BWW Review: Sizzling Production of NEWSIES Lights Up Greenville Theatre
It was electric.
The energy, coming from the stage and from the audience, ignited an utterly electric performance, an opening night unlike any I've witnessed in the twenty years I've been attending shows in the upstate. Multiple numbers stopped the show - and I mean that quite literally, as audience members leapt to their feet with extended applause that kept the performers in tableau, soaking up the approval as they waited for a chance to continue. It was unbelievable. It was magical. And it was absolutely deserved.
Greenville Theatre's production of NEWSIES crackles with talent, enthusiasm, and heart.
Inspired by historical events - the 1899 New York newsboys strike - the musical introduces a group of plucky young newsies, led by Jack Kelly (John C. Leggett), who put together a union to fight what they see as mistreatment by newspaper owner Joseph Pulitzer (Dave DiGeronimo). It's a rousing tale of love and triumph told through clever lyrics, catchy music, and eye-poppingly great dancing. It's no wonder we couldn't refrain from leaping to our feet.
The show starts quietly, just a young man, Jack Kelly, and his crippled best friend, Crutchie (Joel Dupont), standing on an inner city rooftop, singing about their dreams. Jack envisions an escape to a small town he's built up in his head, Santa Fe, where "your friends are more like family" and the air is so fresh that after a few months Crutchie will surely be riding a palomino and tossing his crutch for good. But when the sun rises, reality returns as Jack and Crutchie meet up with their crew of newsies - and the stage practically explodes.
The newsies - nearly twenty bodies on stage - twirl and tap and leap and almost fly as they enthusiastically sing "Carrying the Banner." Choreographer Kimberlee Ferreira fills the space with dancers - all hitting their marks with glorious precision - and so much movement that it's nearly impossible to see it all. And you know what? It only gets better as the show goes on. "The World Will Know." "Seize the Day." "King of New York." Ferreira - ably assisted by Michelle Malone's tap dancing expertise - just keeps adding layers and moves and even literal acrobatics and the dancers are all-in, executing the choreography with unflagging energy and skill. And it's matched note for note by Tim St. Clair's music direction, a miracle in itself as these dancers are moving so much that you can't imagine they can also be singing so crisply, with such pleasing harmonies. But they are.
And all that is just the flash, the surface sizzle. For director Micah-Shane Brewer builds the show on a foundation of great acting performances, too, making relationships seem fresh and true. A musical is a juggling act for the entire creative crew, and director Brewer manages to keep it all working as a united whole.
Grounding the proceedings is John C. Leggett's terrific turn as Jack. He gives the character a natural charisma and confident style that perfectly suit the character - and make Jack's moments of self-doubt all the stronger. With a pleasing voice that's just right for these songs, Legget's also a great match with Adell Ehrhorn, who plays ambitious reporter Katherine. Ehrhorn earns her own ovation for her standout solo number, "Watch What Happens," a tour de force that she delivers with style and nuance. Just watch how much she can do with barely a flicker of her eyes. Terrific, too, is Latreshia Lilly as the endearing Medda Larkin, who absolutely kills in her own big, hilarious solo number, "That's Rich." Jack Sterner makes a warm and confident Davey, the reluctant newcomer who ends up leading the charge in "Seize the Day." As Davey's younger brother, Les, Shaw Shurley provides comic relief, nearly stealing several scenes in the process.* I also enjoyed Dave DiGeronimo as the arrogant Joseph Pulitzer, and the appealingly crooked grin of Joel Dupont's Crutchie, whose plaintive "Letter from The Refuge" impresses with quiet emotional resonance. Carter Allen is a hoot in several small roles as is Andrew Anderson as a grinning Teddy Roosevelt.
And as good as all those folks are, as are the other supporting players who come in and out, they'd be nothing without the thrilling principal dancers. And even that term is not exactly right, because there are more than a dozen dancers, and all of them perform as if they were front and center. It's astonishingly good. Jamie Riedy maybe tops the bill in this department - he also gets some great musical and acting bits - a true triple threat. But he's matched by the moves of Mitchell Smith and Sterling Street and Matt Groves and Joseph Tumas and Abby Kohake and Loren Clark and - well, just look at the cast list and know that every single person on there is a star.
Everything clicks. Suzanne McCalla's set, Corey Granner's lights, Thomas Brooks' costumes, Kim Granner's backdrops - there's not a weak link to be found.
Don't miss this. It's nothing short of spectacular.
*Yes, Shaw Shurley is my son, so take my opinion on his performance with a grain of salt. But he really is good in this.
NEWSIES runs through September 29 at Greenville Theatre in downtown Greenville, SC. For tickets and showtimes call the box office at 864-233-6238 or visit greenvilletheatre.org.
Photos by Wallace Krebs