Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Stop the Presses: Newsies Takes Over Village!

Cast of Newsies (Mark Kitaoka)
Disney’s Newsies
Village Theatre
Issaquah through December 28, 2017
Everett: January 5-28, 2018

There is a pack of muscular male singers and dancers taking over the stage at Village Theatre! They are demanding that audiences pay more attention and stop reducing it, in an effort to make a living! If audiences do not pay more, they may well strike! And we really do not want that because they are extremely effective at what they do.

A robust, energetic and rousing production of the musical, Newsies, which details the Newsboy Strike of 1899 against Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers, brings Issaquah audiences to their feet. The very large cast is called upon to dance huge numbers in sync, including a major tap number at the top of the second act.

The real life story was that Pulitzer and Hearst and all the other papers of the day raised their rate for newsboy payment to 60 cents per hundred from 50 cents. The newsboys paid for papers and then had to sell as many as they could for as much as they could to get their money back and have money to live off of. That seemingly small raise was an extreme hardship to the army of children and, in an era of other large strikes, they were motivated to strike, too.

After a 1992 movie, composer Alan Menken, lyricist Jack Feldman, and book writer Harvey Fierstein made a musical which made its Broadway debut in 2012. The national tour came to Seattle and Joey Barreiro starred as Jack Kelly, the charismatic newsboy leader who dreams of going west to Santa Fe. Barriero struts his stuff here as well and brings a full range of emoting to the starring role, providing a satisfying chemistry with local favorite Taylor Niemeyer as Katherine.

Niemeyer also gives it her all in a self-possessed, sturdy portrait of a young woman reporter. She shows off her beautiful voice and also chimes in on the tap dancing in Act 2. The role is written nicely for the one female lead in a massively masculine musical (try saying that three times fast), though it’s a desperately improbable one when she turns out to be Pulitzer’s daughter. The movie had no such “love interest” and the reporter was male. The musical writers obviously tried to find some way of making a leading woman fit into the story and making it into a love story.

But it’s easy to overlook any script weaknesses (including a scene with all the children of the richest families in NYC helping the poorest) when the deft orchestra swells (led by music director R.J. Tancioco) and the two dozen dancers swing onto stage for another big number. The focus and energetic direction of Steve Tomkins and the agile (and sometimes faithful to the Broadway original) choreography by Katy Tabb keep the production amped at full speed.

Christopher Mumaw’s surprisingly flexible sets move seamlessly from outdoor bowery to indoor theater and back again. Cynthia Savage’s costuming works well for poor urchins and wealthy mucks like Joseph Pulitzer (Greg Stone) alike. Sound, designed and well-balanced by Brett Warwick makes everyone completely heard. The one area of tech that seems fussy and overbearing is lighting by Aaron Copp. The lighting changes so much during some songs that it seemed like it was supposed to be all about the lighting.

In addition to the big roles, a few smaller standouts deserve mention: Michael Krenning as a lame Crutchie is plucky and full of heart; Cherisse Martinelli is enormous fun as a Pulitzer secretary (for a hot second); Ulyber Mangune and Davione Gordon show off their dancing; and Guthrie Greenwood Bettinger, the youngest Newsie, steals most of his scenes with great comic timing!

Fun for the whole family, this is great counter-holiday programming that still feels like a holiday!

For more information, go to www.villagetheatre.org or call 425-392-2202.