It’s that time of the year again when theaters large and small, professional and community mount a holiday musical for all family viewing and even participation…casts as large as 50 of all ages crowd the stages. The Centenary Stage Company, no exception, has a wonderful track record of producing “Holiday Spectaculars” of this type, e.g Mary Poppins, Peter Pan and Mr. Dickens’ all time classic A Christmas Carol. This ”jolly” season is no exception…under the fine direction of CSC’s Michael Bevins they premiered this past weekend Disney’s Newsies the Musical (runs through December 10).
We reviewed the Newsies world premiere at the Paper Mill several years ago. It went straight to Broadway for a good run. We led our review then with: “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.” Well surprise, surprise the CSC, minus Disney’s budget, has produced a fun, entertaining, toe-tapping, foot-stomping version. The show features a terrific group of boys (the newsies) who are obviously having the time of their lives. They dance with incredible energy, exuberance and enthusiasm…can we add enjoyment?
First some background: Newsies, is the live-action Disney film musical that starred the teenaged Christian Bale. It, 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 living in Newsboys lodging houses, 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 CSC cast has a core of professional and local standout performers plus talented young men and women from CSC’s Young Performers Workshop. A weak point has been the music. It is first-rate, although no show-stoppers, with many of the film's original songs (Santa Fe and Seize The Day, the most memorable) included plus several added numbers.
For fans of the film, the biggest change was the addition of a new book by Broadway Hall-of Famer, Harvey Fierstein. Fierstein has provided the central character, Jack Kelly (Jake Jackson-photo right), with a new love interest, fledgling newspaper reporter Katherine Plumber (McKenzie Custin) 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.
The lead, 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 local college student (CCM) Jake Jackson. Jake is simply terrific. The newspaper reporter Katherine Plumber is played by the multi-talented McKenzie Custin (photo top), last season’s Mary Poppins. It is hard not to use the word ‘adorable’ in describing McKenzie. Both Jake and McKenzie will be standouts wherever their talents take them.
Two other standouts are Samille Ganges as Medda, one of the most beloved performers on the Bowery in downtown New York and a good friend to Jack and the boys. A musical highlight is her belting ‘That's Rich. She is nicely supported by the ‘Bowery Beauties’ (Grace Noel, Lauren Santarelli, Megan Schmiedhauser, Kiana Rodriquez, Emma Mason, Brianna Morris and Lauren Taglienti).
The other standout is the CSC’s own Carl Wallnau (photo right), the CSC’s Artistic Director. Carl nails the somewhat villainous role of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer. He has fun with the fine supporting players (James Russo as Seitz, Cindy Livingstone as Hannah and Rich Maloy as Bunsen) with the first act song ‘The Bottom Line.’
Others in the large cast include: Patrick Cogan as Governor Teddy Roosevelt, Bob Eberle as the New York City mayor, Matt Fralley as Snyder, warden of the infamous juvenile detention facility and Stephen Davis as Wiesel. The lead boys are Brandon Wiener as Jack’s pal Crutchie, Christopher Newhouse as Davey, Jackson Yawger as Les and Saquan Williams as Albert
The remaining cast includes: Joe Anselmo, Teax Armijo, Nick Bettens, Zack Clar , Richard Cort, Izac D. Cruz, Zachary DeBevec, Tyler Donovan, Sean C. Fowley, Matthew Fralley, Sebastian Gutkin, Tony Lee, AJ Lewis, Dominick Lusardi, Tim Nagle, Kevin O’ Gorman, Raphael Pelczmann, Anthony Raddi, Jack Scarsi, Matthew Sigler, Jonathan Tanigaki, Brandon Vita, Andrew Wire, and David Yawger.
Director/ choreographer Michael Blevins’ creative team includes music direction Jarred Lee; stage manager Sonia Thiel; set design Ashleigh Poteat; light design Ethan Newman; sound design Steve Wasylean; costume design Ashleigh Poteat.
Adding to our enjoyment was a little five-year-old who was totally engaged throughout the entire performance. She is a big fan of the movie, knows ALL the lyrics to ALL the songs and her toes were tapping during all the dances. She applauded enthusiastically at the end of every number. The future of live theatre is assured!
NEWSIES runs through December 10th in the Sitnik Theatre of the Lackland Performing Arts Center, located on the campus of Centenary University at 715 Grand Avenue in Hackettstown, New Jersey. Performance times are Thursdays at 7:30 PM, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, and Sundays, Wednesday at 2pm.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio November 26, 2017
Ticket prices are $29.50 for adults and $20.00 for children under 12 for matinee and Friday evening performances. Saturday evening performances are $32.00 for adults and $20.00 for children under 12. Thursday evening performances are $29.50 for ALL SEATS with a Buy One/Get One Rush Ticket Special when purchased at the Centenary Stage Company box office in person as early as two hours prior to performance time. BOGO Rush Ticket Special not valid for advance ticket sales and not available via phone or internet sales.
For more information or to purchase tickets visit centenarystageco.org or call the Centenary Stage Company box office at (908) 979 – 0900. The box office is located in the Lackland Performing Arts Center at 715 Grand Ave. Hackettstown, NJ.
Photos by Bob Eberle