Appropriately enough, his intensity is softened with his duets with Sheppard, first in the flirty "I Never Planned On You," and then later in the unabashedly romantic "Something To Believe In."

For her part, Sheppard is wonderful in her beautifully manic "Watch What Happens," making many terrific vocal choices that made the song purposeful and telling. And I absolutely loved Compere's take on Medda, and she seems to be having a grand time with her sultry, playful "That's Rich."

But, arguably, what really gets the crowd going is whenever the exuberantly joyful newsies themselves---the very heart and spirit of this show---are all together on stage putting on their show of force, whether in their syncopated, acrobatic dancing, their playful, rakish banter, or in their lovely blended harmonies. We all came here to see them seize the day, and, thankfully, they do.

Photos by Caught In The Moment courtesy of 3-D Theatricals.

Performances of Disney's NEWSIES: THE MUSICAL, Presented by 3-D Theatricals at The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts continue through Sunday, May 29, 2022. The theater is located at 18000 Park Plaza Drive in the city of Cerritos, CA.



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