'Newsies' flashes with movement 

click to enlarge The newsboys in the touring company of "Newsies" dance up a storm at the Orpheum Theatre - COURTESY DEEN VAN MEER
  • COURTESY DEEN VAN MEER
  • The newsboys in the touring company of "Newsies" dance up a storm at the Orpheum Theatre
In a rush of athletic choreography and big ensemble numbers, “Newsies” danced its way into the City Wednesday night. Its checkered history aside, this musical retelling of New York’s 1899 newsboy strike delivers with the splashy impact of a banner headline.

The opening night performance at the Orpheum Theatre, smartly directed by Jeff Calhoun, introduced an effective staging and a vibrant, fine-tuned cast. But it’s the dancing that gives this touring production its particular panache.

That’s surprising, given that “Newsies” was once considered a wash. Adapted from the 1992 Disney film –a big-time box office failure – the Tony Award-winning Disney musical by Alan Menken (music), Jack Feldman (lyrics) and Harvey Fierstein (book) emerges a charmer.

If it’s a little too breezy to register with much of an emotional jolt, this David and Goliath story still manages to carry its weight. Even musical theater skeptics can’t deny the production’s streamlined pacing and high-energy performances.

“Newsies” begins when newspaper tycoon Joseph Pulitzer, along with William Randolph Hearst and other publishing giants, decide to hike the distribution price delivery boys must pay for the “papes” (that’s newsie lingo for newspapers) they sell. The newsies, already living in poverty, take their cue from New York’s ongoing trolley strike. Led by Jack Kelly, a 17-year-old runaway from a juvenile detention center, they come together and form a union.

Dan DeLuca, heading the cast as Jack, is an agile, appealing presence in the role. There are strong performances throughout the ensemble: Jacob Kemp’s clear, sweet-toned singing is an asset as the intellectual Davey, and Zachary Sayle makes an endearing impression as their wounded pal Crutchie.

Anthony Rosenthal was ideal as Davey’s daring little brother, Les (Vincent Crocilla assumes the role in alternate performances.) Stephanie Styles exuded plucky appeal as Katherine, the girl reporter determined to tell Jack’s story and win his heart. Angela Grove’s Medda Larkin, Steve Blanchard’s Pulitzer, and Kevin Carolan’s blustery Teddy Roosevelt made indelible contributions.

Tobin Ost’s revolving scaffold sets make an eye-catching backdrop for the musical numbers, and Christopher Gattelli’s excellent dance sequences – a dazzling mix of airborne backflips, stop-on-a-dime spins, and jazzy tap numbers – raise the temperature.

For all its flash, “Newsies” remains fairly one-dimensional by the end. But it’s still a pleasure to see Jack and his scrappy 19th century cohorts triumph over corporate greed. That’s something today’s workforce, still being squeezed for every dime, can appreciate.

REVIEW

Newsies

Presented by SHN

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes March 15

Tickets: $45 to $150

Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com

About The Author

Georgia Rowe

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