THE BASICS: The “Disney” musical NEWSIES runs just this week, Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30, Friday at 8:00, Sunday at 7:00, with both Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 650 Main Street, Buffalo. Runtime 2-1/2 hours, with one 20 minute intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: NEWSIES the musical is a “Disney Theatrical Productions” stage show based on the 1992 musical film “Newsies,” which in turn was inspired by the real-life newsboys’ strike of 1899 in New York City. When the newspaper publishing juggernauts Hearst and Pulitzer (and others) raise the wholesale price of newspapers, they opine that this will make the newsboys work harder to sell more papers to cover the extra cost. Instead, the newsboys create a union and strike, and with the help of then New York State governor Teddy Roosevelt, a compromise is reached – the price will only go up half as much and the publishers will buy back any unsold newspapers. This is “The Gilded Age” (prior to WWI) when there was a tremendous disparity between the very rich and powerful and the huddled masses.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:
With spectacular moving sets, this always-in-motion musical combines the energy of the boys who sell newspapers on the streets with the energy of New York City. The musical opens with Jack, a clever, verbal, and artistic “newsie” on the rooftop talking about his dreams of escaping the city and someday riding palomino horses in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (I’m sorry, but it did seem an awful lot like “Orlando” (Florida) from the musical THE BOOK OF MORMON.) We also meet “Crutchie” who is lame and symbolic of the crushing reality of poverty for the newsies.
And then one of the cleverest sets I’ve ever seen just comes to life with a sort of erector-set/elevated train/skyscraper girder three tower structure comprising nine squares, each of which has its own scrim which can roll down for projections or up for live action. I’ve seen bits and pieces of that design used in other musicals, but bringing it all together was breathtaking.
The characters on stage are mostly believable, although the adults are a bit nicer to the children than was probably the case (but this is, after all, Disney inspired). There is a love interest for Jack, a young female reporter who has her own dreams of breaking out of the society pages and into hard news reporting. And the scenes and the songs and the dance numbers seem organic. Even if the plot slows (although it never stops) for a dance number, there is so much energy to the dancing that you are swept along.
The songs by Alan Menken were disappointing, given that this is the composer of iconic Disney cartoon musicals THE LITTLE MERMAID and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Unlike those two efforts, all of the NEWSIES songs sound the same, and there is no one “hit” that you leave the theater humming.
And the singing was a little rough in spots, not aided by uneven microphone quality or placement. Jack’s voice seemed to vary in volume and quality.
But whether the songs or the singing or anything else is memorable, THE DANCING IS FABULOUS AND YOU WILL LOVE IT… ALL OF IT. Whew! I can’t say it any more strongly. Since most of the audience (as usual at Shea’s) was female, and since most of the cast is made up of attractive, athletic young men who can really move it, I’d say most people went home, if not with a hit tune in their head, at least some nice images in their minds.
Lead image and video: NewsiesTheMusical.com
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!