Energetic “Newsies” sets a high bar for future productions of Disney show

Jack (Hudson Pendleton) rallies the newsies

By DAVID DUPONT

BG Independent News

Much went into the staging of the pilot edition of the Disney musical “Newsies.”

Being among the first high schools to stage the show before it is officially released for production means the production team has to figure a lot out for themselves. There’s not a template to build on.

Sarah Kerr as Katherine sings “Watch What Happens.”

The dress rehearsal staged for local senior citizens Wednesday was a testament to their hard work. That show also demonstrated that the most important element needed to pull the show off is collective energy, a cast that not only sings and dances together, but their hearts beat as one.

“Newsies” was powered by more than 60 batteries… dancing, singing, playing, acting batteries on stage and in the orchestra pit, ably abetted by those in the wings.

”Newsies” has the emotional punch that leaves a catch in your throat at the end. That power comes from real ensemble interplay. These teens playing kids their own age capture the spirit of their peers from 120 years ago, and bring it to life on the stage. You believe these youngsters would take on the goons and police.

Disney’s “Newsies: The Broadway Musical,” directed by Jo Beth Gonzalez, opens tonight (Feb. 1) at 7 p.m. in the Bowling Green Performing Arts Center. It continues with 7 p.m. shows Friday and Saturday and a 3 p.m. matinee Sunday. (Click for ticket information and full cast list http://bgindependentmedia.org/start-spreading-the-news-newsies-opens-feb-1-at-bghs/).

The show is the product an esteemed Broadway team with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and book by Harvey Fierstein.

“Newsies” opens with two young men just waking up in the bleak morning hours on a New York City fire escape.

 

Ethan Brown as Crutchie sings “Letter from The Refuge.”

Crutchie (Ethan Brown) is, true to his nickname, hobbled, but still determined to hit the streets to sell the “papes,” Newsies’ slang for newspapers. His best friend encourages him but Jack (Hudson Pendleton) has dreams. He longs to move to Santa Fe where he can “split rails” and “tell tales around the fire.” Such a different world than the crowded, dirty one he knows in New York City.

But he’s very much a creature of these streets. He’s looked up to by the other news hawkers, made ruffians by their milieu. When newbie newsies Davey (Joseph Kalmar) and his little brother (Liam Rogel or Cole Boswell, who split duties Wednesday) show up, Jack takes them under his wing. He says it’s because 10-year-old Les will bring in customers because he’s so young – Jack advises the kid to say he’s 7. But it’s obvious there’s an element of empathy at play.

While the newsies by and large are on their own, Davey and Les have parents. They’re only on the streets because their father lost his job, and they need to support the family.

Olivia Strang performs “That’s Rich.”

Les announces this is better than going to school. Davey lets him know once their father returns to work, they’ll be back in school. He’s studious and smart, but not played as a nerd.

When Pulitzer and the other publishers decide to balance their books on the backs of their young workers by raising the price the newsies pay for the product, Jack rallies his peers in protest. But it’s a skeptical Davey who provides the intellectual underpinnings of the nascent strike.

Enter the love interest, an enterprising female reporter Katherine Plumber (Sarah Kerr) wants to get off the society beat and she knows the newsies are a good story.

Pendleton and Kerr do a good job of making the rather strained romantic subplot work. They have chemistry, but they never let the love scenes slow the momentum of the show. There’s more important business at hand.

Newsies “Seize the Day”

While Jack is a born leader, the play shows it takes many for a mass movement to succeed. Both Davey and Katherine initiate key actions when Jack falters. The show has numerous feature spots that highlight this as well as make it all the more fitting as a high school production.

The newsies themselves are at once a collection of characters, each realized as an individual, and a collective working together. Choreographer Bob Marzola, who’s had a long-time love affair with the show, captures this in the dancing. Whatever their precision, there’s always a rag-tag spirit about the dance numbers, as if these kids did just spontaneously decide to dance.

One of the great challenges of doing a less familiar show is capturing the audience’s ear with songs they haven’t heard before. Of course, Alan Menken’s music gives the singers a leg up. The cast, under the guidance of vocal director Beth Vaughn, drives home these numbers from the rousing anthem “The World Will Know” to Crutchie’s heartbreaking ballad “Letter from The Refuge.”

There’s a lot of to-the-ramparts belting here as when Kalmar leads the cast in “Seize the Day.”

These numbers get a boost from the 12-piece orchestra, mostly students, conducted by Jeremy Sison that adds layers color and rhythmic drive.

All these pieces click. The Bowling Green cast, crew and production team have done their job demonstrating that “Newsies” deserves to become a regular part of the high school musical theater repertoire.

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