BWW Review: NEWSIES Makes Headlines at Theatre Baton Rouge
Have you heard the news? It's time to "seize the day" and secure your tickets for Theatre Baton Rouge's production of Disney's NEWSIES, now running through June 30th. With energetic, spirited dancing, great acting, and whimsical tunes, TBR's NEWSIES is a musical worth seeing.
The original 1992 Disney movie boasted a new score by Alan Menken with lyrics by Jack Feldman. Almost 20 years later, Harvey Fierstein would pen an adaptation for Broadway with additional music by Menken. While on Broadway, Newsies received 23 major theatrical nominations and won Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Score and Choreography.
While a Disney musical, there are no singing crabs or magic carpets to be found. NEWSIES is based on the real-life 1899 newsboy strike that pitted mobs of street corner hailers against New York City publishing titans. When Joseph Pulitzer decides to raise the wholesale cost of his newspapers, things quickly escalate as the boys organize around a young Irish firebrand to fight back and earn their place in the sun.
The family-friendly show opens on newsboys Jack Kelly (Austin Ventura) and Crutchie (Thomas Luke) on a rooftop at dawn dreaming of a future far from hocking papers in New York. Kelly is the instigator of the strike, played by TBR vet Ventura. Ventura quickly had the audience on his side with heartfelt singing and a rakish smile. His full-voiced longing during "Santa Fe" and the romantic sparks he sets off in "Something to Believe In" earned him great applause at curtain call.
While the focus is on the newsies as they take on Pulitzer and his fellow publishers, NEWSIES also packs in societal issues that are still relevant to this day including unfair wages, unionizing, government corruption, children's rights, and women in the workplace. One shining example of this is the role of Katherine Plummer. Stepping into the spotlight for the cause, Katherine (Rebecca Smith) makes sure the newsboys are making headlines by using her job as a reporter to give the boys a voice.
From their first meeting, it's clear that Jack is out of Katherine league, but their relationship blossoms and evolves both characters. As Katherine, Smith embodies the strength and wit needed for such a role. During her major solo "Watch What Happens," as she tries to help the newsies and (perhaps realize her feelings for Jack) her dizzying emotions are exceptionally conveyed. Her beautiful singing voice is also evident in her duet with Jack, "Something to Believe In."
Other notable performances include Grayson Barraco as Davey Jacobs, a newsie helping to support his family and the brains of the strike; Joey Roth as Davey's adorable younger brother, Les; TBR vet Albert Nolan in the "villainous" role of Pulitzer and Luke, who aptly performed the physically challenging part of Crutchie and got his moment to shine early in the Act II number "Letter From the Refuge." And then there's Brandy Johnson as Vaudeville theater owner Medda Larkin, who makes a rich and lasting impression on the audience despite having limited stage time.
The strength of NEWSIES' legacy remains in its potential for breathtaking choreography. TBR Artistic Director Jenny Ballard won the talent lotto here when she brought on choreographer Dylon Hoffpauir to the production team. Hoffpauir oversaw the cast's dance development to create a steady stream of exhilarating spins, leaps, and acrobatic magic upon scenic designer Kenneth Mayfield's scaffolding platforms.
On the tech side of things, longtime scenic designer Kenneth Mayfield brings form and function to the newsies' world with leveled scaffolding, which Ballard made good use of with the set's different levels and pieces. Mayfield's lighting design on the city rooftops and during "Letter From the Refuge" was also emotive. The costumes, designed by Crystal Brown, consisted of various combinations of raggedy button-downs, hats, and suspenders while still giving each newsie their own unique look.
The combined forces of Ballard, Hoffpauir, and musical director Jamie Leonard Brubaker worked together to create a memorable show that will have you singing and dancing as you leave the theatre. NEWSIES is a hit and deserves its recognition of quality homegrown Baton Rouge entertainment.
NEWSIES runs through Sunday, June 30th. Tickets are available via theatrebr.org or by calling the TBR Box Office at 225-9246496.