Review: NEWSIES at Seacoast Repertory Theatre

Dazzling Footwork on the Seacoast Stage

By: May. 28, 2023
Review: NEWSIES at Seacoast Repertory Theatre
Review: NEWSIES at Seacoast Repertory Theatre Review: NEWSIES at Seacoast Repertory Theatre

As a Disney film released in 1992, Newsies never quite reached the success of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, both spearheaded by the songwriting team, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. The film never quite found an audience like the other hits.

But in 2012, it made its debut on the musical theater stage where it found a home due mostly to a very young and engaging cast storming the theater with high energy dancing, (bordering on competition gymnastic routines), spirited tunes that stir the heart and mind, and a plot that pits the underdog against the upper echelons of the world. (In musical theater, we love underdogs.)

In the hands of director and choreographer, Jason Faria, the Seacoast Repertory Theatre’s production of Newsies is a mind-blowing experience featuring dozens of talented youths telling an uplifting story.

The story comes from a real-life strike in 1899 where the newsboys (those youth, both boys and girls, that sold newspapers on street corners) led a campaign to change the way that Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst's newspapers compensated their newspaper hawkers. Newsies bought papers at 50 cents per hundred, and sold them at 1 cent each, for a profit of half a cent per paper. With no prior notice, the price for papers went from 50 cents per hundred to 60 cents. In addition, there was no reimbursement for unsold papers. Disgruntled, the Newsies went on strike.

The strike lasted two weeks, causing Pulitzer's New York World to decrease its circulation from 360,000 papers sold per day to 125,000. When all was settled, the price of papers was not lowered, but the newspaper giants offered full buybacks to their sellers, thus increasing the amount of money that newsies received for their work.

The musical adaptation depicts the historic event showing that a group of street urchins living in squalid conditions could take on a mighty corporate powerhouse and bring them to their knees.

The show centers around Jack Kelly (Matthew Clemetson) a rabble-rousing newsie who spearheads the union effort. He is a native New Yorker caught in the throes of helplessness and poverty who often dreams of a more serene and better life, in his mythic image of Sante Fe, New Mexico. (He’s a bit of an artist who even sketches drawings of the place though it seems he’s never been there.) Jack is at his best when there’s a problem to be solved and he finds his calling while leading the striking Newsies.

His circle of friends includes a crippled sidekick, aptly named Crutchie (Aidan Campbell), and Davey (Jared LeMay)  and his brother, Les (Holden King-Farbstein), the two being more privileged Newsies whose family has been brought to its feet with a father out of work. (If he only had a union!) And there’s lots of surprises in store for Jack  from a bright-eyed youthful beauty, Katherine Plumber (Morgan Kyle) an aspiring reporter who has one eye on helping the Newsies in their strike and another eye on becoming Jack's love interest.

Ben Hart plays the role of  Joseph Pulitzer, the newspaper magnate more interested in profit than in the impoverished lives of the Newsies.

Remember that Seacoast Repertory Theater is exactly that, a repertory company where the same performers appear in show after show during the season. That’s something I’ve come to enjoy at the Portsmouth theater.

It seems there is no moment to pause between productions as the recent leads from Ghost the Musical  presented at Seacoast appear in this show in full force. Alyssa Dumas always finds herself in a lead role, an ensemble number or in a comic walk on part or two.  Sean Mullaney and Sam Robert Rogers fresh from their lead roles entertain wonderfully in supporting roles in Newsies. Alexandra Mullaney, who had show stopping numbers in the previous production, shines brightly as a dance hall girl, Medda Larkin.

Clemetson is brilliant in his role with tremendous stage presence. He nails every number perfectly and his song with Kyle, “Something to Believe In” is a charmer. His rendition of “Santa Fe” with Aidan Campbell is a powerful number, though I find the tune oddly placed as a show opener with no previous introduction to the plot or characters. In fact, I find the entire Santa Fe theme out of synch with the rest of the show.

Kyle even gets to sell a song about a journalist’s often challenging task of writing a news lead, “Watch What Happens”, with a perky excitement, that I can’t say I’ve experienced as a writer.

LeMay is steady as the brains behind the strike and King-Garbstein, is delightfully impish as one of the youngest members in the cast. He’s a cute kid from Exeter who knows the stage well.  

And then there are the Newsies, an assortment of youthful boys and girls, pouring their theatrical hearts out in this energized production. And kudos to a very nice touch in casting. The Bronx newsies, considered the most powerful and influential of all the New York City boroughs, is played by all females.

Beyond individual performances and stirring vocal numbers, the real star of this show is the incredible choreographed numbers played out in street scenes, on stage scaffolding, and in fight scenes using every type of dance and, occasionally, props. (Folks in the front rows get nervous when there is stick fighting during a mob scene between the Newsies, newspaper staff and police squelching their union uprising.

Every dance style is there from hip hop to acrobatics with back flips and high jumps and tap numbers that amaze. Seeing such spirited youth in ensemble vocals and fierce toe tapping numbers that literally shake the house, gives cause to believe that future generations of performers are being well trained on the New Hampshire seacoast.

On a stage that portrays the poor tenement lifestyle in the Big Apple, the show has sparkling and stirring vocals in many Les Miserables styled numbers including “King of New York,” “The World Will Know,” and “Seize the Day.” (Was that the barricade from Les Mis being built during the newspaper strike?)

The orchestra is fine, powerful yet balanced. Sets fit the period of 1899 with a nod to the likes of Sweeney Todd or Les Miserables staging.  Costumes are right to the period with an occasional piece looking a bit too modern.

The Saturday matinee I attended was just about sold out with an array of theater goers not often seen at similar productions.  Mom and Dad, and the two or three kids (maybe under 12 years) sat together in their summertime shorts and tees, some even sporting Newsies hats purchased during intermission. Some parents even dared to take even younger tykes. Dare I say 5 or 6?

Can a two-and-a-half-hour production (including a 15-minute intermission) hold the attention of a younger person who usually has the attention span of a hummingbird?

Certainly, it depends on your child. You know what might work best. While some seemed to fidget at slower points in the show, they seemed engaged in the experience which, for many, might have been their first introduction to live theater. (One child whined a bit too much and had to leave the theater. Oh well.)

My message. Take youngsters to see live theater. Get them away from the video games and show them a rare experience that provides humor, drama, singing, and dance performed by many youngsters their own age. It could truly be life changing.


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