Disney's NEWSIESNational Tour
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Jack Feldman
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Original Screenplay by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White
AT&T Performing Arts Center
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
Orchestrations by Danny Troob
Musical Supervisor, Vocal and Incidental Music Arrangements by Michael Kosarin
Choreography by Christopher Gattelli
Dance Music Arrangements by Mark Hummel
Set Design by Tobin Ost
Costume Design by Jess Goldstein
Hair and Wig Design by Charles G. LaPointe
Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter
Sound Design by Ken Travis
Projection Design by Sven Ortel
CAST (from reviewed performance)
Dan DeLuca – Jack Kelly
Steve Blanchard – Joseph Pulitzer
Stephanie Styles – Katherine
Angela Grovey – Medda Larkin
Jacob Kemp – Davey
Zachary Sayle – Crutchie
Anthony Rosenthal – Les
Ensemble – Mark Aldrich, Josh Assor, Evan Autio, Bill Bateman, Josh Burrage, Kevin Carolan, DeMarius Copes, Benjamin Cook, Julian DeGuzman, Nico DeJesus, Sky Flaherty, Michael Gorman, Jon Hacker, Jeff Heimbrock, Stephen Hernandez, Meredith Inglesby, Molly Jobe, James Judy, Eric Jon Mahlum, Michael Ryan, Jordan Samuels, Jack Sippel, Melissa Steadman Hart, Andrew Wilson and Chaz Wolcott.
Photo by Deen van Meer
Reviewed Performance: 4/30/2015
Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Theater Critic/Editor/Founder, THE COLUMN. Member, AMERICAN THEATRE CRITICS ASSOCIATION for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
What all these have in common is that their film versions became box office hits, winning both critical acclaim and arm loads of awards. Several won the Oscar for Best Motion Picture.
Now, would you take a film that completely bombed at the box office, having received scathing reviews, and transform it onto the stage? Would you invest money into an expensive musical based on a film that critic Leonard Maltin named “Howard the Paperboy” (referring to another expensive film flop, Howard the Duck)?
Walt Disney Pictures released a 1992 movie musical called Newsies which starred a young, unknown Christian Bale (aka Christopher Nolan’s Batman). The film is based on a strike that occurred in New York City circa1899, started by a group of young newsboys. These tiny tykes battled against two rich tycoons, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hurst, who owned major newspapers that poorly paid the boys who delivered their papers. Because of the two week strike, newspapers saw a massive reduction in circulation and resulted in the boys earning a much better wage and a general change in child labor laws.
Disney’s film was helmed by first time director, Kenny Ortega, who also choreographed the film. He’d had a mix of hits and misses as a choreographer - he succeeded with Dirty Dancing but tanked with Xanadu. He later achieved success as both director and choreographer with the High School Musical film trilogies.
Then a strange thing happened thanks to video technology. Newsies became a juggernaut cult hit. It had an army of fans begging for the film to be turned into a stage musical. Around 2010-2011 Disney Theatrical Productions was approached to do just that. But Disney was leery to take to Broadway a film that died at the movie box office. They had already two back to back, expensive flops on the Great White Way - Tarzan and The Little Mermaid.
After much resistance, they finally agreed to a workshop. The production team was made up of Tony and Oscar-winning composer Alan Menkin and Tony winner Harvey Fierstein. The musical gave birth in 2011 at the Paper Mill Playhouse under the direction of Jeff Calhoun, with choreography by Christopher Gattelli. The score had songs from the film as well as original numbers. Paper Mill’s production was met with glowing critical praise and sold out its entire run.
Disney was still uneasy about Broadway but agreed to a limited engagement at the Nederlander Theatre, which opened in March 2012. The musical again garnered smash reviews and became such a hit the engagement was extended. As the show continued to sell out, Disney finally allowed an open-ended engagement. The musical made Disney history, becoming the fastest musical produced by them to recoup their five million dollar investment in a mere seven months. Newsies finally closed in August 2014 after 1,005 performances. The musical received seven Tony Award nominations, winning for Best Choreography and Best Original Score.
But the demand was still there, resulting in their first national tour, which is currently playing at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.
Between the film version and the musical, Alan Menken dropped five songs and replaced them with much better ones. There is a hodgepodge of anthems, from vaudeville to soft pop ballads, within the score. For the tour a new song was put into the show, “Letter from the Refuge”. Each major principal has at least one song assigned them. The score is robust and has within its composition an ambiance of electrifying energy, especially the numbers for the paperboys.
Harvey Fierstein, who has become one of the best book writers in musical theater, did his homework for Newsies. He cut the excess and unnecessary characters and made the book connect in perfect harmony with Menken’s score. He zeroed in on the key factors of the film to keep focus on the central theme of the piece.
Jeff Calhoun’s direction is peerless. The characterizations might have easily fallen into carbon copy performances, much the norm in musicals today. And while some could have become a bit too sugary saccharine, Calhoun guides his principals to avoid that and makes certain the actors lend naturalism to their characters. The pace is flawless, never once sagging or idling away until the next big musical number comes along.
