BWW Review: NEWSIES at Theatre Tulsa
The musical Newsies has a score and book begging to be experienced as big, heartfelt, and lovable, with each anthem about the triumph over adversity more emphatic than the next. This demands a kind of relentless energy from the cast that could easily be lacking in a local production, but Theatre Tulsa comes through with a high-caliber performance of this exhaustingly peppy and upbeat show.
The story of Newsies was inspired by the New York City newsboy strike in 1899, and is based on the 1992 Disney film of the same title. The story revolves around a group of young delivery boys who fight back against the unfair distribution prices chargers of big NYC publishers. In the spirit of Oliver! and Annie, the show relies heavily on the trope of spunky urchins bonding together to free themselves from the restraints of an authority figure. Spoiler alert: it all works out in the end, and culminates in a triumphant reiteration of a number of the show's anthems in a big predictable medley.
Theatre Tulsa's cast managed to make this cartoonish collage of characters and scenarios both appealing and entertaining. The ensemble's intentionally mismatched costumes and acrobatic tricks captured the endearing underdog cliches that are so central to the show. They impressed again and again with their adorably energetic twirls and clenched fists pumped into the air, and even came through with a polished tap dance number at the beginning of the second act. The choreography (by Kaley Durland and Pete Brennan, who doubled in the leading role as Jack) struck a perfect balance between capturing the big Broadway style that the score demands without pushing the cast beyond their limits.
The main players were as impressive as the ensemble. Pete Brennan as Jack led his team of ragtag street boys and girls with a seamless stamina and a brassy Broadway sound. His central crew, consisting of Crutchie (Ben Rodriguez), Davey (Sam Briggs), and pint-sized Les (Trace Herrera), all charmed the audience with their delightful comedic timing and skilled vocal technique. Steven Osborn as Pulizter also held the audience in the palm of his hand with his powerful voice - in fact, Newsies was truly a testament to not just the quality but also the quantity of male singing talent to be found in Tulsa. The ladies also held their own, including the adorably animated Tabitha Littlefield as Katherine and Kolbi Jordan's beautifully sung portrayal of the sparkly Medda Larkin.
Newsies has a score by Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Little Shop of Horrors, etc), a book by Harvey Fierstein, and lyrics by Jack Feldman - even in the show's cheesiest moments, it's hard not to get chills from Menken's melodies. As cynical as one can be about all the overused tropes and hackneyed lines in Newsies, with a cast this strong, even the most trite moments can't help but warm your heart just a little bit. As the cast sings "Once and for All", it is hard not to think of the recent Oklahoma teacher's strike and the unexpected relevance of a melody that makes such an earnest effort at inspiration. The underdogs in Oklahoma are having a moment, and this production is a more than worthy way to honor them.