Read All About It! 'Newsies' At CRT's Summer Series
The Show: "Newsies" at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre's Nutmeg Summer Series at UConn at Stores.
What is it?: Musical based on Disney's cult movie musical of the '90s which was a surprise hit when it played Broadway and on tour several seasons back. Now it's available to some venues, and CRT snapped up the title, ending the trio of first-rate shows this summer on a high note.
First impressions: I was wary of another gee-whiz Disney kidsical when it played Broadway -- followed by a national tour which was launched at Waterbury's Palace Theater -- but was totally swept up by the expert craftsmanship, catchy tunes, the smashing Tony Award-winning choreography by Christopher Gattelli and the overall exuberance of the productions. But could the dazzling dancing -- the strongest part of the show -- but reproduced when it hit the provinces? Under Christioopher d'Amboise's smart direction and inventive and recalculated choreography, the answer in is a resounding yes.
What's it about?: Turn of the century newspaper boys in New York City -- in the days before child labor laws and other reformist measures -- go on strike to get better deal from the greedy newspaper publisher.
What's a newspaper?: Haha. But really, what's not to like about a story of paperboys going on strike against insensitive corporate giants who run media empires? (Where are the boys when we need them now?) Especially if the boys' leader is Jack Kelly played with brio, sensitivity and a great set of pipes by Jim Schubin.
Sounds kinda corny though, like "Our Gang"-ish. The book of the show is smarter than you think, I said in an earlier review -- but you still won't confuse the script with Eugene O'Neill. Harvey Fierstein has crafted a very savvy, funny-enough book that also pays its respects to the female side of things. It's also pretty nuanced script for a kid-centric show, especially when the issue shifts from the newspaper-boy strike to larger issues of the day, and connecting the strike with overall social outrages of the day regarding children. The nod to reasonable compromise is also a nice touch.
And the cast?: Tyler Jones (the son in the musical "The Most Beautiful Room in New York" at Long Wharf Theatre) has a touching moment as Crutchie;T uck Sweeney has the right swagger of a Dead End kid as Race; Richard H. Henry, who played Ben Franklin in "1776" and was extraordinary as Samuel Byck in Yale Rep's "Assassins," is imposing and full-voiced as Joseph Pulitzer,. Noah Kieserman as Jack's newfound pal and fellow strike organizer is also a solid wingman to the show.
How about the women?: The girls can have "Annie." "Newsies" is for the boys. There's not many significant female roles here: just two actually and they're both well-played here . Paige Smith as the love interest and Tina Fabrique as a vaudevillian entrepreneur. (Fabrique elevates her music hall solo with her own song stylings, including a touch of scat).
How does it look?: Design elects are first-rate, well above what might be expected for a shirt-run of a summer production., especially Tim Brown's handsome and functional set,
Who will like it? Kids, especially boys. Union members. Those who love dancing. If you have a young son or nephew, this is the show to introduce him to musical theater. If you don't, borrow one as an excuse to go.
Who won't?: Faceless media giants. Union busters. Capitalist pigs.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: Terrence Mann can lay claim to a terrific inaugural season as artistic director of the summer series, first with a spirited ":1776," followed by the farce "Noises Off." With "Newsies" he brought in a big. gun -- his brother-in-law, acclaimed choreographer-director Christopher D'Amboise -- and the result was one of the dance-happiest shows of the season. I can't wait to see what Mann does next summer.
The basics: The show plays through July 16. Final performances are tonight at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre, 2132 Hillside Road on the UConnecticut campus in Storrs. Tickets are $12 to $55. More information at 860-486-2113 and crt.uconn.edu/shows/newsies/