Christopher Gattelli’s exuberant, energetic choreography and the national touring company’s superlative male ensemble dominate Disney’s ‘Newsies,’ currently at the Boston Opera House through July 5. You don’t want to miss it, precisely for those reasons, among others.
Harvey Fierstein’s book, along with Alan Menken and Jack Feldman’s award-winning score, is based on David Nasaw’s book, “Children of the City,” chronicling the July 1899 unprecedented strike of Greater New York City child newspaper hawkers against publishing giants Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.
The “newsies,”a ragtag group of impoverished boys who bought newspapers from distributors and earned their keep by selling them to passersby for a slightly higher price, challenged the publishers of New York’s “Evening World” and “Evening Journal” after the owners raised their price to the kids. Under the leadership of feisty Kid Blink, who wore a patch and was blind in one eye (he’s camouflaged in “Newsies” as full-sighted, good-looking Jack Kelly), the kids gained support from the sprawling city’s 10,000 newsboys in other boroughs, specifically influential Brooklyn. They organized a protest march across Brooklyn Bridge, blocking traffic, thus thwarting the public’s ability to move, and the delivery of newspapers, literally shutting down the city. They staged a protest rally, which gained public, media and political attention, proving they could make a difference - just like Biblical youth David, who challenged giant Goliath, slew him and won. They also threatened “scabs,” or workers willing to cross their embattled strike lines.
The play’s only sugar coating is the playwright’s creating a fictitious romance -with a twist- between Kelly (terrific Dan DeLuca) and aspiring newspaper reporter Katherine (delightful Stephanie Styles), who wants to get off writing the “social” pages and prove she can be a serious news reporter. The newsboys’ strike is her catalyst, her big scoop, and her romance with Kelly is her luscious sidebar.
DeLuca and Styles make beautiful music and romance together.
Indeed,just as the play depicts, the authentic newsies’ strike captured the headlines of all newspapers, especially of Pulitzer (effective Steve Blanchard) and Hearst’s competitors, forcing the two publisher giants to concoct a legitimate compromise for their companies that also benefited the newboys.
Group photos of these homeless, poor, orphaned street urchins captured Americans‘ hearts, especially with authentic Crutchie (impressive Zachary Sayle), a lame boy who walked with a crutch, prominently posed, shaking hands with organizers.
At the same time, newspaper headlines heralded the ongoing trolley workers’ strike that crippled the city. So don’t think “Newsies” is just another multi-award winning, Disney, feel-good, happy-go-lucky song-and-dance musical. It incorporates a small page in America’s history that led to an investigation and changes in child labor laws, but achieves its goal in a thrilling, entertaining vehicle.
Most of the music is anthemic, with song like “The World Will Know,””Watch What Happens,” “Seize the Day,” and “King of New York”.
This musical play premiered on Broadway in 2012, and exceeded all expectations, extending its run and copping all major awards. Since then, Menken and Feldman added six new songs to the 1992 movie version, including Bowery Stage headliner Medda Larkin’s (exciting Angela Grovey) bombastic “That’s Rich” and “Don’t Come A-Knockin”; and Katherine and Jack’s inspiring “Something to Believe In”.
Director Jeff Calhoun keeps the cast moving at a frenetic, breathless pace, balancing, turning, jumping, on and off set designer Tobin Ost’s tri-level, 24-foot steel-aluminum, movable three towers, which are highlighted by Jeff Croiter’s lighting and projectionist Sven Ortel’s magnificent, oldtime cityscapes.
Also impressive are the combined orchestra, composed of Newsies and local musicians, and the combined crew.
Although “Newsies’” story is compelling and based on an historic event, it lacks the fire and heart of “Billy Elliott”. But that doesn’t stop it from garnering its own, outstanding headlines.
This eye-popping, inspirational musical broke records on Broadway and continues to amass “fansies” - its own multi-generational fans and followers- with its “I can make a difference” credo. You’ll become a believer, too.
BOX INFO: Broadway’s smash hit, two-act musical; Tony Award-winning score by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and book by multi-Tony winner Harvey Fierstein, appearing at the Boston Opera House,539 Washington St., Boston, through July 5. Performances, Tuesday-Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 7 p.m.; also July 3, at 1 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m.(no 8 p.m. performance July 4); and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $44. Visit Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787, www.BroadwayInBoston.com, or the Box Office.