BWW Review: NEWSIES ~ VYT Opens 30th Season With A Spectacular Triumph Of Talent And Artistry!
I am in awe of what I saw opening weekend of Valley Youth Theatre's production of NEWSIES The Musical: A spectacular triumph of talent and artistry, all the more impressive because of the amazing young performers (ages 12 to 18!) whose versatility and range of technical proficiency is jaw-dropping. In awe, again, of the on-stage magic that VYT's Producing Artistic Director Bobb Cooper and his collaborators ~ Karol Cooper, costume design and music director Mark Fearey, now joined by choreographer Tony Spinosa ~ continue to engineer. An auspicious way to begin the company's 30th Anniversary Season!
At the turn of the 19th Century, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were the barons of journalism, notable not only for their newspaper empires and press innovations but also for their sensationalized and provocative presentation of the news.
It was momentous, therefore, that the power of such titans would be upended by a band of youngsters, mostly poor and immigrant, who rejected what amounted to the exploitation of child labor and demanded adjustment to their paltry wages. (David Nasaw's Children of the City recounts that the newsboys had to buy the papers at 50¢ per hundred and sell them at a penny each in order to earn a profit of half a cent per paper.) When the boys were required to sell more papers to earn the same amount, they rallied and stopped New York's boroughs in their tracks. The Newsboys' Strike of 1899 was the culmination of a series of strikes over the years to protest such abuses. It ended with limited success ~ but success nevertheless ~ and became the stuff of legend ~ fictionalized in the DC Comics' series Newsboy Legion, then in the 1992 Disney film Newsies and its adaptation to the Disney musical in 2011.
Kale Burr takes command of the stage as Jack Kelly, the leader of the newsboys' protest, and never lets go. The 18-year-old graduate of Mountain View High School delivers an altogether muscular, sensitive, and nuanced performance as an aspiring artist, yearning for a life in Santa Fe, far from the mean streets of New York's boroughs, yet called upon to speak truth to power. From atop his tenement, Burr/Kelly reveals the humanity, vulnerability, and internal conflicts of a reluctant rebel.
Needless to say, the Disney version of the story with book by Harvey Fierstein, allows for a satisfying allowance of romance and grace. Katherine, a neophyte reporter for Pulitzer's New York World (played with charm and verve by Kendra Richards) sees the strike as an opportunity to put her byline on the front page. She inevitably becomes Jack's spur to action and, yes, kisses are in the wings. Richards owns a solid piece of the stage when she evokes her aspirations in an assertive rendition of Watch What Happens. Then, there is Mia Johnson, whose portrayal as Medda Larkin, the owner of a theater that provides haven to Jack and the newsies, is highlighted by a big-voiced and brassy affirmation of her situation, That's Rich. Richards/Katherine and Johnson/Larkin are the heartful bookends of Jack Kelly's quest for calm and virtue.
If Burr/Kelly is they eye of the storm that blows against the deceits of publisher Pulitzer (Jack Walton), his lieutenants are the whirlwind that propels him, and what a gathering of energy they are. Riley Thornton as Crutchie, the irrepressible and ever loyal heart of the movement. Devon Policci as Davey, who backs Jack up with equal resolve and courage. Nathaniel McNamara as Davey's audacious little brother Les. All, delivering terrific performances and further backed up by a powerhouse ensemble of singer/dancers.
The boys of the cast march to the resounding beat of Mark Fearey's orchestra and to the inspired and creative choreography of Tony Spinosa. Spinosa, who carries an impressive resume as an award-winning Broadway director, has returned to VYT to ready the cast for this show. The proof of his craftsmanship is in the memorable and agile performance of the boys, tapping, swirling, and somersaulting to Spinosa's imaginative sequences.
I'd not be exaggerating if I say that I'd match the quality of this production against any national tour of Broadway pros. This show, these kids, are simply great and deserve to be seen. Standing O to all!
Poster credit to VYT