Theater Review: ‘Newsies’ delivers at NCC Summer Theatre
Whether playwrights will be writing musicals about the internet and social media only time time will tell.
The media, and newspapers, in particular, have long been the subject of stage dramas and movies, going back at least to “The Front Page” (1931) and up to and including “The Social Network “ (2010) and “The Post” (2017).
Usually, the protagonist is an overly-enthusiastic reporter, hard-driving editor, or wise-cracking femme fatale. You don’t often find a musical entirely about singing and dancing reporters, say, a Bernstein and Woodward, or an editor, say, a Ben Bradlee.
“Disney Newsies The Musical,” presented by Northampton Community College Summer Theatre in its Lehigh Valley premiere, through June 17, Lipkin Theatre, Northampton Community College, Main Campus, Bethlehem Township, takes a look at the front lines of the newspaper business: newspaper delivery boys.
They dance. They sing. They go on strike.
“Newsies,” the musical, is based on Disney’s first completely live-action movie musical, released in 1992. The title refers to the newsboys who deliver the daily paper to the front doors and stoops of New York City.
The musical version of the film premiered in 2011 at Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, N.J., and was on Broadway 2012 -2014. The musical was nominated for eight Tonys, receiving two for choreography and score.
The movie and the musical are based on the newsboys’ strike of 1899. Youths led the strike to try to force the way that newspaper barons Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst compensated the child labor force that hawked their newspapers.
While the real-life strike did stop the presses, the plot of the musical, with book by Harvey Fierstein, and the songs, some eight in the first act and some nine in the second act, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman, don’t stop the presses.
The songs are a derivative melange of pop-rock riffs and tropes. Think Billy Joel meets Journey. Moreover, while typically, reprises in musicals are saved for the second act, “Newsies” has at least two reprises in the first act, and has four reprises in the second act.
The musical has the sense of “Les Miserables” meets “Oliver!”
However, the performances of the exuberant young cast in “Newsies” are headline-worthy.
Patrick Davis as Jack Kelly, the strike leader, has a memorable Brooklyn, “New Yawk” accent, and is in fine voice in several numbers, including “Sante Fe” with Daniel Lee (Crutchie); “The World Will Know,” with James Morogiello (Davey), Buster Page (Les), Daniel Lee, and the Brooklyn Newies ensemble, and “Once And For All,” with Morogiello, Samantha Prentice (Katherine Plumber) and the Newsies.
James Morogiello (Davey) also has some memorable lead singing, including “Seize The Day,” with Patrick Davis, Buster Page, and the Newsies, and “Watch What Happens,” with Davis, Samantha Prentice and Buster Page.
Samantha Prentice (Katherine Plumber) is noteworthy in her lead numbers, including “Watch What Happens” and “Something To Believe In,” her duet with Patrick Davis.
Karen Richards (Medda Larken) makes a strong impression in her “That’s Rich” solo number.
Daniel Lee (Crutchie) renders “Letter From The Refuge” beautifully ruefully.
The orchestra, which sounded great, under music director Lucille Kincaid, at times overpowers in volume the vocal levels of the singers, or at least did so from my vantage point, during the June 10 performance seen for this review, in the second last row, audience left, about 20 feet from the orchestra, which is perched on a riser in the corner, audience left, at the top of the 45-degree raked arena-seat theater, the ceiling of which renders the effect of a speaker cabinet, further amplifying the orchestra’s sound.
At times, the singers seemed to be straining their voices to compete with the orchestra’s volume. The best-sounding number is the “Seize the Day” second reprise, sung in a wonderful a cappella version by the Newsies.
The choreography by Tina Sohns-Williams was impressive, with some 21 Newsies stomping, turning, and charging, with some doing back flips. The “Brooklyn’s Here” tap number is terrific. The largely male cast is fantastic.
The costumes by Brenda McGuire utilize an authentic combination of vests, snap-brim caps and newspaper carrier bags for the Newsies.
Scenic and Lighting Design is by Brett Oliveira.
From my vantage point, mostly the tops of the heads of the actors were visable, with the exception of the use of a two-tiered scaffold when some of the actors were more at eye-level.
Director Bill Mutimer keeps the large cast (at 37 in the show’s program, I stopped counting) moving and the many scenes changing and numerous songs delivering with a maximum of impact, efficiency and effectiveness.
The enthusiam of the cast overcomes deficiences in “Disney Newies The Musical” and the Lipkin Theatre. The NCC Summer Theatre production delivers.
Reviewer’s Footnote: The characters in “Newsies” frequently use the word “papes” to refer to newspapers. In my 50 years of newspaper journalism, I have never heard this word used to refer to newspapers. In looking up the word, papes, I could find no definition or use of the word with respect to newspapers.
Tickets: Lipkin Theatre Box Office, Northampton Community College, Main Campus, 3835 Green Pond Road, Bethlehem Township; ncctix.org; 484-484-3412