Newsies are people who work in the news and deliver newspapers, and Newsies is Disney’s big musical about a gang of boys who delivered “the papes.” They became the news in 1899 when they organized a strike and nearly shut down New York City for weeks.
The struggle of homeless kids trying to survive on a few cents a day, fat cat Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World cutting their meager pay, and underdogs fighting for equality and a better life: NEWSIES revives those true events through explosive songs and dances at the Civic Theatre.
The musical won two Tony Awards in 2012, for Christopher Gattelli’s bold choreography and Alan Manken and Jack Feldman’s score, which are pedal to the metal in this San Diego debut. If you are sound sensitive, bring earplugs.
Heart throb Joey Barreiro plays Jack Kelly, the fearless leader of the orphan boys, and injects a tough New York physicality that is organic and irresistible. He spits into his hand before shaking with others, and makes friends with Governor Roosevelt (Kevin Carolan). He brings solid voice and humanity to “Santa Fe” and “The World Will Know.”
Alisa de Hass as Medda the vaudeville theater owner gives bluesy tones to “That’s Rich.” She hires Jack to paint landscapes of Santa Fe for her stage backdrops, which reveal his true artistic talents and dreams. Turner Birthisel and Ethan Steiner alternate as Les, the tiniest whippersnapper in the national tour.
Long before the musical, the newsie strike inspired a comic series in the 40s called “Newsboy Legion.” The Disney movie came along in 1992, and it started an unexpected underground following. For the musical, Harvey Fierstein’s new book expands friendship among the boys and adds a romantic character. There’s also a new unforgettable song.
Of the 18 tunes all but one is sung full-voiced, which one might describe as sing-yelling. They all expand and shake your core, except for the new one. Andy Richardson as the injured boy Crutchie, tugs at the heart in “Letter from the Refuge” which is a reminder of how rotten life was and is for children in the streets and institutions.
Morgan Keene as Katherine, the young female journalist in a man’s world, fuels Jack’s dream of a happier future. She also furthers the cause of child labor and gives voice to the down trodden throughout the New York Burroughs.
The show is big in every way. All 28 in the cast are explosively talented. While the dancers are of smaller stature because they portray kids, they are giants on stage. Grinding sequences include hard kicks and scuffs and the choreography levitates into spins, back flips and split jumps.
Those split jumps and fouettés (spins on one foot propelled by whip force of the other leg) are rooted in ballet and require serious technique. In a tap dancing scene, they leap onto tables wired with microphones. Film fans will remember the full out song “King of New York” that goes with it.
Revolving metal sets evoke fire escapes and roof tops, theaters and forbidden entrances. When they are stacked into three rows, they suggest a dangerous version of the TV show Hollywood Squares. Dancers scamper up and down as they rotate and slide, which accelerates the pace. Complex projections of newspaper articles and headlines document the darker times, before child labor laws, cable news, and Twitter.
Lively, romantic, and historical, Newsies is an inspiring mix of drama and exceptional dancing.
Newsies runs through June 5. Presented by Broadway San Diego. www.broadwaysd.com.
Running time: 2 hours 30 mins.