by Beki Pineda

NEWSIES – Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Jack Feldman; Book by Harvey Fierstein; Directed by Steve Wilson. Produced by Town Hall Arts Center (2450 West Main Street, Littleton) through December 30. Tickets available at 303-794-2787 or TownHallArtsCenter.org.

As you all know, I see a LOT of theatre. So it’s always fun when a show provides a pleasant surprise. For instance, I recently saw a new actress in town demonstrate their considerable comedy chops in a production of BLITHE SPIRIT. The smallish part of Edith became a show-stopper in the capable hands of Lydia Thompson. Now appearing in this show, dressed in a boyish costume with their hair cut short, singing and dancing like a crazy person, here they are again. This demonstration of versatility is impressive. But not unique.

The band of “gypsy” chorus members who go from show to show learning new routines and new songs every week is astounding. They rehearse a new show through the week and perform in the old show on the weekend. Their energy is boundless, their enthusiasm for a new project is inspiring, their capacity for muscle memory boggles the mind. Night after night with a smile on their faces, they dance their little feet off and sing until hoarse. The ensemble in this 26-member cast performs in most of the fifteen musical numbers in NEWSIES. There are a few ballads, but that’s not what you remember about this show. You remember the exuberant polished raucous smiling faces of the newsies as they danced, leapt, tumbled, jumped and kicked their way through the story. Congratulations to one and all for this exhilarating performance.

Which leads us right back to the people who taught this band of dancers how to do what they have learned to do so well. The choreographing mother-daughter duo of Debbie and Ronni Stark. These two have been partners in dance since Ronni was an infant. They have joined with Director Steve Wilson on multiple Phamaly shows in the past and have come together in a triumvirate team to work their magic on this script and score.

This script is based on a real event that took place back in 1899 which makes the story even more appealing It becomes a David and Goliath tale as a band of scrappy news-sellers fight against the powerful publishers of the day – Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst – and won.  Or at least managed to get a reasonable compromise. That would be akin to subscribers of Facebook and Twitter taking on Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk today.

The newsies are led by Jack Kelly played by Elton J. Tanega. Elton shows both the determination and the uncertainty of the character as he does not consider himself a leader. His best friend and partner in crime is Crutchie (Kong Vang) who tries hard to keep up with his friend in spite of his bum leg and dependence on a crutch. The newsies are joined by Davy and his sister Les (Camden Deal and Mac Vasquez) who become a part of the gang to support their family. Davey has enough schooling that he understands the power of a strike and mentors the others on strategy. Les provides the “cute.” They all come under the spell of Katherine (Kelly Maur), a fledgling reporter who takes an interest in their plight and blows it up into a front page story and also creates a love interest for Jack.

Additional friends of the newsies included Medda, a night club owner (Rajdulari), who lets them hide and hold meetings in her dance hall; Jacobi (Erin Banta) who feeds them from her soup kitchen; Teddy Roosevelt (Elliot Clough although he also plays a guard and policeman not generally on the side of the newsies), while he was still Governor of New York; and  Darcy and Bill (Caleb Wenger and Jack Griffin) who are the sons of prominent publishers but help find a printing press for the newsies. The bad guys are Pulitzer (Eric Fry back after too long); Wiesel (Kevin Walton) and his two henchmen (the very versatile Jack Griffin and Caleb Wenger who play on both sides of the fence) who hand out the newspapers and browbeat the newsies at every turn; and Snyder (Giovanni Roselli) who runs a “refuge” for wayward boys.

There was doubt that the small performing space at Town Hall could accommodate this generally huge show. But the clever and versatile set designed by Mike Grittner which utilized a complimentary lighting design by Vance McKenzie and projections of Old New York by El Armstrong did the trick. There is no doubt left that this is a rousing evening at the theatre full of uplifting anthems and beautiful ballads and DANCE!!

A WOW factor of 8.75!!

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