BWW Reviews: NEWSIES Brings High Energy to Belk Theater
Disney's NEWSIES Broadway's Smash Hit Musical is at Blumenthal Performing Arts Belk Theater until Sunday, January 11, 2015. This show received eight Tony Award® nominations and won for best Score and Choreography. Presented by Blumenthal Performing Arts, a subscription offering of the PNC Broadway Lights season. Due to limited ticket availability, Blumenthal Performing Arts recommends contacting the Belk Theater Box Office at (704) 372-1000 for seats.
A Disney show is always entertaining and NEWSIES, skillfully directed by Jeff Calhoun, has the Disney stamp of authenticity. Loosely based on the real life story of the newsboys' strike of 1899, NEWSIES brings this story to life with incredible dancing, tumbling and singing depicting youth of past; young street urchins, who sell newspapers to make enough money to survive. The group's leader is Jack Kelly, a 17 year-old teen, portrayed stunningly by Dan DeLuca, who is a strong actor, singer and dancer. The other striking NEWSIE notables for their never faltering commitment to character include Crutchie, a boy with a handicap, portrayed by Zachary Sayle, and Davey and his little brother, Les, who start selling papers to bring income to their family, portrayed by Jacob Kemp and Anthony Rosenthal.
The songs, written by Alan Menken with lyrics by Jack Feldman, are captivating and wonderful, but at times, so Disneyesque in cookie cutter fashion, that I wasn't able to differentiate if the music was from NEWSIES, "Aladdin", "The Little Mermaid" or "Beauty and the Beast." But still, NEWSIES' songs pack energy. The dancing complements the music with bursts of acrobatics, pirouettes, newspaper shuffling and even a little tapping, choreographed creatively by Christopher Gattelli.
The story starts with the trolley strike in New York City. It's tough news to sell by its third week. Paper sales are dropping and "The World" paper mogul, Joseph Pulitzer, portrayed by Steve Blanchard, decides to increase the cost of papers to the boys who sell his papers on the streets. They have to pay upfront and they can't return unsold papers.
The book for this story was written by Harvey Fierstein with Fierstein's humor throughout. Based on the Disney film written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White. It's a "David and Goliath" story, where the underdog realizes his power with the help of a young journalist, Katherine Plumber, who is portrayed with heart, by Stephanie Styles, the boys' strike becomes front-page news. There are times in this story when the emotion in song and action doesn't give the depth hoped for in a story about brotherhood and friendship. This includes when Crutchie is taken by the town villain, Snyder, portrayed by James Judy, who receives money for incarcerating young boys in the Refuge. When Jack returns to his outdoor home on the roof of the tenement and Crutchie isn't there, it's a little lost on Jack; a script flaw. The love story of Jack and Katherine grows beautifully. There is chemistry between these actors, which comes alive onstage. And Pulitzer's henchmen, who rough up the paperboys have the demeanor of the hyenas in Disney's "The Lion King."
The staging was creatively designed with metal structures that were used for elevated stations, balconies and tenement fire escapes. This allowed for staging to keep moving vertically and horizontally. The flymen should receive kudos for their fine handling of bringing staging in and out. The costumes were authentic, created by Jess Goldstein. And recognition goes to vaudevillian thespian, Medda Larkin, portrayed by Angela Grovey, for her flirtatious and humorous charm.
This right-to-work community of Charlotte stood to cheer the story of these boys who banned together for form a union to protect their rights. I wonder if that tells you something.