BWW Review: The MUNY Closes with Spirited and Charming NEWSIES!
The original film version of NEWSIES wasn't exactly a blockbuster when it was released in 1992, but it developed a substantial cult following, especially as kids and adults alike rediscovered its many charms on cable and DVD. Actually, the fact that it wasn't a huge hit initially is why it seems like such a great, and logical, choice to rework for Broadway, where its transformation resulted in Tony Awards for best score (music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman) and choreography (Christopher Gattelli) back in 2012. Perhaps this is proof that the material might have been better served as a stage production from the start. As The MUNY's current, and final, presentation of the season it packs an entertaining wallop that brings the season to a close on a delightfully high note. Audiences certainly will find plenty to enjoy, and I cannot recommend this show highly enough!
The plot (book by Harvey Fierstein) of the show, like the film, is inspired by Children of the City by writer David Nasaw. It concerns a group of newsboys who go on strike after the price of the newspaper they sell is raised, deeply cutting into the meager profits they derive from hawking headlines on street corners. For the most part, these are homeless, or orphaned, kids who are struggling to eke out a living in New York in 1899. There are also a pair of lads (Les and Davey) who are trying to keep their family afloat after their father has been injured and left unemployed. Toss in a love story, and the appearance of President Theodore Roosevelt, and you have all the elements in place for a solid and compelling story that's also quite engaging.
Jay Armstrong Johnson plays Jack Kelly, a tough kid with a questionable past that has the law on his heels, who acts as the leader of this ragtag group of youngsters, and he does positively splendid work in the role. When he meets up with Katherine Plumber (a radiant Tessa Grady), an aspiring journalist with a secret, it's a case of opposites attracting, no matter how unlikely this may seem initially. Grady sparkles during the tongue twisting "Watch What Happens." Gabriel Cytron is absolutely adorable as Les, and Spencer Davis Milford is undeniably sharp as Les' older brother Davey, who suggests that the newsboys organize a union. Daniel Quadrino elicits sympathy as Crutchie, and Davis Gaines is properly ruthless as the villain of the piece, publisher Joseph Pulitzer. Ta'Rea Campbell is terrific as Medda Larkin, and after her resounding rendition of "That's Rich," you may find yourself missing her appealing vocal contributions. But, the entire ensemble brings such a high level of enthusiasm to this presentation that I guarantee that you will not be disappointed.
Chris Bailey's direction/choreography brings considerable life, energy, and scope to the proceedings, and in the process lifts this show to new heights,with acrobatic leaps and a high degree of athleticism adding to the excitement created. Michael Horsley's music direction is a revelation, especially since the touring company I saw last year (elsewhere) was rather lackluster in comparison. Michael Schweikardt has created an amazing scenic design, benefiting greatly from the clever video designs of Greg Emetaz, and John Lasiter's lighting. Leon Dobkowski keeps the costumes suitably drab and tattered for the most part, which is in keeping with the era portrayed, while letting the characters of Katherine and Medda provide bursts of color, which really pop amid the turn of the century surroundings.
NEWSIES really takes off at The MUNY, and it's a production that will find favor with both children and adults. I can't think of a better way to close their marvelous 99th season, and I look forward with much anticipation to seeing the shows on tap for their landmark 100th season next year. NEWSIES runs through Sunday, August 13, 2017, so make sure to get your tickets now, because it's great summer fun and should not be missed!