Theater review: “Newsies the Musical”

By: Nick Salacki, Columnist

I’ve never been to an opening night show, on Broadway or off. But this past Tuesday night on Eutaw Street in Baltimore, I had my tickets scanned to see Disney’s “Newsies the Musical” at the Hippodrome Theatre.

Newsies had its run on Broadway in New York from March 2012 to August 2014. Now, the newsies are seizing the day and carrying their banner across the U.S.

In 1899 New York City, Jack Kelly is the leader of a group of Newsboys. Without a place to call home, Jack and his buddies have a daily routine of buying copies of the New York World newspaper at 50 cents per 100 copies. But in an attempt to raise circulation, the World’s editor in chief Joseph Pulitzer raises the newsie’s price to 60 cents per 100 copies.

Outraged, Jack and his boys gather all newsies from New York City to rally together and take a stand against the tyrannical Pulitzer with a strike, in a David and Goliath spectacle.

Act one gave us a chance to meet the newsies and see what they’re all about: How they live, what they like, their dreams. But what they failed to meet was keeping us impressed. With moments of silence in between dialogue, the show began to seem slowly paced. That is, up until the spellbinding showstopper “Seize the Day” came on stage two scenes prior to intermission, my heart began to race when I watched the Tony Award-winning choreography take over center stage.

When leg kicks, tumbles, flips, tap dances and spoon clapping filled the stage, I remembered part of why Newsies is so notable in the Broadway-sphere. The people behind Newsies took advantage of this, and on the playbill, they put a newsie doing their famous leg kick.

I did get a chance to see one of Newsies’ early shows back when it opened on Broadway in Spring 2012. Compared to its national tour, it’s quite sub-par.

Jeremy Jordan (Joyful Noise, NBC’s Smash, upcoming The Last Five Years co-starring Anna Kendrick) starred as Jack Kelly in the original Broadway cast. Dan DeLuca, who plays Kelly in the national tour, definitely has Jordan’s charm but I could tell that DeLuca was coached into making his character more kid-friendly.

Now that more of America is exposed to Jack Kelly, they have to be careful with exposing too much of Kelly’s dark and violent side. DeLuca’s sharp New York accent is on the dot but perhaps too much so. As DeLuca was up on that stage giving his lines, I couldn’t help but see right through him. I found DeLuca’s performance as Jack Kelly entirely too contrived and transparent. But in the eyes of the kids, DeLuca succeeds.

Where DeLuca shines as Newsie frontrunner Kelly, his best friend Crutchie, played by “A Christmas Story: The Musical” original cast alum Zachary Sayle, takes his own stance, or stumble, as the “little engine that could” type of character. Crutchie has one bad leg that just won’t heal. He still fights on but ends up in The Refuge, a horrid orphanage, just before intermission.

What can be experienced in the national tour of Newsies that was unheard of in the Broadway run is Crutchie’s own solo he sings while in The Refuge. Sayle sings his solo “Letter from the Refuge” as a crying out for his brothers as he remains miserable and half dead in a cramped space in a wet, cold orphanage. The emotion from Sayle reached my seat and Crutchie reached my heart.

Newsies is one of my favorite shows and I encourage anyone to go see it. Tickets are still on sale and shows go through Sunday, Dec. 7.

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