Newsies is high-energy fun for the whole family

By Amber McIver-Traywick

The Surveyor

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse’s production of Disney’s “Newsies” is an entertaining, high-energy show that’s full of heart and humor and well worth making a point to see. A talented cast along with great set design, nice costumes and wonderfully catchy music bring the story of the Newsboys Strike of 1899 to life. Even if newspapers and collective bargaining don’t at first sound like ripe subject matter for a fun, family-friendly musical, plan on being more than pleasantly surprised by this show.

A little back history of the show: It was 1992 and the world was sorely lacking in the movie musical genre, so Disney decided to utilize the talents of Alan Menkin (who also did the music for “Beauty and the Beast” and “Little Shop of Horrors”) and lyricist Jack Feldman, to produce just such a movie based on the Newsboys Strike. The film, starring a young Christian Bale (and oh yes, it is so worth watching just to see Batman sing and dance) failed at the box office but developed a strong following in the years after its release. Fast-forward to 2012 and the Broadway production of “Newsies” was rolled out, which did much better for itself, earning eight Tony Award nominations and two wins.

Last Saturday afternoon my husband and I had the opportunity to enjoy Candlelight’s production of the show, and we were really impressed by the strength of the entire cast and the production as a whole.

It is a dinner theater, and I will briefly say the service, as always, was stellar and the New York inspired menu was really enjoyable and printed like a newspaper for added charm. My favorite part, however, was the chocolate-covered cannolis and the New York-style cheese cake at intermission.

“Newsies” is an underdog story of a group of boys who take on powerful newspaper mogul, Joseph Pulitzer, after he raises the price the boys have to pay upfront to sell his “papers.” The characters are endearing and you’ll find yourself rooting for them from the opening scene.

There’s a leaping, toe-touching newsie on the cover of the playbill which gives you a good idea of the spirit of the show and the vast amount of moving and dancing that unfurls before your eyes. The talented cast of this production works hard to portray a rough-and-tumble rag-tag team of young men who work hard delivering the papers until they made the headlines, all while maintaining their New York accents. High-energy dance numbers and rousing songs are a hallmark of this show, with enough down time to catch your breath. The cast runs through the audience throughout the performance with dancers pulling out a veritable Swiss army knife of dance moves borrowing from ballet, jazz, a phenomenal tap number and some tumbling to boot.

In some shows one or two people stand out – and Logan Traver as the central character Jack Kelly, who leads the strike, does a bang-up job both vocally and at convincingly portraying a range of emotions giving Jack just the right amount of swagger and vulnerability, but what’s special about this show is the fact the corps of newsboys are just as much a star as the lead. They knock it out of the park.

I have to also mention the stellar 10-year-old, Hayden McDonald, who brings audible laughter throughout the show as Les, the younger brother of Davey, played perfectly by Ben Griffin, who Jack takes under his wing as they are called to support their family as newsboys after their father is injured on the job.

Other performances in particular that really stood out were Ben Welch as Crutchie, Jack’s best friend, and Harmony Livingston as Katherine Plumber, Jack’s love interest and an aspiring newspaper reporter. Welch stands out from the crowd even when the spotlight isn’t on him – he’s vibrant in this role and his vocals are spot-on, he really becomes this character. Plumber is a delight and brings a youthful energy to her performance, nailing her double-talk performance of “Watch What Happens.”

The costumes were fun and evoked the place and time of the tail-end of the Victorian era in New York City. The pants/knickers and pageboy caps all hallmarks of the newsies feel – a little grimy and gritty like the feeling evoked from the set.

Images of New York are projected on multiple screens at the back of the stage. What I liked about it most was it was simple but didn’t require huge complicated sets to bring your consciousness into New York City 1899. Leaving some of the nuances to the imagination which I think is part of the magic of the theater. It’s alive and active and draws you into the performance.

My husband said he would like to go see it again – high praise from a guy who doesn’t really do musical theater. It’s fun, it’s feel-good, and will guaranteed put a smile on your face. I left with a strong urge to do a split leap in the parking lot but refrained so I could make it back to write this review and not end up in the hospital. I’ll leave that to the newsies.

 

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