During the first few moments of “Newsies” opening night at Milwaukee’s Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, I found some of the dialogue hard to hear, and worried that the director (Jeff Calhoun) might not have checked their volume, delivery, and allocution of each performer (of whatever age) to see if it was loud, crisp, and highly convincing even through their plausible and well-executed turn of the century New York Dialects. He had, and after the second number, all was okay. From then on , the performance and entire production remained superlative the entire night.
The First Act was mainly exposition and did not anticipate the excitement and tension of the almost soapy plot turns of The Second Act (Book: Harvey Fiernstein, Original Screenplay: Bob Tzudiker and Noni White). That said, the wonderful songs (Music: Al Menken and Lyrics: Jack Feldman), dance numbers (Christopher Gatelli), and actor’s adroit cultivation of their characters against an intense, refreshingly static, and flexible set (Tobin Ost), convincingly partnered with clever and artistically rich projection designs (Sven Ortel and Daniel Brodie) to give the illusion of the young and the vulnerable struggling against the big city and big print in New York City circa 1900, was more than enough to hold my attention while the storyline began to unfold in the first Act.
We meet the head of the Newsies (the down on their luck teenagers and boys who sell the cities big papers on the streets), Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro): a flirtatious, tough, kind-hearted young man who wishes to leave the city for small town life in Sante Fe, and has an unexpected gifts as a painter. Barreiro divides his tough, street savvy skills and persona in his dance and dialogue while revealing an intense yearning for a simpler life and hints at a deeper concern for others in his musical numbers with an incredibly strong and melodious voice which seemed to soar with all of his character’s deepest aspirations and burst with an intense sensitivity.
Enter Davey (Stephen Michael Langton), a young boy and Les (John Michael Pitera), his even younger brother, who unlike their colleagues have a home and family and who is simply working with Newsies temporarily because their father was hurt on the job. Davey has more education that than the rest of the characters, but recognizes that he lacks Kelly’s political adroitness, and Langton knows how to deftly play this dynamic for laughs without even coming close to falling into caricature.
When the Newsies decide to form a union, they are assisted by the mysterious Katherine (Morgan Keene): an elegant, young, and slightly overbearing journalist struggling to make it in a male-industry dominated by people at the very top of society. Kelly quickly forms a crush on him and she struggles to resist his advances while getting the story, before the adults get involved. Keene’s acting style less realistic than the others performers, but as she is able to maintain her style consistently, execute it well, and employ it advantageously to add humor to a story that quickly becomes serious as Joe Pulitzer (Morgan Keene) and the Mayor ( turns to some very adult, union-busting tactics.
As a result, Crutchy, already disabled is further harmed, and put in an oppressive home for street-children. Understudy Benjamin Cook was a delight to watch and hear in this part, particularly his song “Letter from the Refugee” which was sung with a powerful voice that still managed to exude an extreme vulnerability, and a simultaneous underlying courage, leading up to an intense showdown between Jack Kelly and Joe Pulitzer and the question to get the story of the Newsies plight into the papers that they are striking against.
The actors playing the characters with power (Mark Aldrich, Michael Gorman, and Steve Blanchard) employ, for the most part, a less realistic style of acting, to indicate that the live in a world in which privilege and power has made their life less real than the boys on the streets with whom they are in combat, but they employ it effectively and humorously, adding comedy to what could otherwise threaten to be, at times, a dark and serious script.
The play runs as a limited engagement through Sunday January 10th at Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in Milwaukee, WI. Performances are Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday at 8:00 pm, Saturday at 2:00 pm, Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 1:00 pm and 6:30 pm .Tickets range from $46.50. The Theatre is located at 929 N. Street Milwaukee, WI 53202. Call the box office 414-273-7206 or visit MarcusCenter.org or Ticketmaster.com to purchase tickets and see what might be available. This is a HOT show!
Remember, Milwaukee is not that far away and for the most part, a suburbanite can get their easier than the commute to the loop, and parking is easier and dining is very available.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Newsies”