‘Newsies’ leaps off the stage of the Opera House
BOSTON — In 1992, the Walt Disney Co. released a movie loosely based on the 1899 newsboys strike in New York City called “Newsies.” Budgeted at $15 million and starring a young Christian Bale as “Cowboy“ Jack Kelly, it pulled in just $2.8 million at the box office.
But then something funny happened. Upon its release on video, those who disregarded the theatrical release found a lot to like.
And when Disney started to revamp past animated hits with winning scores for the stage, it begat a series of hits that included “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin,” changing everything.
Disney made the decision to revamp “Newsies” as a stage musical. The stage version introduces seven brand-new songs by the original team of Alan Menken and Jack Feldman while keeping many of the beloved songs from the film, including “Carrying the Banner,” “Seize the Day,” “King of New York” and “Santa Fe.”
The play pulled in eight Tony nominations and Tonys for Best Score and Choreography in 2012, and ran through August 2014 on Broadway, a run of 1,005 performances, attendance of more than 1 million and a gross of more than $100 million.
The national touring production of “Newsies” at the Boston Opera House through July 5 is a strong reproduction of the Broadway experience.
Dan DeLuca as “Cowboy” Jack Kelly — the leader of the newsboys strike who dreams of a new life in the wide-open spaces of The West — perhaps isn’t the vocalist that Broadway star Jeremy Jordan was, but he brings strong acting and dancing chops to the piece and does a soulful version of the show’s signature ballad, “Santa Fe,” which is reprised several times.
Harvey Fierstein’s book based on the movie changed the role of a young reporter who aids the newsboys to a young, beautiful female reporter named Katherine Plumber (Stephanie Styles). She tends to soften around the edges a testosterone-filled production that includes only other real one female role, Angela Grovey as Medda Larkin, the owner of a burlesque house where Jack paints backdrops for musical numbers.
Zachary Sayle is Crutchie, the disabled newsie who is captured and held hostage in the city’s House of Refuge, a reform school-type institution for youth designated as abandoned, delinquent or incorrigible.
Jacob Kemp as Davey and Vincent Crucelli as Les, his feisty, funny younger brother, are a dynamic duo who are forced to become newsies when their father is disabled by a workplace accident; they become leaders in the newsboys’ movement
Publishing magnate Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard), the publisher of the New York World, is looking to improve the bottom line and along with fellow publisher William Randolph Hearst figures the newsies, the young boys who sell the paper on the city streets in return for a share of the proceeds, will be an easy mark. He raises the price the struggling, starving boys must pay, triggering protests that turn into a citywide strike.
Christoper Gattelli won and deserved the Tony for his jaw-dropping Broadway choreography. It’s all here: leaps, pirouettes, somersaults, tap dancing, and other-worldly athleticism combined with precision movement.
The effect is a whole series of spectacular production numbers, including “The World Will Know,” “Seize The Day” and the roof-raising second-act opener “King of New York.”
Composer Alan Menken has never received his just due as one of the giants of film and stage composing in the modern era, but eight Oscars, 11 Grammys, seven Golden Globes, a Tony, etc. pretty much says it all.
Tobin Ost’s three-tiered scaffolding set moves easily and quickly around the stage, allowing the entire cast to be front and center for the production numbers.
If you were one of those who wore out that VHS tape of the original “Newsies” as my daughters did, you’ll find almost everything you liked about the movie is here, amplified by the immediacy of live stage performances and an orchestra.
This time, the headline should read: “‘Newsies’ Leaps Off Opera House Stage.”
The national touring company of Disney Theatrical Productions’ “Newsies.” Directed by Jeff Calhoun. Music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman. Book by Harvey Fierstein, based on the Disney film written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White. Choreographed by Christoper Gattelli. Scenic design by Tobin Ost. Costume design by Jess Goldstein. Lighting design by Jess Crotter. Sound design by Ken Travis. Music direction by James Dodgson. At the Boston Opera House through July 5. Tickets: http://www.broadwayinboston.com.