High-stepping ‘Newsies’ leap from the TBTS stage

The cast of Disney’s NEWSIES live on stage at Theatre By The Sea thru August 10, 2019. Photos by Steven Richard Photography.

WAKEFIELD, R.I. —   Who knew that newsies – young boys who sold newspapers on the streets of New York City at the turn of the 20th Century – even knew ballet?

It turns out they did – and in their spare time learned tap, somersaults and all manner of flips, too. 

Thanks to a combination of exciting choreography and a young, athletic corps of dancers, the Disney musical “Newsies” now onstage at Theatre by the Sea threatens to leap right off the stage and into your lap.

Christopher Gatelli  won  the Tony Award for his choreography for the Broadway production and here Charlie Sutton does the honors.

As with many of Disney Theatrical’s successful stage musicals, “Newsies” began life as a film, in this case the 1992 film starring Christian Bale as Jack Kelly.

The movie  was a flop at the box office, grossing $3 million,  but eventually gained traction on video and became a cult hit.

That gave impetus for Disney’s Broadway production, which debuted in  2012 and was nominated for eight Tony Awards, winning for Gatelli’s choreography and the score by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman; it also made a star of Jeremy Jordan as Kelly.

The story is based on the actual 1899 strike of newsies, or newspaper hawkers who worked the street of New York City, against papers owned by the publishing giants Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, in an attempt to change the way the way they were paid. The strike lasted two weeks, drastically decreasing the distribution of papers, and the publishers eventually offered to buy back from the newsboys any unsold papers, a major concession.

Katie Claire McGrath as Katherine Plumber in Disney’s NEWSIES live on stage at Theatre By The Sea thru August 10, 2019. Photos by Steven Richard Photography.

 Harvey Fierstein’s strong book softens the film’s story a bit around the edges, inserting a young, attractive female reporter named Katherine Plumber (an excellent Katie Claire McGrath)  into the picture at a time when female reporters – if you could find one – were exiled to the society pages.

Clay Roberts, a native of New Zealand, has no problems with the vocal demands of the role of strike leader Jack Kelly, especially with his stirring, soulful rendition of  “Santa Fe” and its many reprises, while also authoring a worthy NYC accent

He lives on a rooftop with his pal Crutchie (Joseph Allen), a disabled newsboy trying to escape the clutches of The Refuge, a wretched home for orphans.

The duo stick up for a young pair of brothers named Davey (Dean Cestari) and Les (Matthew Packard) who but are forced to the streets to sell papers when their father is injured and unable to work.

Despite Fierstein’s book and the score, it was the production numbers that really defined the show on Broadway, and again here when it’s all hands on deck for “The World Will Know,” “Seize The Day,” and the Act II opener “King of New York” which all give the cast a chance to stretch their legs and then some.

We eventually find out about Jack’s softer side – he’s an accomplished artist who has painted backdrops for burlesque performer Medda Larkin (Ebony Deloney). He yearns for something better than the streets of New York City, but is torn by his loyalty to his friends such as Crutchie.

As the hard-nosed Hungarian publishing magnate Joseph Pulitzer, Patrick Boll manages to be tough, stern and unyielding without becoming a cartoon character.

Kyle Dixon’s set features scaffolding and ladders that allows the actions to move around and above the stage when necessary, or up onto the roof of a building.

Director Richard Sabellico and choreographer Sutton have worked wonders in shoehorning a  large cast and fully-staged  production numbers into the space, and the pacing ensures the youngsters in the theater will stay tuned.

Theatre by the Sea is owned and produced by Bill Hanney, the owner of the North Shore Music Theatre, with Kevin P. Hill; the producing artistic director, the same role he holds at NSMT. The casts at Theatre by the Sea combine established professionals with up-and-coming talent from some of the region’s best collegiate theater programs.

It boasts the quintessential New England summer theater vibe, and that means the atmosphere is relaxed and casual, as is the dress code.

The theater is located a few steps from the ocean in the town of Matnuck, an easy drive from the Boston area down Routes, 95, 4 and 1.  There’s a lovely bar/restaurant named Bistro by the Sea that adjoins the theater and there’s a gazebo bar just outside the main theater building.

Many of the designers also work at NSMT and in the case of “Newsies,” the orchestra and music direction by Jacob Priddy are first-rate.

The theater is comfortably air-conditioned, even for a recent matinee on what was at that point the hottest day of the summer so far.

 “Newsies” may not have come onto the stage with the same cache as “The Lion King” or “Beauty and the Best,” but it’s a worthy addition to the Disney theatrical canon and the perfect summer musical.

The Theatre by the Sea production of Disney’s “Newsies.” Book by Harvey Fierstein, based on the Disney film by Bob Tzukiker and Noni White. Music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman. Directed by Richard Sabellico. Choreographed by Charlie Sutton. At Theatre by the Sea through Aug. 10. theatrebythesea.com

Clay Roberts (Jack Kelly) and Joseph Allen (Crutchie) in Disney’s NEWSIES live on stage at Theatre By The Sea thru August 10, 2019. Photos by Steven Richard Photography.