by: Sandi Durell

It’s the turn of the century and child labor laws are nil; exploitation reins, sweat shops prevail and there is no one to help. But – wait a minute, if you’re rough and tough-talkin’ Jack Kelly (Jeremy Jordan – with great vocal capacity and skills), the heart-throb, adorable self-appointed leader of the teenage band of newsies, who live on the streets and eke out a few cents by buying and selling newspapers for one of the big organizations owned by Joseph Pulitzer, you find yourself fighting many battles.

This Disney Theatrical Productions adaptation of the 1992 movie musical, now at the Nederlander Theater, got its inspiration from the newsboy strike of 1899. The music is by Alan Menken with lyrics by Jack Feldman and book by Harvey Fierstein – surely an eye-popping group. And although it’s wonderful to have an almost old-fashioned musical on Broadway (no foul language – Yay!), reminiscent of The Bowery Boys (if you’re old enough to remember them), much of the music sounds the same. Whether the ever-so-talented cast is singing “Carrying the Banner, “ or “The World We Know” or the repeating “Santa Fe” requiem, there aren’t many memorable moments of music. What is outstanding is the dancing and the many heart-warming moments. Choreographer Christopher Gattelli has these talented young men leaping, tapping, back flipping and making acrobatic moves that seem impossible in “Seize the Day” and “King of New York” (Act II) that are pulse quickening (not theirs, ours).

These street-wise kids are the ragamuffins who waggle their way into our hearts, the group we root for, as the big money guys try to take advantage of them, namely Pulitzer who decides he needs to find a way to make more money for his newspaper. So it’s on the backs of these kids, that he raises the rate at which they buy the papers. But, as we know, there is strength in numbers and things can change. And they do. TheNewsies create a solidarity that is uplifting and you can almost hear the audience wanting to boo the big bad evil guys, including the corrupt cops. (sound like a familiar story?)

And, then there’s the love element. Jack Kelly is attracted to a beautiful young female reporter, Katherine (Kara Lindsay, a Disney cutie if I ever saw one), who wants to help their plight, not knowing she is actually the daughter of Pulitzer, who is played by a stern, vocally pleasing John Dossett. Though some of the dialogue is inane, it doesn’t really matter; nor does it matter that all dez kids tawk New Yawk style. There are some outstanding performances by Crutchie (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) who’s a ‘dems and doze’ kinda kid; at the performance I saw, adorable little guy Les, played by Lewis Grosso, Davey (Ben Fankhauser) and Teddy Roosevelt (Kevin Carolan).

The period costumes for these urchins and other are perfectly designed by Jess Goldstein. The set design is like a big steel erector set for the kids to climb up and down, with good lighting by Jeff Croiter and projections by Sven Ortel, and sound by Ken Travis.

Newsies – the Musical is a production calculated to attract young audiences for a long time that has been cleverly directed by Jeff Calhoun. Maybe it will even get folks to stop reading their news online and go out and buy some papes!

Photo: Deen Van Meer