There’s not a princess in sight as “Newsies” bursts on to the stage of The Barn Theatre where the Disney musical opened Tuesday evening.
Instead the maximum energy is supplied by a bunch of feisty ragamuffins, all ready to sell the day’s copy of the New York World. Lest the audience expect pastels (from Disney), everything is in varying shades if brown, black and grey.
Lining up to buy their daily allotment (for resale to the public), the newsboys are led by Jack Kelly (Jonnie Carpathios), who shares his dreams of going to “Sante Fe” with his crippled best friend and fellow newsboy Crutchie (Justin M. Roth).
The story of their fight for fair treatment — and money — is based on an actual 1899 newsboys strike in New York City — plus a little romance thrown in because, after all, it is a Disney show, complete with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and book by Harvey Feldstein.
“Newsies” seems to be the musical of choice this summer, even though it is based on a 1992 film that became a Broadway musical in 2012 and there is, of necessity, very little color in set and costumes.
Except, of course, for the scenes in a vaudeville theatre where headliner Medda Larkin (Samantha Rickard) is a friend for whom Jack paints backdrops.
The jet propulsion in this Disney’s “Newsies” is supplied by the ensemble of urchins who leap, stamp, holler and, at one point, tap like mad, at the drop of a tear sheet (“Carrying the Banner”).
With choreography by James Gresham, who is also a newsboy, the crowd of energetic urchins tears up the boards at the drop of a penny and was received with sustained cheers throughout the 2 ½ hour performance.
Jack’s love interest is supplied by Katherine Plumber (Kasady Kwiatkowska), an aspiring lady journalist who has her own agenda.
His right hand newsboy is Davey (Nick Barakos) who, with his younger brother Les (Brandon Davis/Henry Dunn — it doesn’t say which one is playing which performance), doesn’t fit the orphan code of the newsboys — they have both parents.
When World owner Joseph Pulitzer (Richard Marlatt), (yes, the Pulitzer Prize Pulitzer!), decides to raise the newsboys cost from 50 to 60 cents per 100 in order to increase circulation (“The Bottom Line”), Jack instigates a strike (“Seize the Day”).
Strikebreakers and police break up the rally and the end finds Crutchie in The Refuge, a juvenile detention center run by the evil Warden Snyder (Charlie King).
Will Jack rescue his friend, defeat the capitalist and win the girl?
If you can’t answer that, you don’t know Disney.
With an unflagging energy that seems never to lessen, Carpathios is indeed the focal point of “Newsies”, but the actual highlights are the equally unflagging newsboys.
On and off the stage and every available table and chair, up and down auditorium aisles and the on-stage stairways of scenic designer Samantha Snow, they accomplished every move with observable glee.
Vocally, their blend was solid and frequently moving.
Among the principals, with the exception of Roth, all seemed inclined to push, frequently resulting in rather unpleasantly harsh tones. This may resolve itself as performances go on and the balance between singers and instrumentalists evens out.
There is no doubt that everyone was doing his/her duty in “Newsies,” even director Hans Friedrichs was called into action. Of course making sure he never relinquished command, he is playwright Fierstein’s deus ex machina — the man on the white horse who saves the day — President Teddy Roosevelt.
Diisney’s “NEWSIES” plays through Aug. 20 in the theater on M96 in Augusta, MI. for performance times and reservations call (269) 731-4121.