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Disney’s NEWSIES The Musical

Disney’s NEWSIES The Musical

Book by Harvey Fierstein; Music by Alen Menkin; Lyrics by Jack Feldman
Originally produced on Broadway by Disney Theatrical Productions

Tyler Civic Theatre

Directed by Stephen Rainwater
Choreographed by Shelby Moy
Music Direction by John and Kim Hodges
Assistant Direction by Sara England
Stage Manager: Nadine Booth
Set construction: Ryan Lanchester
Light Design/Engineering: Dave Dickson
Sound Operations: Josh Kaufman
Costume Design Brook Thomas
Headshots: Laci Skelton

Collin Skelton (Jack Kelly)
Lizzy Tucker (Katherine Plumber)
Robbie Wilt (Crutchie)
Jack Ragland (Joseph Pulitzer)
Jay Olson (Theodore Roosevelt)
Alec Anderson (Bill/Scab)
Ryan Anderson (Mayor)
Sherry Berry (Medda Larkin)
Joseph Brumfield (Buttons)
Allison Cambre (Snyder)
Zach Combs (Albert)
Jaylon Crump (Henry)
Cameron Davis (Bunsen)
Haylee Dickson-Munn (Brooklyn Gang/Bowery Beauty)
Michaela Ellis (Brooklyn Gang/Bowery Beauty)
Christopher Fisher (Darcy/Scab)
Ethan Gonzalez (Ike)
Fritz Hager III (Davey)
Brooke Henry (Brooklyn Gang/Nun)
Jonathan Hodges (Mike)
Kaleigh Hodges (Brooklyn Gang)
Gordon Holmes (Morris Delancy)
Jackson Holmes (Mush)
Bliss Joseph (Brooklyn Gang/Nun)
Stan King (Wiesel)
Bryan Knous (Race)
Allie Lake (Brooklyn Gang/Bowery Beauty)
Ashten Lane (Spot Conlon)
Emily Livesay (Brooklyn Gang/Blowery Beauty)
Nyc Moy (Nunzio/Cop)
Bryce Neel (Oscar Delancy)
Isaiah Pearson (Specs)
Olivia Santone (Hannah)
Nick Sheffield (Elmer)
David Stein (Mr. Jacobi)
Rickea Strogen (Brooklyn Gang/Bowery Beauty)
Jalen Tinsley (Splasher)
Colton Turner (Finch)
Chylar Whorton (Les)
Pack Williams (Tommy Boy)
Tiffany Williams (Brooklyn Gang/Nun)
Aiden Wilt (Romeo)
Austin Clowers (Seitz)
Brandon Collins (Jo Jo)

Reviewed Performance: 7/28/2019

Reviewed by Tracy Jordan, Guest Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

This year Disney released the licensing rights for performances of NEWSIES and it has resulted in a number of local and north Texas theater organizations presenting productions of the popular show. The show was based on the 1992 film of the same name and tells the true story of the Newsboys strike in New York City in 1899. With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and a book by Harvey Fierstein, the musical version was much more successful than the movie, running over 1,000 performances on Broadway before touring the country.

Disney has had mixed success translating its catalog of musical properties into stage productions but they made all the right moves with NEWSIES- a winning writing team, great original direction by Jeff Calhoun and athletic choreography by Christopher Gattelli made an admittedly formulaic piece hit all the right marks to become the fastest of all Disney’s Broadway musicals to show a profit.

Many of today’s teen-age theater nerds have grown up listening to the cast recording and are now getting their shot at performing what they’ve been listening to in their headphones in local and regional productions.

On recommendation of a friend, I traveled to Tyler, TX this past Sunday to a matinee performance of Tyler Civic Theatre’s production of NEWSIES The Musical. I’ve already attended several productions of the show around Dallas this season but this performance was well worth the pleasant hour and a half drive.

The lovely 350 seat Braithwaite (square) theater in the round affords great sight-lines for everyone and up close intimate involvement in the stage action for Sunday’s almost sold out crowd. This show counter-intuitively doesn’t kick things off with a big opening number. Instead, when lights come up on the first scene, it’s a quiet, subdued moment between our protagonist, the young Jack Kelly, ably played by Collin Skelton and his best friend Crutchie played by Robbie Wilt. Kelly is tired of the grime and grind of their edge-of-survival life in New York City and from their fire escape landing vantage point, longs for something better out West in “Santa Fe” which builds to a very nice duet by the two boys.

With the coming dawn, the City awakens and the rest of the collection of Newsies emerges onto the street and we’re introduced to this motley crew in the number “Carrying The Banner.” The boys sing of their lives as newsboys, many orphans or homeless, selling papers as they dance on their way to pick up their stack of papers to sell. This crew of young men does a terrific job every time they are on stage, all having well developed characters, standing out in their own right but also building a great team of performers- delivering great vocals and harmonies while doing jumps, split leaps, turns and various acrobatic moves. In this scene we also meet Davey and his young brother Les, played by Fritz Hager III and ten year old Chyler Whorton, who very nearly steals every scene he’s in. They have come out to try to help make ends meet for their family after their father was injured.

