The 2012 Broadway stage version of Disney’s musical Newsies, like its 1992 movie predecessor, has its champions and detractors. But this week’s opening night performance at Miami’s Arsht Center demonstrated one thing indisputably: These “newsboys” sure can dance.
Christopher Gattelli won the Tony Award for his memorable high-flying, athletic Newsies choreography. And those emotionally expressive, thrilling routines are the very best thing about what is otherwise a mixed bag of a show.
Certainly, the musical’s diehard “fansies” (as Newsies folks affectionately call them) and many in the Arsht crowd who cheer after some of the show’s signature numbers would disagree. The touring production is well sung, enthusiastically acted, brilliantly danced, impressively designed. Plenty of people who catch it this week will be thoroughly entertained.
But for others, Newsies will come across as more workmanlike and formulaic than inspired. The piece, efficiently directed by Jeff Calhoun, is very tween- and teen-friendly, with a moody yet heroic “bad boy” named Jack Kelly (Dan DeLuca) leading a host of notably buff “urchin” newsboys whose New York accents are so heavy that some lyrics are nearly unintelligible. “Jack,” for instance, is usually pronounced “Jeck.”
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Based on an actual 1899 strike by New York newsboys, the musical pits a bunch of dancing Davids against publishing Goliaths, notably New York World publisher Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard). When Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst and others conspire to raise the to-the-newsboys price of 100 newspapers by a dime to 60 cents, Jack and the boys protest, then strike.
A pretty gal reporter named Katherine (Stephanie Styles) covers the confrontations between the boys and the press barons’ strikebreakers, and sparks fly between the ambitious reporter and Jack. Though she brushes off his incessant flirting, you know the two will end up together, clinching and kissing. And they do.
Newsies creators Harvey Fierstein (book), Alan Menken (music) and Jack Feldman (lyrics) take on many weighty subjects in the show, including child poverty and abuse, vast economic inequality, the possibilities and frustrations of pursuing the American Dream. But those topics are embedded in a musical comedy with a marked Disney sensibility, live entertainment that is a bit cartoonish, sentimental, sometimes clichéd.
You have cute kids (particularly Anthony Rosenthal, who alternates with Vincent Crocilla as Les, the littlest newsboy), villains (Blanchard’s Pulitzer, who does the verbal equivalent of twirling his mustache, and James Judy as Snyder, the warden who wants to take Jack back to a filthy, rat-infested “refuge” for wayward boys), a savvy Bowery showbiz star (Angela Grovey as Medda Larkin, a savvy entrepreneur who encourages Jack’s artistic talents). It’s easy to imagine how Disney animators would draw these characters, if Newsies took a reverse Beauty and the Beast or Lion King route.
DeLuca and Styles are strong, charismatic leads. Styles invests Watch What Happens with multifaceted possibility, and the song later becomes an impressive quartet for Katherine, Jack, Les and Les’ older brother Davey (Jacob Kemp, a fine singer and appealing actor). DeLuca croons Santa Fe, Jack’s escapist anthem, and (with Styles) the power ballad duet Something To Believe In.
The show’s design centers on Tobin Ost’s movable “steel” towers and Sven Ortel’s projections, adapted for the tour by Daniel Brodie. The pricey 21st century technology evokes a bygone era, one in which reporters used typewriters, stories were set into hot type, a kid selling “papes” on the street was commonplace. Yet though the production’s look and Jess Goldstein’s quaint costumes are striking, very little about the characters’ behavior (or language) suggests 1899.
But oh, can those newsboys dance.
If you go
What: ‘Newsies the Musical’ by Alan Menken, Jack Feldman and Harvey Fierstein.
Where: Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday.
Information: 305-949-6722 or www.arshtcenter.org.