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Broadway review: 'Newsies'

Broadway review: 'Newsies' By Howard Shapiro

Broadway review: 'Newsies'

By Howard Shapiro


The thrilling, robust new musical Newsies is inspired by a footnote in American history when, in 1899, a collection of street urchins from all over New York City bonded to challenge two dynamos who would not otherwise give them the time of day.

It really happened, at a time when newspapers were the only way to get news, New York publishers were kingmakers, and newsboys - often teen and grade-school orphans and immigrant children - kept themselves alive by selling the latest edition for a penny. So when Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst decided to charge the newsboys 6 cents for every 10 papers they would sell - a one-cent increase - they rebelled. They formed a union. They took on two publishers who intimidated everyone else.

Whether they won in eventual concessions from the two giants is a matter of argument. Whether they supplied the Disney corporation with a good story is not. Newsies, which opened Thursday night on Broadway, is great fun, a rock-'em sock-'em American musical with all the trimmings, and an electrifying display that says, yes, formulas make sense when real artists make them work.

There's not a new idea about musicals in Newsies - just a superb rendering of all the old ones. The show makes you realize again that, against all odds, musicals can feel like real life. The script for Newsies is by four-time Tony winner Harvery Fierstein (Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage aux Folles). Fierstein took a flop of a 1988 Disney movie (but one with a cult following) and breathed live-theater life into it by plumbing common American musical themes: boy-meets-girl, underdog bites topdog, right challenges might, change trumps stagnation.

Eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken wrote the music, and you can hear his best work - Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas - bubbling in the essence of Newsies' tasty musical sauce. The lyrics, which keep the plot swiftly moving along, are by Jack Feldman. The choreography by Christopher Gattelli adds another striking element and the cast dances it with real joy, executing its demanding slides, flips and high-jumps as though they were innate movements.

Jeff Calhoun's staging on different levels of Tobin Ost's set seems to have everyone constantly moving the plot and themselves. The show begins with the chief newsboy (Jeremy Jordan, who was Clyde in the short-lived Bonnie and Clyde this season, also directed by Calhoun, and is stellar here) wishing he could get out of the rat-race. But he is stuck, like all these poor kids whose only tools for selling papers are their smiles, their sing-song shouts of headlines and their blurts of whatever hard-luck personal stories they can conjure.

Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Ben Frankhauser are the other newsboys with major roles, along with a precocious younger newsboy played alternately by Lewis Grosso and Matthew J. Schechter. They're all up for this tough game of street survival, facing down an unfeeling Joseph Pulitzer (John Dossett), being comforted by a striptease house madam (Capathia Jenkins, a fine belter) and welcoming the sole reporter who deigns to cover their uprising (the radiant Kara Lindsay, the show's love interest).

Many of the chief performers in Newsies played the same roles last fall, when Disney Theatricals mounted the show as a pilot production at Paper Mill Playhouse in upstate New Jersey. Disney wanted Newsies for regional and amateur theaters but the raft of people who crowded into it made front-office executives rethink the plan and prepare it for Broadway. Which, given its polish and pizzazz, is just where it belongs.

Contact Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at Hear his reviews at the Classical Network,


Newsies is at the Nederlander Theatre, 208 W. 41st St., New York.