Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Newsies on tour at the Orpheum

 Joey Barreiro (Jack Kelly) (center) and the North American Tour
company of Disney's NEWSIES. 
© Disney. Photo by Deen van Meer. 
Extra! Extra! Read all about it! 
Newspaper sellers strike - and dance!

That's the idea behind Newsies, the musical that has finally made its way to the Twin Cities more than a year after the show closed on Broadway in August 2014. The wait surprised me, as I thought we were farther up the touring market food chain, but it might just be a fluke of timing and tour routing.

Newsies had an unusual road to Broadway, where it won the 2012 Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Choreography. Originally a little-seen 1992 film starring Christian Bale, the movie became a cult favorite on video and the most-requested Disney title not already adapted for the stage. After a successful run at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse, the musical opened on Broadway and had a healthy 1005-performance run.The show also garnered a fervent following known as "Fansies."

Based on the true story of striking newspaper sellers in 1899 New York, the plot follows Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro) and his pals as they decide to fight back against unfair pricing hikes from the papers' publishers, particularly the publisher of the World, Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard). With the help of Katherine, a young newspaper reporter eager to write about hard news (Morgan Keene), the newsboys rally together to push for better terms not only for themselves, but for other child laborers in the city.

Although he dreams of a life far away from the streets of New York, Jack alternately embraces and avoids his destiny as a leader and the Newsies work through rousing songs like "Carrying the Banner," "The World Will Know," "Seize the Day," and "King of New York," The songs don't so much move the story along as they provide opportunities for the Newsies to dance.

Newsies defy gravity!
Original company, North American tour of Newsies. 
© Disney. Photo by Deen van Meer. 
And wow. What dancing! As choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, the ensemble races through grand jetés and pirouettes and performs flips and other stunts. A standout among the very talented ensemble is Jordan Samuels as Specs, whose awe-inspiring flips suggest that he has a special relationship with gravity. He's also a great presence in the chorus, with an energy that stands out from the crowd.

The leading performers were fine, though I couldn't help wondering what it would have been like to see Jeremy Jordan as Jack. On opening night, the cast was also dealing with occasional sound balance issues and some mysterious noises. Overall, the script (by Harvey Fierstein) is just serviceable, with catchy songs by Alan Menken (music) and Jack Feldman (lyrics). It's easy to see how this show became a favorite with the young girls, both those who loved the movie and those who were introduced to the show. For me, the dancing is the real draw. Even if the dances don't do much to move the story forward, they are a joy to watch.