BWW Review: Village's NEWSIES Brings Intimacy to the Big Splashy Musical
Dear Readers, I won't bore you with the rehash of how I feel about the stage adaptation of "Disney's Newsies" from my disappointment of the restructuring of the story and songs from the movie, to the required suspension of disbelief that any of these dancers are young newsBOYS, to the fact that Jack and Katherine's relationship is just a little creepy if you think about what their ages should be. If you want that you can read my previous review of the touring show. Instead what we will and should be talking about is how the current production at Village theater not only matched the fun, talent and power that existed in the big, splashy Broadway tour but in some ways surpassed it.
If you're coming to see "Newsies" you probably already know what it's about. It's the Newsboys strike of 1899 as the newsies who work for Joseph Pulitzer (Greg Stone) are angry that he's raised the price he charges them for the papers they sell. So, with their leader Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro) and spurred on by Jack's new friends Davey and Les (Mike Spee and Guthrie Greenwood Bettinger) as well as budding reporter, and Jack's potential love interest, Katherine (Taylor Niemeyer) they vow to unite all the newsboys in New York until the rich newspaper owners agree to treat them fairly. And in the meantime, they'll sing and dance and leap about the streets of New York.
It's the same big Broadway show but on Village's stage so you might ask yourself, "how on earth will they fit all those cavorting newsboys there?" Well, mega props go to director Steve Tomkins and choreographer Katy Tabb who kept all the power and vibrancy of that huge show in a much more compact setting without it ever appearing cramped or like they were falling over each other. Tabb's superb choreography still brought in all the stunning leaps and spins and yes, that rousing dance on the newspapers is still there and extra kudos to her for the fantastic tap number in "King of New York" which I don't remember being as fun before but here was a show stopper.
And as much as the smaller space could have been a hindrance, Tompkins and cast and crew have used it to their benefit making the show so much more intimate. We get more invested in the lives of these "kids". We care more about Crutchie (Michael Krenning) and if he's going to make it out of the refuge. We care more about if Jack's going to make it to Santa Fe or stay with his friends. And that investment certainly strengthens the story.
But this is "Disney's Newsies" and so we still want hunky dancers singing and dancing and making our hearts soar. Check, check and check. Barreiro fits the bill perfectly as the dashing Jack but of course he does as he's the same Jack that came through town with the tour. But don't expect the same performance as he's really grown with the role and made it his own. In fact, his 11 o'clock reprise of "Santa Fe" actually got me a little choked up. Niemeyer is a delight as the whip smart Katherine who's not taking any lip from anyone. Well, until she falls in love with them. Stone is great as the malevolent Pulitzer but never makes him a cartoon villain. Krenning is adorably sympathetic as the broken yet hopeful Crutchie. Marlette Buchanan brings in some wonderful power as the songbird Medda Larkin. Spee makes for a wonderful point of reason for the group and Bettinger is fantastic as the wisecracking young Les practically stealing every scene he's in. And I must mention Brian Simmons who easily walks off with the "No small parts" Award as he consistently turned what could have been throw away moments into comedy gold.
So, while it's still the same old "Newsies" it's that and so much more by having just a little less. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Village Theatre's production of "Disney's Newsies" a very pleasantly surprised YAY. I'll admit I prepared for the same thing I got a little over a year ago and what I got was a new appreciation for how this show can be.
"Disney's Newsies" performs at Village Theatre in Issaquah through December 31st before moving onto their Everett location running January 5th through the 28th. For tickets or information contact the Issaquah box office at 425-392-2202 or their Everett box office at 425-257-8600 or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.