Review By Caitlin Connelly

EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!!!

“Newsies stop the world!” is a signature statement of this exuberant musical, and for the next two weekends, they’re doing just that at The Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck. The cast and crew of Up in One’s Newsies give a foot stomping performance at The Center.

Newsies: The Musical is adapted and based on the 1992 film. The show features a Tony Award- winning score by Alan Menken (music) and Jack Feldman (lyrics) and a book by Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein. The captivating story line is drawn from real-life events that took place in New York City during the Newsboy Strike of 1899 before New York State child labor laws provided the protections they do today. Many underprivileged children living in New York City would sell newspapers on the streets in order to survive. Their epic, self-organized strike, in which they took on newspaper tycoons such as Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World, and William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal, made headlines and changed history. The story of their fight for a living wage continues to resonate, unfortunately, today.

The show opens true to its historical roots – the year is 1899 and the early morning light is shining down upon the rooftops of New York City. This production’s set is a magnificent feat. Three stories high in faux-steel perfection, with beautifully painted backdrops, and dressed with ladders, landings, clotheslines, ragged Newsies’ garments, and often the ragged Newsies themselves, it gives the audience a complete and engrossing visual experience. The action utilizes every inch of the stage and set, both vertically and horizontally, and it draws the audience into the City in which the Newsies action plays out. The aesthetic achieved is a credit to Andy Weintraub (Set Design), Wil Cornell (Set Construction), Keli Marie Snyder (Scenic Artist), and Harley Putzer (Scenic Artist).

Cast members of Newsies

The image is further enhanced by the authentic costuming of Lobsang Camacho (Costume Design, Lighting Design, Projections), and the technical team support the production ably through the efforts of Brion Carolan (Sound Design), and Joe Beem, Jan Brooks, and Heidi Johnson (Spot Operators).

The band performs the entire show in full, but unobtrusive view of the audience, perched on the second level of the impressive scaffolded set, and amidst the constant action of the choreography. It is conducted by talented pianist and musical director Cheryl B. Engelhardt, and the band backs the production with the energy and depth of sound of an entire pit orchestra.

The protagonist of this story is Jack Kelly (Deitz Farcher), the charismatic leader of the Manhattan Newsies. His smart-mouthed charm and street smarts are balanced by his genuine altruism and care for his fellow Newsies, which creates a rich, compelling dynamic in our hero’s intentions and personality. Farcher embodies Kelly with an easy command of characterization and voice, which draw you to his performance just as the Newsies are drawn to his leadership. He opens the show singing the prologue “Sante Fe” with his friend Crutchie, a fellow Newsie with a bum leg, whose character is sweetly and humorously captured by Terrence Boyer. Farcher’s and Boyer’s harmonies sell the show right from the beginning.

As the Newsies line up to buy their daily “papes” the deuteragonists of the story, Davey Jacobs (Wendell Sherer) and his little brother Les are introduced. The Jacobs boys differ from the rest of the Newsies. Unlike the orphaned, independent Newsies who live in boarding houses or on the streets, the Jacobs have a family, and a home to sleep in at night. When their father, who was hurt on the job, gets well again, they will return to school. They are only selling papers to help their family get by.  But, Jack points out that the injustice of their father’s circumstance as an unrepresented worker, aligns their situations more closely than they first imagined, and the boys quickly become allies.

Sherer’s tight laced, practical, honest, and more formally educated Davey has a sort of knowledge which is crucial to the Newsies’ cause. What Jacobs lacks in magnetism, he makes up for in organizational skill, and together, they become the necessary pieces to this puzzle. Sherer’s voice is a noticeably strong addition to the strength of the musical score, and both Farcher and Sherer bring acting chops to their performances which elevate the show.

One of the most impressive performances is that of Brayden Gianelli, who portrayed Les Jacobs, Davey’s ten-year old brother. Les’ personality is a bit more akin to that of Jack, who immediately takes him under his wing. Jack’s intention is to use Les’ young age to their advantage when selling papers. Les Davey’s character demands tremendous enthusiasm and comedic timing, traits Gianelli nailed to perfection. Without serious acting instincts, the actor could rest satisfactorily on being adorable, but Gianelli adds to that a real depth of character.

