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REVIEW: ‘Newsies’ whirls away on a billowing score

newsies032912_optA cult Disney movie gets re-crafted as an appealing family musical

BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
BROADWAY REVIEW

Anybody who missed “Newsies” at Paper Mill Playhouse last year now can catch it at Broadway prices at the Nederlander Theatre, where the musical opened on Thursday night for a summer-long run.

Grab tickets for the mezzanine, where you will get a better view of the exuberant dancing that especially makes this family musical so appealing.

Not greatly altered since its New Jersey stint, this Disney Theatrical Production stage version of a cult movie is a cheerfully old-fashioned mix of a stirring story with a catchy score. And did I mention that the dancing by a terrific ensemble is mighty awesome? And then some!

Thanks to the film, plenty of people probably grew up on this real-life saga of New York newsboys who waged a strike in 1899 against Joseph Pulitzer whose mighty “World” tried to gyp them of a few cents.

Writer Harvey Fierstein cleverly has retooled the original to give the hero, Jack Kelly, an artistic soul as well as a fresh leading lady in Katherine, a spunky reporter who helps Kelly’s smudge-faced horde of newsboys win the battle against their oppressors. Composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman have added some fresh songs to their score while retaining (and enhancing) such billowing anthems as “Carrying the Banner,” “Seize the Day” and “The World Will Know.”

Sure, “Newsies” presents a Disneyfied incarnation of what must have been an ugly clash, but we are talking about musicals here, not docudrama, and the show foremost aims to entertain. If the script gets labored at times – and it does -- a sufficiency of breezy “Bowery Boys” style humor, upbeat songs and plenty of whirlwind choreography keeps the show hurtling towards its happy ending.

Staging these busy proceedings very smoothly, director Jeff Calhoun provides an impressive production that makes striking use of designer Tobin Ost’s vintage Erector Set-type towers that pivot and travel to handle the story’s many locations and chases. Projected headlines and sepia cityscapes complete the suitably Victorian visuals, lit with rotogravure tints by Jeff Croiter.



 

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