|(l. to r.) Joe Brenkle, Sean Fleming, Joey Anderson, Kyle Burnette|
|(l. to r.) Logan Peters, Benjamin Mudrak, Joe Brenkle, Sean Fleming, Kyle Burnette|
A Delicious Seizing of the Day
By Tom Wachunas
“... these incredible young men have found their OWN voice, found what’s worth fighting for, and found the courage to tear down the walls of rejection, fear, and failure. This story is for every kid, every adult, who has ever been marginalized, picked last, counted out, underserved, and underrepresented…” – Jonathan Tisevich, director of the Players Guild’s production of Newsies
You might think that with the Disney name attached to a big musical production like Newsies (Disney film from 1992; Broadway debut in 2012, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein), you’re in for a tasty treat of warm-n-fuzzy storytelling. Heavy on sugar, light on protein. Maybe. Rest assured that for this Players Guild production, director Jonathan Tisevich certainly respects and preserves the built-in, sheer fun of the proceedings. That’s the exciting entertainment part. But he’s also acutely adept at mining the real potency within the emotional and spiritual ingredients of the narrative. That’s the equally exciting art part, and he’s served it up in powerful manner with an astonishingly talented cast of 35.
In every way, Newsies is a delicious and nourishing theatrical feast, accompanied by the bright, briskly-paced music from the live orchestra conducted by Steve Parsons. The towering architecture of the set, designed by Joshua Erichsen, is comprised of stacked scaffolds and ramps that suggest ramshackle tenements, and are often enchantingly back-lit (lighting by Scott Sutton) to show colored silhouettes of the urban skyline.
Set during the Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City, Newsies is the story of Jack Kelly, a 17-year-old newspaper boy (“newsie”) and talented painter living in and leading a community of fellow newsies, most of them orphaned and/or homeless teenagers. Included in this scruffy band – or family, as Jack lovingly insists on calling his cohorts - are disabled friend Crutchie, Davey, and Davey’s younger brother Les, who both joined the ragtag clan after their father became unemployed. When the publisher of the daily World newspaper, Joseph Pulitzer, raised the cost of the newspapers (“papes”) to the boys by a dime, it’s a hardship too great to ignore, sending Jack and his troupe into vociferous conniptions of protest, culminating in a city-wide strike. Meanwhile, Katherine Plumber is a crusading newspaper writer who sees Jack as a modern-day David standing up to Pulitzer’s Goliath. She’s intent on reporting the truth, much to the dismay of Pulitzer, who seeks to silence her.
As Pulitzer, Jim Graysmith renders a credible portrait of the bullying corporate profiteer. In the song, “The Bottom Line,” he paces about with chilling pomp, his gristly voice intoning a callous unconcern for the welfare of those who hawk his papes. In stark contrast, Sarah Marie Young brings to her role of Katherine a singing voice that’s notably sweet and crystalline, yet never too sweet to convey urgency. It’s perfectly suited to her portrayal of genuine tenderness tempered by a steely determination to connect with the resilient newsies and tell their story.
They in turn, as delightfully presented by this cast, are an inspired and inspiring bunch of distinct personalities at once eccentric, goofy, charming and impassioned. They include, among many others, Donathan Dillard, as the hapless, endearing Crutchie; Matt Rivera as the would-be ladies’ man, Romeo; Zachary Charlick as the impish, cigar-chomping Race; Joe Brenkle as the philosophical big brother Davey, whose impressionable and feisty little brother, Les, played by 10-year-old Zachary May, turns in some very funny one-liners and wise-cracks. In the big choral numbers such as “The World Will Know,” “Seize The Day,” “King Of New York,” and “Once And For All,” this motley crew can sound downright heroic if not angelic, soaring in tight, sumptuous harmonies.
Surely the charismatic center of the action is in the character of Jack, played by Sean Fleming. He’s a riveting presence, fraught with both vulnerability and streetwise swagger (his New Yoo-uck accent is poifect), caught between his persistent dream of moving away to Santa Fe, seeing his daunting fight against Pulitzer through to the end, and what turns out to be a predictable enough romance with Katherine, as so poignantly displayed in their second act duet, “Something To Believe In.” His singing voice is particularly mesmerizing in the way he judiciously incorporates his gently plaintive vibrato. Additionally, to his truly remarkable dancing skills he brings not just the required athletic prowess, but a balletic refinement as well.
And that brings to mind another major “character” in this mix, which is indeed the intricate and often hilariously inventive choreography by Michael Lawrence Akers and assistant choreographer Molly Weidig. It may well be the most splendid and sprawling choreography I've ever seen on the Guild stage, implanting the entire production with an electrifying heartbeat. The newsies were transformed into a well-oiled dancing machine (pure sweat can do that), strutting their stuff with dazzling aplomb. These fearless folks were clearly prepared not just for the occasional sprint, but for a full-out marathon that propelled them through several show-stopping numbers in an infectious spirit of indefatigable ebullience.
In the end, you’ll find no fake news here. Only real, commanding art.
NEWSIES, The Broadway Musical / THROUGH OCTOBER 7, 2018, at Canton Players Guild Theatre Mainstage, Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Ave. N, Canton / Shows at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday - an additional 8 p.m. show on Oct. 7.
TICKETS: $32 adults, $25 ages 17 and younger, $29 seniors. Order at
https://www.playersguildtheatre.com/newsies and 330-453-7617.
Players Guild photos by Dominic Iudiciani