NEWSIES gloriously brings Broadway and Disney together to deliver an exciting, crowd-pleasing experience.
In our current culture, there's a mentality that thinks ‘If you didn’t Instagram it, did it actually happen?’. Well back in 1899, if it didn’t make the papers, it may as well not have happened. So when newspaper tycoon Joseph Pulitzer made life unreasonably tough for poor starving newsboys, the boys fought back, making headlines and ensuring their voices were heard. Thanks to Disney’s NEWSIES, the hit Broadway musical currently breaking the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver, the inspirational newsboy story is being told to audiences young and old. And it’s being told in glorious Disney musical theatre style.
First of all, the dancing and choreography in NEWSIES in absolutely incredible. The cast of amazing young male dancers leap, flip, pirouette, tap and outright leave the audience breathless from their fierce performances. However, while this could possibly be the greatest dance musical ever (choreographer Christopher Gattelli won the 2012 Tony Award for his work), NEWSIES is SO much more.
For one thing, the newsboys are triple threat performers, who shine in their vocals and characterization. Secondly, the singing, acting and staging of the show has been masterfully crafted into one slick, shiny, well-oiled machine that screams Broadway and Disney, thanks to the genius direction of Jeff Calhoun. Yes, if Broadway and Disney had a child, it would be NEWSIES. And while the charismatic and insanely talented newsboys may be fan favourites, there’s so much talent in the cast that it’s ridiculous.
The show’s star is Joey Barreiro, who plays Jack Kelly, the leader of the newsboy revolution. Barreiro’s brooding good looks, casual charm and authentic New York accent, combined with his stunning vocals is brilliant. Morgan Keene, who plays Jack’s love interest, Katherine, is a sweet match for Barreiro. Her mannerisms and personality are reminiscent of Kristen Dundst back in the day. Thankfully, her singing is way better (you won’t have to relive that awful singing scene from Spiderman 3, thank God).
Keene’s casual cool portrayal of Katherine is charming for the most part. Except, while she hits all the big notes in her songs (the girl can belt), at times her casual cool delivery is a little too casual for musical theatre. Keene throws away some of the subtle nuances in her lyrics. As well, when compared to the dynamite dancing of the newsboys, Keene’s skill set in the dancing department come across as lacklustre. Overall though, the relationship between Barreiro and Keene is fun to watch and both actors are wonderful in their roles.
Other notable performances include Andy Richardson’s precious portrayal of Crutchie, Jack’s crippled best friend. His adorable personality adds a refreshing tone to the show amid all the revolutionary action on stage. Alisha de Haas is tremendous as Medda Larkin, Jack’s burlesque queen friend, who treats the audience with her rousing vocal ability and pizazz. As newspaper giant Joseph Pulitzer, Steve Blanchard gives a very strong performance. His commanding stage presence is extremely fitting for the role, not to mention his impressively fit physique.
Part of what makes NEWSIES such an incredible experience is the scenery, designed by Tobin Ost. From the scaffold-like fire escapes and orphanages, glitzy burlesque theatre and glamorous Pulitzer office, Ost’s genius scenic design takes the audience on a whirlwind journey through 19th century New York. However, on opening night, a few of the set pieces, particularly the scaffold tower the newsboys stand on, and the giant door to the World newspaper offices seemed wobbly. The unstableness of the sets is probably due to the fact that this show is a touring production and the sets are designed to be portable. However, it was a little unsettling to see the set pieces wobble back and forth.
Alan Menken’s (composer of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin) music is beautiful and when combined with Jack Feldman’s lyrics, the result is classic Disney magic. Harvey Fierstein’s book has cleverly transformed the original screenplay (NEWSIES was originally a feature film back in 1992) to the stage. Although the story deals with some pretty rough stuff, the musical tones down the violence and gruesomeness, which makes the show a family-friendly Disney experience. Plus, since the newsboys are never really seriously hurt, they’re always able to burst into choreography, to the delight of the audience.
While NEWSIES is an exciting crowd-pleasing experience, it tells an important story of how a community that was told they didn’t matter fought for their rights – and made sure they mattered. Sound familiar? While this story takes place in 1899, there have been many inspiring stories that have echoed this fight for equality since, including the civil rights movement and the fight for LGBTQ rights. While we may be living in 2016, there’s still a long way to go in the fight for equality and let’s hope Disney’s NEWSIES inspires us all to stand up for what we believe in, make our voices heard and, in the words of the show’s newsboys, ‘Seize the day’.
Disney’s NEWSIES plays the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver until June 10. Visit Broadway Across Canada to purchase tickets.