THEATER: “Newsies” @ Proctors, 10/12/14
Review by Greg Haymes
Exuberant, full of spunky singing and dancing and utterly predictable, “Newsies” – the Disney musical which is launching its national tour with a week-long run at Proctors in Schenectady through Friday – is an excellent production of a weak show.
Based on the flop 1992 Disney film musical of the same name, the book for the stage musical “Newsies” was tweaked by Broadway vet Harvey Fierstein, but he couldn’t do enough to save the formula, paint-by-numbers plotline in which the audience is always at least two or three steps ahead of the characters onstage.
Such as it is, the paper-thin plot revolves around the “rag-tag band of ragamuffins” who hawk the newspapers in the streets of NYC in the summer of 1899. Led by the charismatic Jack Kelly (a strong Dan DeLuca), the newsboys band together to fight the rich powerful newspaper publisher who decides to charge the boys more to sell his papers. The boys revolt, form a union and launch a labor strike to fight for a living wage and justice against the powers that be. Etc., etc…
But the production – as we’ve come to expect from the Disney folks – is technically brilliant, especially Tobin Ost’s three-story set design of tenement fire escapes dominates the stage and seems to be in almost constant motion.
The singing and dancing is strong throughout, although there seems to be a shortage of memorable songs from the team of Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, resulting in many of them being repeated several times, including the opening “Santa Fe” (Kelly’s inexplicable dream to move to New Mexico) and “Seize the Day” (a rousing “all for one, one for all” anthem of determination). Stephanie Styles (as Kelly’s love interest, Katherine) turns in the best vocal performance of the show with “Watch What Happens,” but “Something to Believe In” (her love duet with DeLuca) stops the Act II action cold just when it should be heating up.
Christopher Gattelli’s choreography is top flight, and the gaggle of newsies deliver it with maximum energy and enough acrobatic flips to elicit plenty of oo’s and ah’s from the audience.
Under the direction of Jeff Calhoun, the show is loud, boisterous and brimming over with youthful pizzazz. But there’s not quite enough of it to hide the plot’s considerable shortcomings.
Bob Goepfert’s review at The Troy Record
Steve Barnes’ review at The Times Union
Margo Janack’s review at Did You Weekend
An excerpt from Matthew G. Moross’ review at The Daily Gazette: “But in re-creating ‘Newsies’ for the stage, the authors did not solve the main problem with the piece — it isn’t dramatically interesting. To mask that, they made the show loud: Characters shout their songs with the last note a tribute to Ethel Merman — belted big and held forever. To distract from the moments when the show stalls stone dead, they tossed in more eye-popping dance number with the newsboys. Big grins and in-air somersaults impress — and distract from the fact that there’s nothing to sing or dance about. ‘Newsies’ is not a great Broadway musical, or even a good one, but it’s a terrific dance show full of very talented actors. The cast is great, each and every one of them.”