Can Disney out Disney Disney? That’s the question here in this newest musical on the Broadway block – NEWSIES – based on the 1992 cult film of the same name with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and a tinkered new book by Harvey Fierstein.
One can almost hear him speaking the lines he has written as they are pure Fierstein funny but hardly based on character. One of NEWIES’ drawbacks.
There are some excellent songs sung and danced by an exuberant cast of strapping teenage ragamuffins and orphans in turn of the century New York wearing their trademark knickers, caps and high top shoes in which they also tap. As well as do acrobatic jumps and twists and back flips that the excellent choreographer Christopher Gattelli has created reminding me of the athletic choreography of Michael Kidd. The Act II opener “King of New York” is a real show stopper!
The dance captain – Ryan Steele – plays Specs. He is the tallest guy who wears “spectacles” and one cannot keep your eyes off of him as he does his high jumps and turns. It’s like playing “Where’s Waldo?” as you search the stage looking for him and his mastery of the dance routines. Which are anything but routine as he performs them.
The two brothers command the stage. Davey has much more believability and charisma than Jack who has not yet mastered his lower East Side accent. The young tyke Les is a natural charmer (Mr. Grosso at the performance I attended).
There is the villain Joseph Pulitzer (a fine and cantankerous John Dossett) a feisty, independent young woman – Katherine (Kara Lindsay) who chases the story as it unfolds as a “reporter” and falls in love at first sight with our hero Jack and whose father is a surprise. Ms. Lindsay has a lovely Beauty and the Beast Belle like voice and lots of charm to win over our hearts as she helps Mr. Kelly organize the resistance to the powerful Pulitzer.
There is a very nice performance given by Capathia Jenkins as Medda Larkin who is a star in her own theatre on the Bowery. She is very much like Lillian Russell as she sings “That’s Rich” as a supporter of their David vs. Goliath type cause giving the young Les an education of sorts.
The Disney formula, however, has all the ingredients to make this mediocre musical – directed by Jeff Calhoun – a smash hit. Like “Oliver” and “Annie” – NEWSIES is a true family show that teaches a good moral lesson and that has a happy ending and some of the best ensemble dancing that will absolutely thrill children of all ages. If your pocketbook can afford it.
Through August 19th. www.newsiesthemusical.com Photos: Deen van Meer
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