By Gary Murray
Starring Dan DeLuca, Steve Blanchard and Stephanie Styles
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Jack Feldman
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
Newsies was a musical movie from a few years back that didn’t make much of a splash for Disney. The story of kids on strike for a raise in the cost of newspapers was part of the event that changed child labor laws. It was an interesting story and the movie had some strong songs, it just didn’t jell as a stand-alone film.
Someone at Disney must have must have thought that turning a ‘cult following’ movie into a musical experience as a good idea. The Broadway version of Newsies was one of the surprises of the 2012 season, winning two awards. The traveling version of the show makes it way to the AT&T Performing Arts Center at the Winspear Opera House as a part of the current season.
The story is of a paper strike at the turn of the century. It was the beginning of the industrial revolution, where cities were shooting out of the ground like a batch of weeds. The richest of the rich were barons of steel, shipping and newspapers. All the news was transmitted with the daily paper and the competition was fierce. The paper boys were part of the process.
Caught in the bottom of this revolution were the children. While the rich kids were able to go to school, the poor and orphaned were forced to work. There was little sympathy for the kids caught in horrible living and working conditions. But it was also a time of social change.
The story opens on a rooftop and the prologue of “Santa Fe” the big hit number from the film. In this context, it becomes a calling card for a better life, away from NYC and their rough existence. Santa Fe is as much of a dreamland as Oz. We are also introduced to Jack (Dan DeLuca) and Crutchie (Zachary Sayle), two of the paper boys.
Very soon, we meet the rest of the paper boys and are shown glimpses of how bad conditions are for the kids. The cast does a big number with “Carrying the Banner”. Time and time again, these kids show tight, syncopated dancing skills that have an almost military precision. They move as a giant single unit, trained to perfection. One can easily see why they won the Tony for Best Choreography. It is well deserved.
The set is a series of high rise girders three stories high that move back and forth and side to side. There are also projection screens to suggest different scenes. It is a massive, overpowering spectacle but at the same time, it becomes an intimate setting. To suggest the office, minimal props are used but it is perfectly affected. . There is pure genius in the set construction.
The biggest find is with Stephanie Styles as Katherine. Not only does she have a pitch perfect voice but she more than holds her own with “Watch What Happens” from Act One. She takes a difficult song and breezes through it with the humble steadfastness that even the more seasoned performer could not accomplish. Every moment she is on stage is a joy and one hopes she gets bigger parts in future productions. There is much untapped potential in her small frame.
Dan DeLuca has a strong, solid voice but he sings the songs more like he is a rock star than a Broadway performer. He carries the show on his shoulders and without question has the hardest job. But the way he delivers the songs is more of a different choice than what the role needed. Dan Deluca is great but he should be softer with the part.
In the secondary cast, the true shining star is Angela Grovey as Medda. The role calls for big and brassy and Angela delivers on all accounts. She has a ripping fine voice that reminds of someone like Sugar Pie Desante, an old style belter who can shutter the rafters with a single note.
One of the best aspects of this musical is that it is very family friendly. It is definitely a Disney affair, full of that magic one expects from the company. So many people have expressed a wish for more musicals that one can take the entire family to and Newsies is that work.
To put it simply, Newsies is one of the best musical experiences that the AT&T Performing Arts Center has hosted. Not only is it not to be missed, it is one of the best of the season.