“Newsies,” now at the Community Theater in Sacramento, is another mega hit from the Disney machine. It is a stage adaptation of the 1992 Disney movie, inspired by a newsboy strike in New York in 1899 where an organized group of children brought the city to a halt. Hundreds of boys and girls who sold newspapers on the streets of New York formed a union and marched onto the Brooklyn Bridge and other places around the city in order to put a halt to traffic and other businesses.
While they were not happy with working conditions, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when publishers Joseph Pulitzer decided to raise the distribution prices the newsboys had to pay to get papers in the first place in order to increase his profits.
The kids won. Eventually the newspaper magnets came to a workable compromise with the spokesmen for the newsies and presumably everyone lived happily ever after.
“Newsies,” the musical, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and book by Harvey Fierstein is filled with high-energy physicality with about 15 male dancers who provide enough dancing for the most ardent of dance enthusiasts. They leap, they somersault, they tap up a storm.
When the show opened on Broadway in 2012, it was planned for only 101 performances, but it quickly gained such a cult following that it ultimately ran 1005 performances, was seen by over 1 million people and made Disney another $100 million. The show received eight Tony nominations and won the award for choreography and original score.
It is fortunate that the story is easy to follow because the always horrible acoustics at the Community Theater made it just about impossible to hear the words being sung. I was afraid it was my hearing, but have since heard from several other people that they couldn’t understand any of the lyrics either.
But then you aren’t likely to go home humming any of the tunes either. They are pleasant and enjoyable, but there is nothing memorable about them.
The universal “urchin look” of the boys made it difficult to tell one from the other, but Joey Barreiro as Jack Kelly, the leader of the pack who wants to leave New York and move to Santa Fe, and Zachary Sayle as “Crutchie,” his crippled friend were both quite good, as was Morgan Keene as Katherine, harboring a secret that could make or break the strike.
The real star of this production is the set designed by Tobin Ost. It looked like it was made with the world’s largest erector set, a massive collection of metal boxes and staircases that rolled in and out and around, and ended up as one giant wall across the stage for the finale. Onto the backdrop are projections of scenes from around New York that add a note of authenticity.
This is a triumphant, feel-good musical, with lots of things to like, but not destined to become a classic theatrical work.