Cast members of Newsies

The boys soon meet one of their key allies in the cause, Medda Larkin, who “owns the mortgage” on a Burlesque House in the Bowery, where Jack Kelly is discovered to be a talented painter and scenic artist. A powerful, funny, and sensual performance is given by Jody Satriani in the role, in the number “That’s Rich.”

The character of Katherine Plummer is a welcomed addition to Newsies (The Musical). Her character did not exist in the 1992 Disney musical movie. The choice to rewrite Jack Kelly‘s love interest for the musical gives a voice to woman’s rights, which during the turn of the century, was also a hot topic on the forefront of change. The creation of this character strengthens the storyline and adds an interesting surprise twist near the end of the show. Katherine’s character is one of great wit, sass, sarcasm, self-respect, and high moral standing, making it easy to see why her and Jack Kelly would be drawn to one another. Ms. Plummer is perfectly portrayed by Maria Coppola. Her vocal performance of “Watch What Happens” resonated. Coppola is not only a talented vocalist, but an accomplished dancer as well. During an impressive tap number, Coppola teases the audience with a tidbit of what she’s capable of as a dancer, before later throwing down and stealing a scene.

Newsies is a masterpiece of movement. The choreography, designed by the show’s director Kevin Archambault and captained by Katelyn Shoemaker (Dance Captain), is impeccable. The classic jumps seen in the Broadway version of the show are all here, along with many other new touches and visual surprises, such as an incredible backflip, perfectly landed by the Newsie Finch, portrayed by Jacob Anspach. Every Newsie and ensemble member holds their own in the demanding dancing required for this show. A musical of this size is only as impressive as the ensemble backbone because their support is crucial to the energy delivered throughout the performance. The energy was indeed upheld at all times, and every cast member brought their characters to life with unique flourishes, while also being aware of and working the other players throughout every music and dance number.

The tyranny of Joseph Pulitzer must be captured effectively in this story for it to work. A mustache twisting, coin purse tightening, typical tycoon of his era. The nemesis of the Newsies who diabolically raises the cost of the newspapers that are bought and sold by them, without any regard for their quality of life, is brilliantly captured by Mark Grunblatt.  Pulitzer’s “Team” is rounded out by Joe Felece (Bunsen), Thom Whebb (Seitz), Erin Herbert (Hannah), and Ken Thomson (Nunzio/ Teddy Roosevelt), along with his evil goons, aka “the bad guys,” performed by Howie Riggs (Wiesel), Chris Backofen (Morris Delancey), Jordan Castro (Olive Delancey), and Dan Delpriore (Snyder). All are equally and effectively, distasteful. It should be mentioned that Teddy Roosevelt, ably performed by Ken Thompson, also makes a memorable appearance as governor in this show. You’ll have to see the show to find out how the street urchin Jack Kelly made the Governor’s acquaintance.

Cast of members of Newsies

Director/ Choreographer, Kevin Archambault and Producer, Diana DiGrandi both boast impressive resumes when it comes to making magic happen at The Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck, and they have done nothing to lower the bar here. Their level of expertise and professionalism in utilizing the space is evident. Archambault’s shows once again an ability to get the best out of whomever he is directing.

Hats off to Linda Herzlinger (Stage Manager) and Tina Reilly (Assistant Stage Manager) and the crew. The demands of a show this big in the intimate space of the Center are considerable.

A powerful performance by all, Newsies has the energy, zeal, and abounding talent that an audience yearns for. This show is an exceptional theatre collaboration and it is clear that as a cast and crew were in it to “Seize the Day!” Newsies has the potential to connect a twenty-first century audience to the hopes and dreams of its nineteenth century characters. Mission accomplished.

Don’t just read about it in the papers, folks! Reserve your tickets now – this show is bound to sell out soon! Newsies plays through Sunday, May 12th. Performances at 8pm Friday and Saturday. Sunday matinees at 3pm. Appropriate for all ages. Call the box office: (845) 876-3080 or buy online: http://www.centerforperformingarts.org

Caitlin Connelly

Caitlin Connelly is an actor, vocalist, and artist living in the Hudson Valley. She is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and Bard College at Simon’s Rock, from where she holds degrees in Vocal Jazz/ Music Performance, Accessories Design, and Performing Arts. She is an avid performing artist and through it hopes to create the change she would like to see in the world.

The CENTER for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization which is dedicated, through its arts and education programs, to providing arts experiences for people of all ages.

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