The National Newsies Tour, affectionately called “Toursies”, hits the nail on the head in Toronto when it comes to a fun, lighthearted show to fill your evening, but sometimes fails to take its audience seriously.
If this production could be described in one word, it would be the following: dynamic.
No matter what the mood, what the moment, nothing ever quite stops moving: the set, the story, and certainly not the incredible dancers that perform the shows greatest moments.
Newsies tells the story of Jack Kelley (Dan DeLuca), a young boy leading the newsboys of New York City in a strike against bigwig Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard) with the help of budding yet undervalued reporter Katherine Plumber (Stephanie Styles).
The choreography, of course, is what this show is known for. Christopher Gattelli nagged a Tony in 2012 for his (once again, dynamic) choreography inspired by both classical ballet and classic Golden Age Broadway (along with the obligatory, yet still inspiring tap number). The incredibly talented young performers in the big dance numbers have no limit to their energy, with their nonstop pirouettes, backflips, jumps, and splits. In a way, Newsies is part musical, part acrobat show. I can hardly imagine breathing while doing these moves, never mind singing!
Jack and Davey (Jacob Kemp), the two main newsies who lead the boys in song and rebellion, are of course cleverly run offstage during each big dance number. Despite his apparent lack in dance skills, Dan DeLuca’s Jack is (again) very dynamic. He captures the restlessness of adolescence as well as being cheeky, creating an endearing character. Stephanie Styles as Katherine absolutely nails her big number, “Watch What Happens”. It’s an unimaginably tricky song, both singing-wise and acting-wise, with a quick patter verse and high notes that leave you breathless. However, every syllable she utters is perfectly clear, and she masterfully switches from one emotion to the next, stream-of-consciousness style. Jacob Kemp brings new light to the character of Davey, singing his parts with a strong, confident voice, although still managing to capture the character’s insecurity.
Alan Menken’s score is mostly fantastic; he wrote powerful anthems for the most important scenes of the show, although some pieces come across as a little too “Disney”. The love duet between Katherine and Jack, “Something to Believe In”, especially seems to have been taken from the Disney formula book. Cheesy lines, a predictable structure – knowing Menken, he could have done much better. But his big numbers – “The World Will Know”, “Seize the Day”, “Once and For All” – are audience-rousing anthems.
Harvey Fierstein’s book is perhaps the weakest part of the show. It’s peppered with supposedly clever quips, but the laughter from the audience is missing. Whether this is the actors’ fault of the book’s fault is not certain, but the audience isn’t much impressed. The empty pauses for laughter press down hard on the show’s light mood.
However, this lightness isn’t exactly a strong point. Fierstein fails to show any of the darker side of the very serious issue of child labour. He chooses instead to focus on the fraternity between the newsboys. It’s a nice sentiment, but it perhaps hints at a slight condescension toward the audience. What, the audience can’t handle a few darker moments as well as the flips and splits?
Still, the book, along with every other aspect of this production, doesn’t leave the audience room to breathe. The set is engaging and never quite seems to sit still. The use of projection, a technique I don’t usually take seriously, was clever in this piece in its simple, monochromatic, news-like pictures and print. In such an energetic show, I was very fond of the subdued lighting. Everything is white, black, and blue, and it looks gorgeous.
Somehow, the production didn’t seem to infuse the audience with as much energy as it did me. Tough crowd, I suppose. I was the only one cheering and whooping after every big number, ecstatic compared to the polite clapping of those around me. But really, how was I the only one fully ready to give a standing ovation after the supposed showstopper, “Seize the Day”? Newsies, I hope you’ll have better luck elsewhere.
The Newsies National Tour will continue its run through North America after it leaves Toronto at the Ed Mirvish Theatre on August 30.