BWW Review: DISNEY'S NEWSIES Leaps With Pride And Revolution At Lyric Theatre Of Oklahoma
Disney and Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma have joined forces once again for another movie musical classic. Based on the real-life Newsboy Strike of 1899, Newsies tells the story of a youth-led campaign organized to demand fair working conditions and wages for the newsboys distributing "papes" for the major publishing houses of New York City. This event inspired the 1992 movie of the same title, starring a young Christian Bale, now adapted for the stage and playing at the Civic Center after a successful two year run on Broadway. This musical, historical fiction fills the Music Hall with a hefty dose testosterone and rebellion that will have you itching to pump your fists in the air after each raucous, rambunctious number.
Leading the gang is Sean Watkinson as the infamous Jack Kelly, transporting us to turn of the century Lower Manhattan with bravado in a vintage New York City dialect, a contrast to his pure, high-soaring, tenor shining especially bright in the anthemic Act 1 finale, "Santa Fe," executed impressively with passion and ease after a lengthy dance and fight sequence and running up and down several flights of stairs. Playing revolutionary reporter and eventual love interest Katherine Plumber, is Mattie Tucker Joyner. Joyner brought spunk and wit and a much needed girl-power energy in the midst of a cast of 37 men! She demonstrated the length and depth of her acting and vocal abilities in the frenetic number "Watch What Happens," bouncing seamlessly between excitement, self-doubt, boy troubles, womens' rights, and the lack thereof. In a rare, short but calm moment, Watkinson and Joyner share their softer side in a classic Menken love duet "Something to Believe In," highlighting Watkinson's vulnerability and Joyner's sweet soprano. In his Lyric Theatre debut, Sam Brinkley pulled at our heartstrings playing a sweet and plucky Crutchie. Jimmy Mavrikes and Callen Miles Stewart played newcomer newsie brothers Davey and Les, Mavrikes caution the perfect foil to Stewart's courage. Jerome Stevenson's booming presence and voice was a fitting antagonist as Jospeh Pulitzer, the publisher responsible for the unfair price hike. Equally devious, was Andi Dema as Snyder, the foreman of the local orphanage known for its poor conditions. At times you could almost swear you saw Dema twirling his mustache as he plotted ways to thwart Kelly and the newsies' plans. M. Denise Lee was a brassy, sassy Medda Larkin offering a husky rendition of "That's Rich."
Rounding out the cast is a massive ensemble, giving quite the authentic effect of a crowded New York City street, that has too many supporting roles to name, including a junior ensemble with some very talented up and coming young performers. Standout ensemble moments include tap solos, endless jumping and turning sequences, featuring Matthew Schouten and Aidan DeWitt, and high-flying tumbling passes featuring, Easton Edwards, Conor Donnelly, and Cooper Clack. Choreography, by Amy Reynolds-Reed, was very ambitious, with several nods to the original choreography, most notably an extended dance break featuring turning sequences on newspapers! A couple sitting near me seemed winded just from watching reprise after reprise of toe touches and double tours. However, the cast didn't seem phased as they carried on dancing and singing with conviction through audience favorites "King of New York" and "Seize the Day." Leading the orchestra was Jan McDaniel, last seen waving the baton for Disney's Freaky Friday and West Side Story. The set, by Kimberly Powers, was an impressive recreation of the concrete jungle, constructed of several columns reminiscent of scaffolding and skyscrapers that moved around the stage like a jigsaw puzzle, creating a multitude of multi-level locations from downtown vaudeville house, to stuffy publishing office, to rooftop escape. Costume designer, Jeffrey Meek, had the task of creating about 40 different newsboy costumes, quite the departure from the sequins and feathers of Singin in the Rain. However, his range in historic authenticity seems to be endless. Lighting design, by Helen Kuukka, added a dusty and industrial feel to the world.
The music is exciting, in a classic, 1990s, Disney sort of way. The story is enlightening, inspirational and even a bit educational. But if you are going to Newsies, you are likely going to witness the athletic feat that is pulling off number after number of high-energy choreography and this cast tackles that demand with great pride and enthusiasm.
Newsies runs through July 14 at the Civic Center Music Hall.
For more information or to buy tickets, click here!
Photos by K. Talley Photography