Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: Newsies at the Paper Mill Playhouse-WOW

The long awaited premiere of the stage version of the Disney musical Newsies was Sunday night at the Paper Mill Playhouse. On a scale of one-to-ten the WOW factor is plus ten. Once again, the Paper Mill Playhouse, in collaboration with an entertainment giant, has presented a spectacular, toe-tapping, foot-stomping production of pure entertainment.

Last season, you will recall, the Paper Mill, in concert with legendary producer Cameron Mackintosh (The Phantom of The Opera), presented the outstanding U.S. premiere of the 25th anniversary edition of Les Miserables. Musically (and the book) Newsies is not in the same league as Les Miz, but, of course, few shows are. But, the music is still first-rate, although no show-stoppers, and is the product of the film's composers...eight-time Academy Award®-winning composer Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Sister Act, The Little Mermaid), with lyrics by Jack Feldman. They retained many of the film's original songs (Santa Fe and Seize The Day, the most memorable) and added several new numbers.

The biggest change is the addition of a new book by Broadway Hall-of Famer, Harvey Fierstein. Fierstein has provided the central character, Jack Kelly (Jeremy Jordan), with a new love interest, fledgling newspaper reporter Katherine Plumber (Kara Lindsay) who aids the Newsies in their David and Goliath strike against Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, and by the second act has fallen in love with Jack, for example. In the film, Jack is in love with his friend David's sister Sarah.

Newsies, as the live-action Disney film musical that starred the teenaged Christian Bale, was a horrendous box-office flop. The best reviews called it 'mildly amusing.'  It was only after it was released to home video that the story of a bunch of kids taking on, and defeating, some of the most powerful men in the world developed a cult following. Newsies is based on the true story of the Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City. Thousands of homeless children were living in Newsboys lodging houses, they strike when the price of newspapers for purchase by the newsboys is raised one-tenth of a cent, decided by bitter rivals, Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World,  and William Randolph Hearst of The Journal.

The lead, 'Cowboy' Jack Kelly, torn between his dream of one day of fleeing the city for Santa Fe and wanting to help his newsie friends, faces many difficult decisions involving money and loyalty, is played by a relative newcomer of exceptional talent, Jeremy Jordan. Jordan can do it all...sing, dance and act (with a NY/Brooklyn accent worthy of Leo Gorcey and his Bowery Boys). Concurrently with his Newsie performance, he is in rehearsal by day in New York for his first starring role on Broadway as Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde opening in December. Kara Lindsay is excellent as the newspaper woman Katherine Plummer. Kara was last seen by the Paper Mill audience as Laura in The Little House On The Prairie. John Dossett impresses with his villianous portrayal of Pulitzer. Also outstanding is the huge cast of young men led by Ben Fankhauser as Davey, young Vincent Agnello as Les, Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Crutchie, Aaron J. Albano as Finch, and Tommy Bracco as Tommy Boy.

Leading the adult cast are Helen Anker, gorgeous as Medda, John E. Brady as Wiesel, Mr. Jacobi and the Mayor. His brief Mr. Jacobi appearance earned a round of applause. Kevin Carolan does a fine Teddy Roosevelt, then Governor of New York. The other great villain of the piece is Snyder, the warden of the infamous 'Refuge', a hell hole of a juvenile detention facility. Stuart Marland is very convincing as Snyder.
This outstanding production has been directed by Tony® nominee Jeff Calhoun (The Will Rogers Follies, Grey Gardens).  Calhoun is no stranger to Disney productions, he directed both the world premiere and international productions of Disney's High School Musical: On Stage, and Disney's High School Musical 2: On Stage. He is also set to direct Bonnie and Clyde on Broadway. Calhoun's team: First, the choreographer Christopher Gattelli, he has assembled a cast of exceptional male dancers, many of whom appear ready for the ABT (American Ballet Theatre). The impressive set, inspired by the girder construction of the long gone 3rd Avenue 'El' is the work of Scenic Designer Tobin Ost. Jeff Croiter is the Lighting Designer. Sven Ortel is the Projection Designer...a relatively new, and, in this production, a very key position.

David Holcenberg serves as Music Director of the 12 member orchestra. Michael Kosarin is the Music Supervisor/Vocal and Incidental Music Arranger. Rounding out the team are: Randy Hansen (Sound Design), Chuck LaPointe (Hair and Wig Design), J. Allen Suddeth (Fight Director) and Shane Ann Younts (Dialect Coach).   Thomas J. Gates is the all-important Production Stage Manager.

Harvey Fierstein, in his 'A Note from the Playwright' offers this view of Newsies; "Speaking for the team, I urge you, in the best Disney tradition, to dream, and then watch what happens! You can change the world." This is the important message of this marvelous theatrical event. Five Stars.
Newsies began at Paper Mill Playhouse on Thursday, September 15, 2011 and will be performed eight times a week, Wednesday through Sunday, through Sunday, October 16. Three, four and five show subscription packages are available now, starting at $84.   Single tickets range in price from $25-$96. Tickets may be purchased by calling 973-376-4343, or at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, New Jersey or online at  Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted.  Groups of ten or more can receive up to a 35% discount on tickets and should call 973-315-1680Newsies is supported by a grant from The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation. Investors Bank is the sponsor of Paper Mill Playhouse's 2011-2012 season.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio    September 25, 2011

Kara Linsey (Katherine Plumer) and Jeremy Jordan (Jack Kelley),  Photos by T. Charles Erickson, courtesy of Paper Mill Playhouse

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