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Theater Review: “Newsies”

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Newsies at Overture Center
Original company, North American Tour of NEWSIES. ©Disney. Photo by Deen van Meer.

This week I was fortunate enough to come across tickets to the opening of Disney’s Tony Award Winning Musical Newsies which depicts the real life story of the 1899 newsboy strike in New York City. Being an avid fan of the glorious and majestic Overture Center I was of course ecstatic. So with a new friend in tow I headed to the show I knew little about with all the excitement in the world.

We entered the center and were greeted by the familiar bustling of a show—people in line for tickets, people waiting for loved ones and getting drinks from the overflowing bar. Among all of this were the great posters advertising the show with a high-jumping photo of a smiling newsboy. However, one thing I didn’t anticipate and was pleasantly surprised by was the Newsies photo booth right outside the entrance of the theater. Guests were invited to be their own headlines with a newspaper outline and space for you and friends to pose for the front-page story. It was an exceedingly fun and involved introduction to the show. It was a good indicator of how the show itself went. The show, like the photo booth and the posters was inclusive, fun, energetic, and just downright impressive.

Madison365 reporter Corey Black (right) with friend Ashley Robertson at Newsies
Madison365 reporter Corey Black (right) with friend Ashley Robertson at Newsies

When the lights dimmed and the curtains were drawn the audience was greeted by a stage that was put together to depict the New York City living quarters of the time. (i.e. lots of fire escape stairs, balconies, and clotheslines.) It definitely had an industrial aesthetic. Throughout the play the set was moved around and was seemingly elaborate despite being made up of about four or five major balcony pieces. I was impressed by how seamlessly the staff moved through out the set, up and down stairs that were often moving, while also staying in character, dancing their butts off, and projecting. Another impressive aspect of the set that was the use of projectors to convey parts of the message audiences usually doesn’t see. The projections, adapted by Daniel Brodie, projected headlines and letters that were being written. It was certainly a great use of that system and proved a strong actor in the development of the story.

The singing and dancing of the show was absolutely flawless. The choreography, which was put together by Tony Award Winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli, included plenty of back flips and pirouettes to wow the crowd often and the musical numbers were catchy. Not only did they include many ballet-focused choreography but also the King of New York number was a tap-dancing piece. This eclectic and creative mix of dance was too fresh. They had a lot of actors on stage at some points and despite the large amount of actors the stage never felt overcrowded with dancers. Although the central characters like Katherine and Jack shined, everyone in the cast had their chance in the light.

Despite the majority of the cast being made up of men the three women that were in the musical held there own beautifully and actually were my favorite characters. Katherine and Medda Larkin had outstanding solos with Katherine’s solo being my absolute favorite part of the whole play. Her vocals were outstanding and the writing for the scene itself was really funny and smart. Of course many of the scenes in the musical were quite funny and smart, but this one I believe was the most relatable.

One thing that really set this musical apart from others that I have seen in the past is how much they got the audience involved. Just like the time before the show with the photo booth, throughout the show audience involvement was encouraged. They threw newspapers into the crowd and they addressed the audience quite often. All of theater scenes of Medda Larkin, who in the play was the mistress of a theater, were interesting because they treated the audience as if they were the audience at her theater.

A great number of people came together to create this outstanding production of Newsies and it is not lost one bit in the performances and design. Newsies has everything: great laughs, accomplished vocals, energetic, awe-inspiring choreography and historical relevance, to boot. To have a play about a union triumphing come to Madison seemed like just the right move. All things considered, I would highly recommend checking out this fun, energetic, humorous, and relevant musical.

For more information about Newsies, click here.