IF YOU GO
“Newsies” runs through June 10 at Media Theatre, 104 E. State St., Media, PA. For ticket and more information, call 610-891-0100 or check www.mediatheatre.org,
Once upon a time, an outstanding Broadway show would be turned into a great movie. There so many — “My Fair Lady,” “42nd Street,” “Lion King,” and many Rogers & Hamerstein musicals. In the last 25 years, the process has turned in the other direction as well, movies recreated for the Broadway stage. Such is the case of “Newsies.”
With music by Alan Menken and Lyrics by Jack Feldman from the book by Harvey Fierstein, it was originally produced by the Disney Studios as a movie in 1992 but it flopped at the box office, in spite of a cast that included Christian Bale, Robert Duvall, Ann-Margret, and Bill Pullman. But it roared back to life almost 20 years later, first at Paper Mill Playohouse, then on Broadway for two years before touring for two additional years. And The Media Theatre is concluding its season with this popular show.
The premise is a remarkable one, based on the newsboys’ strike in 1899, as young newsboys were objecting to a fractional penny increase in the cost of papers they had to pay to the mogul publisher, Joseph Pulitzer. These struggling kids were struggling in abject poverty.
There are so many beautiful sub-stories in “Newsies” — the cripple friend, the developing love story, the desire for the leader to flee NYC for Santa Fe, the run from authority to prevent being locked up. It is a rich book of tales, told through the boys.
Director/choreographer Geoffrey Goldberg has assembled an extraordinary ensemble of young men (and a few women) to dance and fight and sing with the power of the marchers of “Les Mis” and the skills of acrobats as they barrel across the stage, spinning and flipping.
The songs are strong. But what grabbed me most were the stories of these teenagers and their challenge to their adversary Pulitzer, the man who’d made so much money during the reporting of the Spanish-American War the previous year of “yellow journalism,” but whose paper sales were down and decided to take it from the pockets of the newsboys. Kelly Briggs gives a superb performance that helps carry the entire second act. He is smooth and clever, yet also very real.
The leader of the actual strike was Kid Blink (Louis Ballatt) but in this fictionalized portrayal, he goes by the name of Jack Kelly. Portrayed by Jeff Sundheim, Kelly moves with the rest of the boys, fights when he must, wisecracks when he feels the need, and sings his heart out. Kid Blink was known to have had a heavy Brooklyn accent and Sundheim does a yeoman’s job with it, but having come from Brooklyn myself, I found it with too much of a New England lilt and too nasally. But he is such a fine actor, I doubt that others took notice.
As for the overall production, it moved slowly in the first act, carried mostly by the big numbers. The story becomes more engrossing in the second act. And I did have some issues understanding the lyrics of group numbers when the orchestra played to loud. That is often the case for me when I hear songs for the first time. But these are small issues compared with the engaging spectacle of a dozen kids flying across the stage with a force so strong, you could not look away for a minute.
Director Goldberg has taken a Broadway hit show and turned it into a Media hit show.