Through Sun 8/13
Newsies is the Disney-produced musical that was inspired by the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in which a group of ragtag ruffian youth, who were the breadwinners for their impoverished immigrant families, stood up to the powerful Joseph Pulitzer, the owner of New York’s major newspaper. The show is now on stage at Porthouse Theatre, in its area premiere, on the grounds of Blossom Center.
Though the musical embellishes the facts of the real strike, it makes for an entertaining show, which gives us good guys to root for, evil ones a chance to receive jeers, and in the present shadow of political angst, it highlights how the upright can triumph over the hateful, who find self-ego more important than the needs and necessities of those on the fringes of society. Newsies has catchy, toe-tapping music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and a hooky book by Harvey Fierstein that gives director Terri Kent a chance to do creative staging and play for both laughs and pathos.
In the mold of the traditional musical, the songs are melodic, the two-act format ends with the first act leaving the audience with a cliff hanger regarding whether good guy Jack or the bad guy Joseph Pulitzer will prevail, and offers an obvious and audience pleasing ending. The score includes ballads, marches, and tap dance-inducing sounds. “Santa Fe” is a song of longing, the show-stopping “Seize the Day” is a choreographic explosion of determination, and the tap dancing dynamic “King of New York” stops the show. “The Bottom Line” illustrates greed and corruption, “Brooklyn’s Here” shows the power of solidarity of purpose and how enemies can form a bond when it comes to forging change.
Newsies is a hard show to cast and produce. It requires at least a dozen male dancers, who must also sing and act with precision. Any theater, other than on Broadway venue, will find difficulty in finding the needed male performers. The Porthouse production does a decent job of filling the roles.
MaryAnn Black has done an excellent job of choreographing the dance-centric show, especially considering the limited stage size. Flips, somersaults, line dancing, contemporary moves and balletic moves explode on the stage. Especially strong dancers are Ryan Borgo, Nick Johnson, Matthew Smetana and Jake Rosko.
Matt Gittins lacks some of the dynamism of Jeremy Jordan who was the original Jack Kelly on Broadway. However, he is believable as Jack, the leader of the Newsies, the tough guy with a tender underbelly. He has a strong singing voice. Beautiful Katelyn Cassidy charms as Jacks’ love interest and defiant daughter of Joseph Pulitzer. Gittins and Cassidy’s rendition of “Something to Believe In” is one of the show’s musical highlights.
Morgan Thomas-Mills nicely textures the role of Crutchie. His “Letter from the Refuge” had the right vocal and longing sound. Bryce Baxter was character right as Davey, Jack’s right hand man, the brains of the Newsies.
The small thrust stage gave scenic designer Nolan O’Dell a special challenge. He needed to leave room for dancing and still be able to fulfill the requirement of numerous settings. He basically accomplished this by using two large scaffold formats, with some additional set pieces. After a while, all the moving of stuff around became a bit much, but, in general the concept worked. Jonathan Swoboda’s 11-piece orchestra played extremely well and kept the upscale pace dynamic without drowning out the singers, which is often a major problem in local theatres.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Newsies, which is based on a real tale of good versus evil, and a love connection of opposites attracting, has a multi-textured melodic score. The Porthouse production contains dynamic choreography and strong musical and vocal sounds, which adds up to a very pleasant evening of theater.
Newsies runs through Sun 8/13. For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to porthousetheatre.com. Curtain time is 8pm Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2pm Sundays. The picnic grounds at Porthouse open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.