What really makes Newsies blow you away is the phenomenal, exhilarating, eye- popping, out-of-this-world choreography by Christopher Gattelli. It’s no wonder he won the Tony Award for his efforts here. All the big company numbers are choreographed with some of the most original and intoxicating dance numbers ever created for a musical. He uses jazz, ballet, tap, acrobatics, and modern to create his astonishing dance masterpieces. So many musicals, past and present, tend to focus only on female dancers - the line of chorine “gals with gams” for days, all decked in sequins. Gattelli has a group of masculine, athletic young men to bring his choreography to life. Several numbers brought the house down, and you’ll have to see it in person to experience the magnificent choreography that came from Gattelli’s talents. (Just this week he received a Tony nomination for the Broadway revival of The King And I).
Tobin Ost’s scenic design is a jaw-dropping, palatial, grandiose work of art. Three massive, steel iron towers with endless steps are so tall they actually reach the proscenium. The towers spin, twirl and travel all around the stage. Other pieces, such as a staircase and two large iron boxes, glide in and out, and from the fly rail comes a plush purple curtain trimmed in gold with chaser lights, ornate furniture pieces for Joseph Pulitzer’s office, and so on.
Today’s scenic design technology has advanced so much over the last few years, especially in the world of video projections, and the superior design by Sven Ortel here creates a myriad of visual feasts. For Newsies, Ortel created three massive iron towers, that when connected, become three floors, so that the audience sees six large boxes (think of the game show set for Hollywood Squares). In each block is a projection scrim that moves together, separately, or in array of patterns. A parade of moving images splatters across the scrims, adding to the pace, energy and movement of the story. And they also create some beautiful moments, such as when Jack sketches Katherine when they first meet or when Katherine types her article about the strike. Ortel’s smorgasbord of visual magic projections also hits the back wall behind the towers and on the panels of either side of the wings.
Jeff Croiter’s lighting design becomes the cherry on top to complete the delicious array of design. He knows exactly where brighter, bold colors are needed to pump up the energy of the musical numbers or when to create soft, soothing lighting for more intimate moments within the show. His attention to detail on where the lighting should bathe around a performer, as well as behind and around them, is sumptuous.
Costumes by Jess Goldstein are period correct, right down to the shoes. Even when the boys go into their big tap number in Act II, their period shoes have taps on them! The women in the cast get to wear the more elaborate, colorful costumes. I particularly love the fuchsia, purple, beaded costume Medda wears in her first number.
The cast is chockfull of stellar performances, some deserving special kudos.
Angela Grovey provides some of the heartier laughs as Medda Larkin, owner and star of her own theater. She has a terrific number, “That’s Rich”, which shows off her vocal range quite beautifully.
Anthony Rosenthal is adorable as the youngest paperboy, Les. This pint size tyke dances, sings and acts like a pro, easily keeping up with his adult co-stars. Rosenthal also already has a keen sense of comedic timing!
Meredith Inglesby steals several scenes as the carrot-topped secretary Hannah. The exquisitely beautiful actress is the chameleon within the company, appearing as a sweet, angelic nun for one number, one of the sexy dancers in Medda’s theater, and then the nerdy secretary to Pulitzer, her hysterical nasal voice added a mirthful layer of comedy to that characterization.
As Crutchie, Zachary Sayle wins the audience’s heart. He has an angelic face, and his bouncing energy wraps around his characterization to create a funny yet moving performance. Attention to detail with his crippled leg is a testament to his acting craft. His consoling, heart-tugging baritone voice during “Letter from the Refuge” makes Sayle a major stand out within the talented cast.
Jacob Kemp portrays Davey, Les’s older brother. Kemp has excellent chemistry with Rosenthal, which seals their connection as siblings. Kemp possesses a solid tenor voice that sits on a sturdy belt, and his musical numbers display his singing chops. He completely understands the subtext and arc within his character of a boy who still has both parents but had to quit school and work to put food on the family table. Kemp also shows the intelligence and quick thinking qualities his role demands.
I first saw Steve Blanchard on Broadway when he played the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. He holds the great distinction of having played the role the longest on Broadway. I then saw Mr. Blanchard become Triton, Ariel’s father in the revised, critically acclaimed production of The Little Mermaid. In Newsies, he devours the role of Joseph Pulitzer. The role could easily be a one note villain but Blanchard smartly avoids those traps. He shows the various layers of the rich tycoon who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Blanchard also peppers in some great comedy zingers. He shows off his booming, resplendent voice in his solo, “The Bottom Line”. He also deftly plays off of the various characters that circle around Pulitzer, especially the great book scene with Jack Kelly (Dan DeLuca) in the second act. It is a rare treat to have a Broadway star like Blanchard in a national tour!