Choreographer Shelby Moy and music directors John and Kim Hodges give these actors great material and training to show off for the audience. The book of the show never lags and scenes are cleanly and efficiently directed by Stephen Rainwater who keeps the action moving but allows for those dramatic moments that define the characters. This is not an overly sentimental show but we can’t help but identify with this puckish crew.

In the next scene we’re introduced to Joseph Pulitzer, snidely played by Jack Ragland, who sings of needing to raise his prices to the newsies in order to raise his profits in “The Bottom Line.” He, along with his coterie of sycophantic assistants, local politicians and corrupt officials provide the conflict for our story. For spice, Disney has reworked the script from the movie to make Jack Kelly’s love interest Pulitzer’s daughter who is a fledgling reporter writing under the pseudonym Katherine Plumber, played by Lizzy Tucker. She and Jack meet in the theater of his friend Medda Larkin, played with aplomb by Sherry Berry where Jack is hiding out from the corrupt warden Snyder of the juvenile home for boys. Jack is immediately taken with Katherine, there to report on Miss Medda’s performance of “That’s Rich.” Despite Jack’s persistence, Katherine brushes him off. Only after Jack leaves does she find the sketch Jack made of the scene below on stage and realize he has talents beneath his brash exterior.

As the story progresses, the newsies decide to strike rather than pay Pulitzer’s higher price for “papes” and Katherine, seeing a golden opportunity for a reporter, throws in with them and promises to write a front page story about them, though keeping her true identity secret. We next see Katherine at her typewriter and Lizzy Tucker delivers a great scene where we see flashes of her growing attraction to Jack as visions of him repeatedly encroach on her train of thoughts as she writes her article. Lizzy’s strong belt voice and pleasing tone enhance her acting as her character is increasingly distracted by and attracted to this innervating, aggravating, charismatic boy in “Watch What Happens.”

Predictably, police, and thugs are deployed to break the strike and Jack and the newsies take a beating. Jack disappears and Crutchie is arrested and taken to the dreaded juvenile refuge. The next morning Katherine returns with a copy of the day’s paper with the story of the newsies’ strike on the front page to cheer them up. Buoyed, they sing of what it will be like when they are famous in the rousing “King of New York.” Crutchie writes to his best friend from the refuge in the tender reprise of “Santa Fe” in a rare quite interlude. Then Davey, Les and Katherine find Jack who is hiding out in Miss Medda’s vaudeville theater painting a backdrop of his idyllic Santa Fe. Though he doesn’t want to expose the boys to harm again, Davey and Katherine convince him their cause – and winning Crutchie’s freedom- is worth the risk as they reprise “Watch What Happens.”

Pulitzer tries to bribe Jack by offering him money and to have all charges dismissed and reveals Katherine’s true identity. Jack walks out and when Katherine later confronts him he dares her to take her best shot at him- she impulsively kisses him in a tender moment when they both realize their true feelings for each other.

We know how this is going down- between their love for each other, their determination and the pluck of their comrades; Pulitzer and his cronies don’t stand a chance. Enlisting the help of none other than New York Governor Teddy Roosevelt and using Jack’s sketches and one of Pulitzer’s own printing presses- they expose the plight of abusive child labor all across New York City in a general strike that brings the city to a standstill. The dreaded refuge is closed and Crutchie freed. With Roosevelt bending his arm, Pulitzer comes to terms with Jack and his movement and even offers him a job as an cartoonist- oh, yes, and of course- he gets the girl! Jack gives up on his dream of Santa Fe, realizing his dream is coming true in New York City.

This show is a fast two and a half hours that will see you leaving the theater with a smile on your face and humming the infectious tunes from the show. In fact, after watching these dancers, you’ll feel like dancing down the street! The cast and crew are infectious as well in their spirited performances and the story they tell. The great headline here is not that Tyler has a terrific theater scene and an admirable production in TCT’s NEWSIES; or that they have a wonderfully talented cast of young and old(er) actors; or that theater lovers in Tyler don’t have to drive to Dallas to see good theater; the headline is that theater lovers in Dallas would be well served to take a trip over to Tyler- and catch a performance of Tyler Civic Theatre’s NEWSIES!

BONUS: The Tyler Civic Theatre Center is next door to the Tyler Rose Garden Center. Make plans to go early and tour the rose gardens before the show.

Disney’s NEWSIES The Musical- Tyler Civic Theatre at the Braithwaite Theatre
Tyler Civic Theatre Center, 400 Rose Park Drive, Tyler, TX 75702 (Next to Tyler Rose Garden Center)
Plays through August 11, 2019
Link to Driving Directions:
August 1-3, 8-10, 7:30pm; August 4 & 11, 2:30pm,
Tickets: $20
Box Office: (903) 592-0561
Rogers Theatre: (903) 593-7827
Fax: (903) 593-7262
Box Office Hours: Monday – Friday, 10am - 1pm & 2pm - 5pm