NEWSIESMusic by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Jack Feldman, Book by Harvey Fierstein
Artisan Center Theater
Directed and Choreographed by – Cody Walker
Music Director – Richard Gwozdz
Set Design – Tobin Griffin
Light/Sound/Illuminations Programming Design – Wes Taylor
Costume Design – Henry Cawood, Michelle Cawood
Illuminations Design – Doug Vandergriff
Props Design – Amy Luckie
Wigs/Makeup Design – Parker Gerdes, Michelle Cawood
Stage Manager – Alison Baron
CAST for reviewed performance
Josh Wilson – Jack Kelly
Marisa Hampton – Katherine Plumber
Josué Summers – Davey
Griffin Hoch – Crutchie
Judi Conger – Medda Larkin
Aaron Knight – Joseph Pulitzer
Braylen Nelson – Les
Tanner Cockrum – Spot Conlon/Scab/Goon
Fred Patterson – Wiesel/Mr. Jacobi/Nunzio/Roosevelt
Brendon Ramsey – Morris Delancey/Pit Singer
Hayden Cawood – Oscar Delancey/Pit Singer
James Kazen – Snyder/Photographer
Seth May – Seitz/Policeman/Guard/Pit Singer
Devon Harper – Bunsen/Nun
Hope Taylor – Hannah/Bowery Beauty/Nun
Brittany Jenkins – Bowery Beauty/Nun
Jacob Cathey – Race
Kaleb Godwin – Albert
Henry Cawood – Finch
Cole Wilkerson – Specs/Bill
Marcus Solis – Romeo
Andres Reyes – Henry/Scab/Goon
Matthew Grand – Mush
Harrison Cawood – Elmer/Goon
Alex Faught – Tommy Boy/Darcy
Lizzy Davis – JoJo
Ava Amlong – Splasher/Scab
Michelle Dulin – Buttons
Alyssa Goeringer – Pit Singer
Avery Jones – Pit Singer
Alonna Neyhart – Pit Singer
Brendon Ramsey – Pit Singer
Derian Ramsey – Pit Singer
Reviewed Performance: 1/22/2019
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Artisan Center Theater has brought this amazing musical to life at their theatre in the round in Hurst, and for the most part, the show succeeds. I love seeing (and doing) theatre in the round, partly because of the intimacy such a configuration requires, and partly because of the creativity that has to go into blocking and choreography. Director/choreographer Cody Walker does a superb job maneuvering his large cast in such a small acting space. Never did I feel that a scene was being played with backs toward one side of the audience, and the intricate choreography filled the space perfectly. I was, however, glad I wasn’t on the front row, as I thought sometimes the stage felt just a bit too crowded (and I worried that someone was about to get kicked in the teeth). Part of this was due to some of the huge set pieces that were used. Set designer Tobin Griffin could have made some of these somewhat smaller and still had the same effect. That said, the set pieces moved on and off quickly and efficiently and helped set the scenes well. Doug Vandergriff also helped set the scenes with his unobtrusive projection designs behind/above each seating area. Wes Taylor’s lighting design was effective in setting the mood.
Newsies is already a huge cast, and Artisan has double-cast most of the roles, which is pretty impressive! At the performance I attended, Josh Wilson portrayed the charismatic “union” leader Jack Kelly with a youthful exuberance and swagger. Other than straining a bit on some of the high notes here and there, Mr. Wilson’s singing voice was solid and powerful, and he gave a beautifully nuanced performance. Marisa Hampton played Jack’s love interest Katherine Plumber, a young female reporter who wanted to do more than just write about entertainment and society. Ms. Hampton is obviously a strong dancer and singer, so it’s too bad that the role doesn’t showcase them more, but she definitely makes the most of her solo, “Watch What Happens.” She and Mr. Wilson had good chemistry together, and their duet, “Something to Believe In” is beautiful!
Josué Summers shines as Davey, the new kid. While not as charismatic as Jack, Davey really is the brains behind the strike and Mr. Summers plays this subtle intelligence nicely, while still fitting in with the rougher, less sophisticated newsboys. His singing voice is also very impressive, and I wish we’d gotten to hear more of him. Braylen Nelson plays Davey’s little brother Les, and while he had cute facial expressions and moved pretty well, it was hard to understand him most of the time. I think some of that was due to his microphone, though.
The mics overall were not sampled well. Some of the actors’ mics were too hot, causing them to crackle, while others cut in and out, and others were too quiet and/or fuzzy sounding. Plus, a few actors didn’t even have mics, which meant the sound seemed to go down to almost nothing every time they talked. That shouldn’t be the case in a space as compact as Artisan Center Theater. I would rather hear the actors’ and singers’ voices without amplification, personally, even if that means bringing the level of the musical tracks way down.
Griffin Hoch had one of the mics that was too hot. Physically, Mr. Hoch did an admirable job playing the sickly Crutchie, and he did a fine job with the solo “Letter from the Refuge,” but it was often hard to understand him when he was talking, partly due to the mic issue.
Aaron Knight portrayed the wealthy, pompous Joseph Pulitzer with just the right amount of oozing charm, and Judi Conger portrayed burlesque star Medda Larkin with grace and magnetism. Fred Patterson made each of his four characters unique (with a special nod to his “bully” Roosevelt).
The bulk of this musical is handled by a large ensemble of singing and dancing young people, all of whom have distinct personalities while making up a unified whole. This is where Newsies can really shine, or where it can fall apart, and I’m happy to report that here, Artisan Center Theater truly delivers. This army of young actors is full of talent! They belt and harmonize and do flips and cartwheels and move in synchronization.... There is A LOT going on, and no one ever pulls focus and everyone is always in character. Strong ensembles are not easy, especially when they also have to be distinct people AND occasionally play secondary characters throughout a show rather than just be “chorus.” Several of the newsboys are also played by girls, but it’s definitely not obvious. A couple of stand-outs among the ensemble are Alex Faught as Tommy Boy/Darcy and Marcus Solis as Romeo.
A musical is nothing without strong singers, and Richard Gwozdz does a fine job bringing out the musical best in his (mostly) young cast. Combined with Mr. Walker’s strong direction and choreography, this production of Newsies is well worth your time.
I was fortunate to attend Newsies on the night the show had interpreters for the deaf. Kudos to Artisan for providing this valuable service for their patrons! This was my first visit to Artisan Center Theater, but I doubt it will be my last!
Artisan Center Theater
444 E Pipeline Rd, Hurst, TX 76053
Runs through February 9.
Actual days: Monday through Saturday at 7:30, plus a matinees on Saturdays at 3:00.
Tickets are $14-28.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to http://www.artisanct.com or call the box office at 817-284-1200.