By Barry Reszel
A talented triumvirate of young stars are seizing the holidays in Chicago, leading their athletic ensemble through some sick choreography in the hugely entertaining, touring musical production of Disney’s Newsies, through Jan. 4.
This Broadway in Chicago Equity production features more than 50 youthful onstage triple threats and intricate sets mirroring the Broadway originals (Cameron Mackintosh would be so pleased). While many in the gifted cast will mark this production (25 cities in 43 weeks) as their “big break,” it’s particularly true for this show’s three leading players.
Remember the names Dan DeLuca, Stephanie Styles and Jacob Kemp. One day when they stand to receive their Tony (or Jeff) Award, they will certainly have Newsies Director Jeff Calhoun and Choreographer Christopher Gattelli to thank.
DeLuca embodies the role of leading orphaned newsie, Jack Kelly, who displays artistic, romantic and leadership characteristics. He pulls off wistful, tough and vulnerable with an impeccably clear voice and Ben Vereen-quality dance moves.
Styles as secretive cub reporter Katherine with a crush on her favorite interview subject will find Newsies to be her launching pad to future success. “Watch What Happens” is not simply this strong, angelic-voiced hoofer’s signature song in Newsies‘ first act. It’s a command to her growing-nightly fan base to keep their eyes on her career.
Finally, as big brother to the littlest, most adorable newsie, Les, Kemp is the quintessential Davey, a character requiring straight-man humor coupled with the leadership to offer Jack a simultaneous kick and shoulder. His voice is terrific, too.
These three spearhead the telling of Kelly’s story, set in 1890s New York City. A newspaper boy dreaming of a better life far from the hardship of the streets, Kelly leads his fellow newsies to unionize when publishing titans Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raise distribution costs at the carriers’ expense. Newsies is based on the true newsboy strike of 1899, when Kid Blink led a two-week carrier strike against New York’s powerful newspaper publishers.
In this production, Gattelli’s choreography alone is worth the price of admission to the surprising hit spun from a middling 1992 Disney movie. Initially staged at New Jersey’s Papermill Playhouse in 2011, the production received positive reviews, and Newsies was reluctantly brought to Broadway for a limited engagement in spring 2012, where it won that year’s Tony Awards for original score (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman) and choreography (Gattelli). The musical closed this August after 1,005 performances.
A full history and plot synopsis of the musical Newsies may be read here.
Menken and Feldman’s strong and tender songbook finely complements the book by Harvey Fierstein. Massive showstoppers, “King of New York” and “Seize the Day” are every bit as good as New York’s versions. “Watch What Happens,” “The World Will Know” and the ballad “Santa Fe” are added musical highlights.
Additional cast kudos go to three terrific performers. Zachary Sayle as Crutchie particularly shines in his solo, “Letter From the Refuge.” Steve Blanchard is an appropriately despicable Pulitzer who brings a winning, snarky greed to “The Bottom Line.” And Angela Grovey grabs all possible gusto as the big, bawdy and beautiful Medda Larkin in “That’s Rich.” It’s too bad her character isn’t more fully developed in this book.
If there’s a nit, it’s that at times the ensemble singing could be more fully articulated. Then again, that observation might be because patrons lack attention to the lyrics when they become so mesmerized by the magnificent dance.
All said, this production is headline worthy. Chicagoland musical theatre patrons are advised to buy their tickets now, before this terrific tour becomes yesterday’s news.
“Newsies” performs through January 4 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph Street, Chicago. Tickets range from $40 to $130, plus fees. More information and tickets are available online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com or by phone at (800) 775-2000.