BWW Review: Seizing the Day with DISNEY'S NEWSIES THE MUSICAL at Orlando Repertory Theatre
"Ain't it a fine life?!" sing the rag-tag group of boys of all ages, outfitted in worn boots, overalls, and dirty faces - the instantly lovable gang of "Newsies" captures the hearts of audiences from the first time they run onstage. The musical (based on the 1992 film starring Christian Bale) traces its roots back to the actual 1899 Newsboy Strike. The film didn't do well in its initial theatrical release, but over the years developed a cult following: So much so, in fact, that fans of the musical are referenced as "Fansies"! You can certainly count this author among that crowd, so naturally, I was pumped to see what the Orlando REP's production would bring to the table.
The Orlando Repertory Theatre utilizes three-sided seating for the audience of "Newsies", which truly provides a feeling of being a part of the streets of New York. No matter where you sit- you'll be sure to encounter a different Newsie's high kicks, newspaper scraps, and snappy one-liners. With three large primary pieces, there is a movability and flexibility to the set makes for exciting staging options. This, in use with Lighting Designer George Jackson's surprising amount of bright, popping color made for an energetic evening, from start to finish. In such a unique space, one might find it difficult to bring iconic dance elements of the show to life. However, choreographer Spencer Morrow has created small group routines that both distract from shuffling sets and add spice to transitional numbers. By far the most fun in the show is "King of New York", a high-flying tap number in which Meredith Pughe's 'Katherine Plummer' earns her stripes as one of the gang. That's not to say she hasn't previously done so - her mid Act I number "Watch What Happens" is an incredibly difficult number at best and she absolutely brings her A-game to the performance.
As per standard with a show like "Newsies", the ensemble makes or breaks the show: With the Orlando REP's production, audiences won't be able to help falling in love with every single scrappy Newsie. Standouts included Cameron Elliott's 'Race', who managed to pull laughs out of the kids and adults alike; and Erick Ariel Sureda, who's energy as 'Romeo' never dropped below 100%. The combination of J. Anthony Pyatt Jr.'s quick, confident 'Jack Kelly' as the leader of the pack and Daniel Tracht's 'Davey' as the brainy sidekick is a winner: Their likability is obvious from the start of the show, and by the end of the evening, you'll be cheering for them just like I was. Pyatt was occasionally awkward, seemingly unsure of what to do with his limbs- but his real charm lies in his character expression and vocals, which feature an authentic, clear tone with unpolished edges. Tracht was the ideal polished, gentlemanly opposite; sounding earnest and crisp throughout the entirety of the show.
For audience members worried about the content visible on stage, they needn't fear: The nature of "Newsies" is pretty customizable, and in order to make it as family friendly as possible, Director Steve Mackinnon has ensured that any cursing or adult jokes have been removed or re-scripted. While I'm normally the first to stand up and shout over script clean-ups, I didn't feel the production suffered at all for these minor changes. In fact, the safe nature of the show makes for a great evening of fun, no matter what the age of the audience! (The five-year old seated next to me certainly had a great time!)
The tapping, kicking, singing cast of Orlando REP's "Newsies" may sing about being The Kings Of New York, but I'd say they could take the title of Kings of Orlando too! If you plan to seize the day and check out the show before it's run ends October 22nd, head to https://www.orlandorep.com/ for tickets (which range from $15-$25).
Photo Credit: Michael & Matt Cairns.