Theater Review by Howard Steven Frydman
Theater: Connecticut Repertory Theater
Music & Lyrics: Alan Menken and Jack Feldman
Book by: Harvey Fierstein
Director: Christopher d’Amboise,
Cults– who knew that some musicals had cult followers or (ZOT’s) Zealots of the Theater!
Yep-we’re talking Broadway musical Zot-lots here!! Who knew? I bet my Aunt Ida knew!
Yea yea yea “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” fer sure had the ZOTS, maybe even “Mama Mia” or “Pippin” or “Kiss Me Kate”, and of course “The Book of Mormons” – but here’s the rub- one of the biggest ZOTS IS THE MUSICAL “NEWSIES” —“NEWSIES”?? So I simply state- join the ZOTS, put one foot in front of another, and ZOT over to see what’s it all about- Disney’s “Newsies” The Musical at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre at the University of Connecticut.
Yep it’s true- “Newsies” the musical has a cult following – and it’s a doozi believe you me! Christian Bale who played the role of “news-boy” Jack Kelly in the original movie version once stated “You say something bad about “Newsies” and you have an awful lot of people to answer too”. WOW! I’m not planning on – saying one ill word and a word to the wise-neither should you for the truth is- I think after seeing this “hot diggetty dog” of a good time at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) final production of the Nutmeg Summer Series- I just became a “Newsies” too- now where do I get my “Newsies” fan letter, membership pin and secret decoder ring? I’m all in! So Extra Extra read “all about it” here- “Newsies is “Above the Fold”- and top draw entertainment!!
For the uninitiated, “Newsies” is not about my or even your Aunt Ida, who calls each day on the land-line phone and asks, “Nuuu? So wats New?”- This time around, let me tell ya what’s New-sies!
Firstly- NEWSIES comes in two forms- both based on real events of the NYC Newsboy Strike of 1899, it was originally a 1992 Disney movie musical starring Bale, Robert Duvall and Ann Margaret and is a qualified “must have” for ZOTS on DVD and then in a second life, transformed into a Tony Award winning musical (nominated for eight, winning two) with a score by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman and book by Harvey Fierstein. For the Nutmeg Summer Series, “Newsies” is Directed and Choreographed by Tony Award-nominee Christopher d’Amboise, Scenic design by Tim Brown, Costume Design by the phenomenal Fan Zheng and with a high-energy talented cast that ALL must be noted here including; Jim Schubin (Jack Kelly), Tyler Jones (Crutchie), Richard R. Henry (Joseph Pulitzer), Tina Fabrique (Medda Larkin), Aaron Bantum (Albert), Darren Brown (Scab 1/Citizen/Police), Will Bryant (Wiesel/Police/Mayor), Atticus Burello (Les), Jacob Burns (Specs/Jojo), Kent Coleman (Scab 2/Citizen/Stage Manager), Spencer Croy (Finch/Elmer), Brandon Engman (Mush/Buttons), Jamaal Fields-Green (Spot Conion/Citizen), Nate Healey (Governor Theodore Roosevelt/Nunzio/Police), Dharon Jones (Henry/Sniper), Noah Kieserman (Davey), Simon Longnight (Romeo/Tommy Boy), Aidan Marchetti (Seit/Jacobi), Kalob Martinez (Snyder), Cullen Ries (Oscar Delancey), Alyssa Sarnoff (Hannah/Nun/Dancer/Citizen), Paige Smith (Katherine Plumber), Tuck Sweeney (Race), Andy Viviano (Morris Delancey), and Jane Zogbi (Nun/Dancer/Citizen).
So heres’s da scoop- Brooklyn-eze accents not required but welcomed! It’s definitely not a sunshine life here in NYC, circa 1899, as we meet teen Jack Kelly who dreams of moving to Santa Fe, his wounded pal Crutchie and his family of orphaned and homeless newsies who survive by selling “The New York World” Newspapers on the streets. It’s a hard luck life indeed, as each day they arrive at the NYW to pick up their supply of daily papers to sell. Entering this world are Davey and his little brother Les, though they have a home and family, their father was injured at work and now unemployed, they must be the family providers. Jack quickly takes both brothers under his wing with the thought that the “innocent looking” Les could be the ticket to selling more newspapers. Meanwhile, Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the NYW decides to increase the cost of the papers to the Newsies in an all about effort to outsell his competitors.
What to do? Led by Jack and assisted by New York Sun reporter Katherine Plumber the boys of “Newsies” band together to organized a strike against the surprised publisher Pulitzer. These union organizers are sure gonna need a “rough rider” to come to their aid- TR where are ya when we needs ya??!
I freely admit I am a newbie to CRT and their Nutmeg Summer Series, but folks the standards in production, actors, design and direction are as in the words of Teddy Roosevelt- “Bully”- excellent – I so enjoyed my first CRT foray, “1776”-and Newsies follows suit in the same form- highly highly enjoyable. Tim Brown’s scenic design sets the mood of grungy news ink splattered NYC world, while Fan Zheng once again designs authentic, to the period costuming. One side note, the character of Katherine Plumber”, throughout the entire production she wears her hair down and is usually outfitted in a brown period dress- I strongly felt that at the onset of the musical, she should have had her hair dressed up, to signify her original opposition to Jack and then it’s only let down as she awakens to Jack and the newsies blight, plus in the same light, her dress should now be blue, same as Jack’s shirt at productions end to show their solidarity. What do you think?
“The” big highlight is indeed the choreography by Christopher d’Amboise – absolutely brilliant energetic performance by the entire cast! As for the Menken Feldman score- you’re not going to leave the theater singing “The Sun Will Come Out -Tomorrow” but there are some Zotty tunes including my fave, “King of New York”. The backbone of this production is indeed the casting – most notably Jim Schubin as “Jack” and Tyler Jones as “Crutchie”. We are reacquainted with the bigger than life Richard R. Henry as Pulitzer ( so enjoyable as Franklin in “1776”). Ok ok- ya know there is always at least one actor that steals the show, for “Newsies” there are two – Atticus L. Burello is a major scene stealer as the “babes in arms” – “Les”- good job kid- ya got noticed!! And finally major kudos to one actor who had several roles, Nate Healey, (last seen also in “1776”), he portrayed a police officer, “Nunzio” the Italian barber, cabaret dancer and Teddy Roosevelt-
this guy has some MAJOR acting chops- Bully job Nate!! Hey all you “Newsies” ZOTS – this musical is indeed a joyous great way to end the summer series- I can’t wait till next year’s summer musical selections- enjoy!
This production will take place at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theater located on the campus of the University of Connecticut. CRT is the professional producing arm of the Department of Dramatic Arts at the University of Connecticut- Storrs, CT. For ticket information or to purchase tickets by phone: 860-486-2113 or visit online at http://www.crt.uconn.edu.
Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC. Please feel free to contact Mr. Frydman with your thoughts and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.