27th February, 2023 | By Isabel Williams
It’s scrappy street urchins versus media magnates in Disney’s blockbuster musical Newsies. It isn’t exactly hot off the presses (the Broadway production premiered over ten years ago) but it’s so fun it warranted a Newsies review. After all, it still manages to dazzle with a charming ensemble cast, toe-tapping tunes, and dance numbers that will make you want to jeté (jump) up and down Olympic Way.
The show - whose run at the Troubadour Wembley Theater has been extended until July - follows a band of down-on-their-luck newspaper hawkers led by the sensitive and sardonic Jack Kelly. The newsies decide to strike in protest of a price hike that Joseph Pulitzer (Cameron Blakely), publisher of the New York World, institutes to feed his bottom line. Loosely based on the newsboys’ strike of 1899, as well as the forgettable 1992 movie of the same title, Newsies intertwines the story of a hardscrabble and hard-done-by youth movement with the story of Jack, who sings of heading West to try his luck in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and falls in love with aspiring ace reporter Katherine Plumber.
Michael Ahomka-Lindsay and Bronté Barbé are excellent as Jack and Katherine, bringing a wisecracking, spitfire energy to a love story lacking in depth. Also excellent are Matthew Duckett as Jack’s good-natured best friend Crutchie, Ryan Kopel as brainy Davey, and Oliver Gordon as Les, Davey's younger brother and Newsies’ resident loveable scamp.
Of course, the musical’s heart and soul are the newsies themselves, who perform a dizzying array of dance numbers that blend ballet, jazz, tap, and acrobatics into a spectacle that had me grinning ear to ear. Matt Cole’s direction and choreography are showy and sharp, giving the performers plenty to do. Over the course of two hours, the newsies swing from ceiling lamps, tumble through the air, duke it out with Pulitzer’s cronies, and parade through the audience with aplomb, and a kind of awe-shucks affability that elicited shrieks from the girls around me. Not that I blame them - when the boys tossed scraps of newsprint into the audience, I found myself grabbing at headlines alongside everyone else.
The musical is at its best when it cedes the stage to the pure talent of these triple threats and thus Act One, with such bring-the-house-down numbers as “Carrying the Banner,” “The World Will Know,” and “Seize the Day,” maintains a breathless momentum that the plot-heavy Act Two can’t quite match. Even so, the Act Two opener “King of New York,” with its merry tap break, is to my mind the best number in the show.
The joy onstage is lifted by Alan Menken’s brash and brassy score, which is as catchy as they come. Menken is best known for his work on such Disney classics like The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin and his chops are on full display here with each of the ensemble tracks, as well as the solo numbers: Jack’s booming “Santa Fe,” Katherine’s anxious, deftly executed “Watch What Happens,” and Crutchie’s tearjerker, “Letter From The Refuge.”
A Newsies review would be incomplete without a mention of Morgan Large’s set design. He transforms the Troubadour into a crowded tenement, complete with three stories of fire escapes, washing lines strewn around the theatre and in the entryway, and a backdrop of glowing windows. Combined with Natalie Pryce’s colourful costumes - somewhat cleaner and more moveable than you’d expect for a bunch of 19th-century orphans, but no matter - the effect is charming and transporting. New York City, indeed! Newsies review gets 5 out of 5 newsie stars!
I first fell in love with the theatre during a preschool production of Caps For Sale, in which I treasured my single line. Since then, I’ve discovered an even greater love: writing about the productions that challenge me, surprise me, and bring me the utmost joy, in the hopes that others will seek out theatre with the power to enrich their lives and inspire wonder.