Newsies, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein, based on a newsboys’ strike in 1899, is one of the best produced and most excitingly designed (by Tobin Ost) shows I have ever seen. The magnificent erector-set columns, platforms and set pieces, in frequent manipulations, are complex, breath-taking, and brilliantly lighted by Jeff Croiter. Dancing, by the very acrobatic, ballet-based newsboys, is thrilling, and Newsiesis loaded with dance numbers that have the girls in the audience screaming with joy.
The story is simple: poverty-stricken boys versus greedy newspaper owners, among them that slimiest of villains, Joseph Pulitzer, he of the big writing prizes and played deliciously evil by John Dossett. There is lots of exposition between dances, and the central theme, the strike, is not revealed until way into the first act. Leading man Jeremy Jordan is good looking, charismatic (as a leader of men should be) and silver-throated. The ingénue is played by the lively, adorable, Kara Lindsay whose physical moves are clean, clear and utterly charming, and she sings like a bird.
There is a tangential interruption of the story in the middle of act one where we are brought to a burlesque house, and treated to a terrific singing performance by the theatre’s owner, Capathia Jenkins, spectacular in a red costume (by designer Jess Goldstein), big smile and big voice. Dickens moves to The Follies. This all seems to be from a different show, even though there is an excuse for it in act two, which also changes gear dance-wise, shifting into first-rate tap dancing.
The remaining story is simplistic and totally predictable: boys in trouble, boys organize and fight back, boys lose, and then guess what happens at the end? As to the romance between poor boy and rich girl -- boy gets girl, boy is separated from her, and then -- guess what? The bad guys are the baddest and the goons the gooniest, stereotypical thugs.
Newsies doesn’t have the depth and the pith of a working-class struggle like Billy Elliot did, but when the boys are leapin’, turnin’, flippin’ and flyin’ to the choreography of an inspired Christopher Gattelli, it’s really exhilarating. With super fight supervision by J. Allen Suddeth, rich orchestrations by Danny Troob, including an inspiring anthem, “Seize the Day,” director Jeff Calhoun keeps a driving, exciting energy pumping through this tale of mistreated youth.
One petty but constant gripe that I’m sure few others noticed: the phony New York accents. They do almost get the “My fadda and my mudda,” and tawk and Noo Yawk are close, but the show is infused with the flat Chicago “a” that is a thousand miles west of here. One would think a production as expensive as this might have hired a dialect director to keep the New York kids sounding like they came from here. Still, a most enjoyable show, including the post-ending dance extravaganza.