Reviewed by Joan Tupponce
It’s a rare treat when a theatrical production can transfer its high-powered energy to the audience, but that’s just what happens with Disney’s Newsies, playing now at Altria Theater.
Inspired by the Newsboy strike of 1899, the Tony Award-winning musical tells the powerful story of Jack Kelly, a young newsie who rallies other newsies in New York City to strike when publishing giant Joseph Pulitzer raises the amount newsboys have to pay for the papers they sell, cutting into their profits.
In true David-and-Goliath style, the story highlights the timeless struggle between the working class and the wealthy corporate tycoons that ruled the city. At first, the newsies are reluctant to follow Jack because they can’t afford to lose even a penny but with time they join together and see that justice prevails.
The importance of relationships weaves its way throughout the story, focusing not only on Jack’s relationships with the other newsies and his fledgling relationship with Katherine, a young reporter who draws his attention, but also the bonds that form between the newsies.
It is also a story of personal growth and fortitude, a glimpse into what someone can and will endure, and how they use that to move forward.
What makes this show a tour-de-force is its combination of a compelling story, stellar vocal performances, and choreography that would make the great Gene Kelly stand up and cheer. This is as much a dancing phenomenon as it is a great musical.
The newsboys as a whole are about as perfect as it gets. They jump, fly, tumble, tap and spin with ease and grace. They are spirited, dynamic, and immensely talented as they prove over and over again, especially in the rousing “Seize the Day” and “King of New York.”
There is not a weak performance in this production. Steve Blanchard is forceful and very believable as the powerful Joseph Pulitzer. Zachary Sayle’s vocals and charm give dimension to Crutchie, a newsie that befriends Jack.
Morgan Keene effortlessly powers through the challenging vocals in her role as Katherine. Stephen Michael Langton’s honest performance breathes life into Davey, a newsie who partners with Jack in his efforts. His vocals are top-notch.
John Michael Pitera is as cute as button as Les, Davey’s younger brother who has the maturity of an adult.
Joey Barreiro plays Jack Kelly with passion and skill. He commands your attention whenever he’s on stage. His vocals are spot on and his talent is mesmerizing.
I would be remiss if didn’t praise the terrific staging in this production that includes giant rotating steel cages filled with stairways, interactive displays and seamless scene changes.
Disney’s Newsies is the perfect way to start this holiday season. A fantastic family show that integrates everything that is remarkable about musical theater with history and a light dose of romance, it would be a real shame to miss it.
Newsies runs about two hours and fifteen minutes with intermission. It’s an all-ages musical, but children under four will not be admitted.
The show, which is presented by Broadway in Richmond, runs through November 8. Visit Altria Theater for showtimes and tickets.