Katherine is portrayed by Stephanie Styles, a beautiful actress with a dynamite soprano voice that can switch from classic Broadway to pop in a flash. Her belt sticks like Velcro to her notes that flow out effortlessly. She has a rousing first act solo “Watch What Happens”, and in Act II she beautifully sings the duet (With Dan DeLuca) “Something to Believe In”. Her character is another of those cookie cutter romantic ingénue roles that could easily make the audience think, “Been there, seen that, and got the t-shirt to prove it”. However, Styles’ unparalleled performance avoids all that. Her fantastic comedic timing and delivery gives her characterization a refreshing quality. When it comes to the romantic scenes, she is very much in the moment, never once letting them become false or melodramatic. She is a unique gem in this production.
Dan DeLuca delivers a star in the making performance as Jack Kelly, the rebel leader who initiates the paperboys’ strike. This lead role requires so much from an actor as he must have one hell of a tenor voice with a sonorous belt behind it. His stage presence needs to fill up a massive theater with an acting technique to handle drama, comedy and romance. Oh, and he must also know how to dance. DeLuca truly delivers in all those areas. His exquisite, tenor singing voice crests on a soothing vibrato, while his breath control allows him to push forth and belt with force. He closes the first act song, “Santa Fe”, with a robust, long, sustaining belting note. It was full of vocal muscular strength, and I swear I heard some of the long Winspear chandelier tubes sway back and forth above us! DeLuca’s comedic timing, pace and delivery is the best of the night. Like a seasoned pro, he knows just where to add an extra bump for longer laughter from the audience. When it comes to the darker, more dramatic moments, they feel the heartfelt honesty and truly understand Kelly’s inner conflict regarding the strike and failing his friends. DeLuca has a hypnotic stage presence that never dims, and the audience zeroes on him the second he appears. This extraordinary actor does not have a Broadway credit, but trust me, he will. His gifts and talents will soon be gracing a stage on the Great White Way.
As Katherine and Jack, Stephanie Styles and Dan DeLuca have believable chemistry, being the only romantic couple in the musical. The book does not allow much time for these two to fall in love, and in the wrong hands could have become shtick, schmaltzy, and fake. But their sincerity genuinely shows two people that fall in love; their honesty gives the subtext room to breathe so they connect naturally. Styles and DeLuca’s performance together are quite impressive to watch unfold on stage. At the reviewed performance you could hear many of the girls in the upper levels squeal with delight loudly.
The scene stealers and stars of Newsies are the male performers that make up the paperboys. The way they execute mind-blowing, extremely difficult choreography will have you gasping in awe and applauding constantly. They bring the house down with such numbers as “Carrying the Banner”, “Seize the Day”, “King of New York”, and the finale.
These insanely-talented performers execute jazz, tap, modern, ballet, and even acrobatics with pure perfection. They fly high into the air with their leaps, and spin at such speed you get dizzy in your seat. The choreography is extremely athletic and precise, and requires massive amounts of energy. And they pull it off! I was blown away by their unison - from their leaps to their spins, they all were in sync. Their front and back flips remind me of Cirque du Soleil! And through all that, they also have to sing! Their vocalizations sound marvelous, right down to the harmonies. Acting is spot on, both individually and as an ensemble. The New York dialects sound authentic, and they know how to inject great comedy in several scenes. Each had so much energy you have to wonder if they are given intravenous doses of Red Bull off stage! All their big, choreographed numbers were met with prolonged thunderous applause, cheers and whistles from the audience – all well deserved. And wait until you see what they do for the finale!
The triple threat actors that stole the show are Mark Aldrich, Evan Autio, Josh Burrage, DeMarius Copes, Benjamin Cook, Julian DeGuzman, Nico DeJesus, Sky Flaherty, Jeff Heimbrock, Stephen Hernandez, Jordan Samuels, Jack Sippel, and Chaz Wolcott.
Disney has spared no expense for the Newsies national tour and it reveals itself onstage, from the design down to the talent. The tour is booked two years in advance, that’s how much in demand the musical is! Disney’s Newsies is an electrifying, riveting, sensational musical, and a production you will want to see more than once!
AT&T Performing Arts Center
Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora Street
Dallas, TX 75201
Plays through May 10th
Tuesday-Thursday at 8:00 pm, Friday-Saturday at 8:00 pm, Sunday at 7:30 pm, and Saturday-Sunday at 2:00 pm. There is an additional matinee on Thursday, May 7th, at 2:00 pm. (Good prices then!)
Tickets range from $35.00-$180.00, depending on day and seating.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.attpac.org, call the box office at 214-880-0202 or go to the AT&T Performing Arts Center Information Center at 2353 Flora Street (Mon. 10 am-6 pm, Tues.-Sat. 10 am-9 pm, and Sun. 10 am-6:00 pm).
**Please Note - Buyers are reminded that the AT&T Performing Arts Center Information Center Box Office is the only official retail ticket outlet for all performances at the Winspear Opera House. Ticket buyers who purchase tickets from a ticket broker or any third party should be aware that the Winspear Opera House is unable to reprint or replace lost or stolen tickets and is unable to contact patrons with information regarding time changes or other pertinent updates regarding the performance.