Chicago Theatre Review
The King of New York Rules in Chicago
Newsies – Broadway in Chicago
Disney’s stage adaptation of their so-so cult movie musical of the same name unexpectedly took Broadway by storm, won Tony Awards for its athletic choreography and contemporary score and is on the way to becoming a hit across America. In Chicago for only a short time, this National Tour is first-rate. It’s energetic, beautifully acted and sung and, probably its biggest selling point, choreographically transcendent. Audiences of all ages will be impressed, but for all those middle and high school-aged girls in attendance opening night, this musical, which has the appearance of a plot-driven boy band concert, is a teenage dream. It also teaches a lesson from American history as well as illustrating the importance of unions to the average worker (a concept probably not on the minds of most teens).
Based upon the events that led to New York City’s Newsboys’ Strike of 1899, Disney Theatricals brought back the film’s original composer Alan Menken (“Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast”) and lyricist Jack Feldman to flesh out the movie’s score for the stage. They hired Harvey Fierstein to rewrite the screenplay into a fresh, new script. The show previewed at Paper Mill Playhouse in 2011 to favorable reviews and then moved to Broadway a year later for a limited run. It proved to be an overwhelming success, recouping its initial investment faster than any Disney stage musical, and was eventually given an open run. It only recently closed in New York and now the rest of the country can enjoy this thrilling, vivacious show.
Directed with power and care by the multi Tony-nominated Jeff Calhoun and choreographed with spirit and drive by Christopher Gattelli, this touring production is as electrifying as the Broadway version. With sets and projections by Tobin Ost and Sven Ortel that take the audience from tenement rooftops to the streets of New York’s Lower Eastside, onto the stage of a burlesque house and into the office of Joseph Pulitzer, this tour doesn’t scrimp on production values. Jess Goldstein’s costumes reflect the boys’ poverty while creating an array of gorgeous period dresses for the show’s two leading ladies.
The musical’s principal character, Jack Kelly, leader of the Newsboys’ strike against Joseph Pulitzer, is played with grit and feisty determination by Dan DeLuca. His portrayal of this determined ringleader is grounded and feels more authentically Manhattan than his predecessors in the role. DeLuca brings a tetchy, restless quality that serves him well in this story about an unsung David taking on a powerful Goliath. He’s matched by lovely Stephanie Styles as Katherine, the fledgling, feminist young news columnist who takes up the Newsboys’ cause and ends up falling for Kelly. Ms. Styles is scrappy and sassy and ready to mix it up with the boys, while demonstrating she’s both a terrific hoofer as well as a fine vocalist. Ms. Styles‘ powerful musical monologue, “Look What Happens,” is every bit as exciting as the show’s high-powered choreographed numbers.
In supporting roles, Zachary Sayle, whose bright, innocent face immediately provides an empathetic connection with the audience, is terrific as Crutchie. Mr. Sayle is at once heartbreaking and inspiring in his role. His beautiful singing carries much of the show, like his harmonic duet with DeLuca in “Santa Fe” and his poignant solo, “Letter From the Refuge.”
Jacob Kemp is wonderful as Davey. Another excellent singer and competent dancer, Mr. Kemp brings an earnest, intellectual quality to his character that makes Davey a very likable fighter for rights and a perfect second in command for his new friend, Jack Kelly. Angela Grovey is delicious as Medda Larkin, the beautiful, boisterous, buxom burlesque performer with a soft spot for Jack and his cause. She sees the boy’s hidden talent as a visual artist and not only supports his creativity but pays him for his paintings. Ms. Grovey brings down the house with her show-stopping, “That’s Rich.” Steve Blanchard is appropriately evil as the show’s villain, Joseph Pulitzer. His power-hungry editor of The World, one of New York’s top newspapers at the turn-of-the-century, is restrained from becoming caricatured. Mr. Blanchard sings his number, “The Bottom Line,” with proper authority and tells the audience everything they need to know about this nasty bureaucrat.
With their astounding amount of musical and choreographic talent, the show’s dynamic ensemble is the real star of this production. Songs that send the audience home humming include the aforementioned “Santa Fe,” as well as rousing production numbers like, “Seize the Day,” “Carry the Banner,” “The World Will Know” and “King of New York.” Every performer in this show is a winner.
Residing in Chicago for a limited time, this peppy, powerful production is an exciting confection that offers, as a bonus, a little history lesson and a sound message about fighting for your rights. Here’s a show that’ll appeal to audiences of all ages and send patrons out of the theatre singing and dancing in the streets. If they’ve never seen the cult film that spawned this theatrical musical, audiences will be hungry to rent the DVD. Santa’s arrived early for Chicago theatergoers, but this year he’s carrying a newspaper bag filled with highly-charged holiday treats.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented December 12-January 4 by Broadway in Chicago at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago.
Tickets are available at all Broadway in Chicago box offices and Ticketmaster retail locations, by calling the BIC Ticket Line at 800-775-2000 or by going to www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.