Good vs evil really does never get old. It’s one of those narratives that comes in every storytelling format, from books and plays to songs and musicals. This time round, it’s dressed up in Disney’s fresh new musical Newsies. Panned by critics and an outright financial flop in its original form as a live-action musical film back in the 90s, a crack team of practitioners from all disciplines of the theatre and entertainment industry came to its rescue a few years ago. This team, comprising of veteran writer Harvey Fierstein, lyricist Jack Feldman, composer Alan Menken and director Jeff Calhoun, along with many other talented individuals, turned Newsies into a Broadway musical that’s been taking the world by storm. Currently on a new tour with much of the original cast, I managed to see it in Toronto, Canada at the beautiful Ed Mirvish Theatre.
Newsies brings us to the grotty and dark age of 1899 in New York City, where newspaper giants Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst pretty much ruled the city. In that time, paper boys (called ‘newsies’), many of which were orphaned and living on the streets, would buy newspapers directly from their respective companies and sell them to make a profit, and more importantly, a living. Pulitzer (James Judy) doesn’t think his newspaper circulation is at its highest, and decides to up the price of the newspapers. At a time when child labour was at an all-time high, with many young people being abused throughout the world, newsie Jack Kelly (Dan DeLuca) decides that enough is enough, and invites his fellow newsies to strike and fight for what’s right. In the midst of the chaos, he falls in love with writer Katherine (Stephanie Styles), and soon realises that everything he and his fellow family of newsies holds dear hangs in the balance.
There’s a reason that Newsies has been taking the world by storm – it’s astonishing. Okay, so the story in its most basic form is one that we’ve all heard a million times before, and there’s that standard Disney gloss of metaphors and aphorisms that remind us to be who we are, but Newsies gets away with it without coming across as cheesy and childish. The dancing is Newsies’s most exciting feature; the energy that the whole cast inject into it is amazing, and the choreography is innovative and brilliant to watch.
The musical performances are equally fantastic, with vocals from the whole company soaring high in the auditorium and conveying character clearly and effectively. The musical numbers themselves are catchy and stick in your head long after you leave the theatre, proving that Newsies isn’t just a flash in the pan, and it’s clear to see that genuine thought has gone into every aspect of its development and execution. There’s a lovely visual aesthetic too, with costumes, lighting and scenery coming together to pump up the production’s strong theatrical presence even more. Scene transitions are slick and help to keep the energy flowing throughout the whole show, which continually raises the enjoyment factor.
Dan DeLuca and Stephanie Styles are brilliant as their characters, as is the whole company in terms of their performances. Each character appears well-developed, and the company genuinely look like they’re enjoying what they’re doing and being proud of it, which is something that’s occasionally been absent from more than a couple of productions I’ve reviewed.
Newsies is a fine example of a well-rounded, well-executed production. It’s fresh, engaging and a lot of fun. Combine that with a timeless story and extremely talented cast, and you’ve got a wonderfully vibrant show.
Newsies is playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre until 30 August. For more information and tickets, see the Newsies website. Photo by Deen van Meer.