Those dance dynamo paperboys of Newsies occupied the Academy of Music in Philly for the kick-off of their boffo 1st National Tour of the 2012 multi-Tony Award winning musical. Who says they don't write musicals like this anymore? Harvey Fierstein (book), Alan Menken (music) and Jack Feldman (lyrics) and the creative team behind Newsies do. Is the appeal a combination of the '90s movie it was based on? Or that already legendary squad of dancing-singing Newsies. The show's 'fansies' swarmed the Academy stage door after the show for autographs, from the leads and the chorus.
In fact, this show has a populist theme and we need stories about quiet heroes in a cynical time.
Newsies is based on a real story of exploitation, poverty and corporate bullying in 1899 New York. Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the biggest paper in town, has just put the squeeze on the paperboys. If they want to keep their turf and make money to feed their families, they have to pay more for the papers.
Jack Kelly, the Newsies leader, a tough guy with a gold heart, organizes their first strike. Jack's best pal Crutchie has a bum leg, but it doesn't stop him from getting brutally roughed by Pulitzer's goons who bust up the strikers. Meanwhile, Katherine, society page reporter at her daddy Pulitzer's paper, picks up the story of the hard luck paperboys and writes an expose that lands the Newsies on the front page and on the bread line.
Harvey Fierstein (Kinky Boots) who once again proves he is one of the best book-musical writers around and his ear for authentic dialogue is witty and warm. Menken and Feldman add half-a-dozen strong numbers to music from the movie soundtrack. And then there is dance, dance and more dance by Tony Award-winning choreographer Gattelli.
Gattelli doesn't hold back with dance pyrotechnics laced with acrobatics, tight turn sequences and explosive aerials. "King of New York" opens Act II with a bang with the boys in boot taps on deli tables not in watered- down time steps but in intricate slide tap and other precision styles. Gattelli pays homage to Gene Kelly with a paper-shedding sequence a la Summer Stock, then a barn-burning reprise with the strongest dancers burning the floor.
Because the show is mostly men, the two main female characters have to have good songs. Angela Grovey as Medda comes on in a pink sequined, purple plumed splendor for "That's Rich" in a soaring Vaudeville vamp that is transporting on the Academy stage. Stephanie Styles' Katherine making the most of her tricky solo number "Watch What Happens" a song about being in 'the zone' of writing her news story.
Dan DeLuca's Jack looks like a young John Garfield and has a gutsy upper register baritone perfect for this part. DeLuca and Styles have beautiful vocal chemistry on the dreamy "Something To Believe In", Zachary Sayle as Crutchie, wonderful character actor and fine balladeer on "Letter from the Refuge." Perfect pitch performance by Jacob Kemp as Davey looking out for his little brother Les, played by nine-year-old Vincent Crocilla, in show-stealing moments. Kemp and DeLuca are also fine in the rousing showstopper "Seize the Day." Steve Blanchard is great as the recognizable corporate bully to hiss at and mercifully his song is short.
Fine production values highlighted by set designer Tobin Ost's automated 24-foot catwalk towers that keep giving. The period design enchants; there is even an antique steel printing press operating onstage. And kudos to Jess Goldstein's costumes that prove sturdy dance garb of wool breeches, vests, suspenders and flannels on the boys. Jeff Calhoun's strong direction doesn't let a moment flag in this show and most impressive, he knows how to orchestrate a true ensemble.
Don't miss this edition of Newsies.
For tour dates go to NewsiesTheMusical.com/Tour