Do you like spunk? Head to the Fox for a bracing hot toddy of youthful can-do spirit and vigorous dancing, served up stylishly in “Newsies.”
Disney’s crowd-pleasing musical includes triumphant tales of woe that will melt cold hearts, while the robust dance routines have the touring show’s rabid fan base cheering loudly.
The action is framed in an eye-popping high-tech set that evokes the 1899 time period and uses today’s fluid graphic capabilities to tell its feel-good story. These striking elements greatly enhance the conventional right-over-might plot.
Once upon a time, the only way to find out what was going on in the world was to read a newspaper.
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More than a century ago, New York City was home to several publications, including Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, the Herald and The Sun. Newsboys, those plucky street urchins whose livelihood depended on selling that day’s paper, went on strike when Pulitzer raised the price.
The Newsboys Strike of 1899 has gone from being a footnote in history to a Disney movie and a popular stage show that spreads hopeful cheer.
In 1992, first-time director Kenny Ortega, choreographer of “Dirty Dancing,” helmed an original musical with songs by Alan Menken, winner of eight Oscars (“The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin”), and starring an 18-year-old Christian Bale (“The Dark Knight”) as charismatic leader Jack Kelly and villainous Robert Duvall as Pulitzer. “Newsies” bombed at the box office but won over countless fans later on DVD.
Those fans helped propel “Newsies” to a splashy stage production that opened on Broadway in 2012, winning two Tony Awards for Menken’s score (seven new songs) and muscular choreography by Christopher Gattelli.
The stage version benefits from the young cast’s energy, as the opening number “Carrying the Banner,” its dazzling “Seize the Day,” and the charming ‘King of New York” show off a tight ensemble.
It helps that there are cute kids and resonant backstories. Joey Barreiro is a sturdy Jack Kelly, a tough survivor who leads the strike, revealing a heart of gold and talent as an artist.
However, he isn’t as colorful as some of the supporting cast that’s meant to tug on our heartstrings — alternating actors John Michael Pitera and Ethan Steiner as cute-as-a-button Les, and Zachary Sayle as the never-say-die Crutchie.
Sayle delivers a heart-tugging “Letter from Refuge” ballad, especially written for the tour by Menken. Stephen Michael Langton also stands out as the smart go-getter Davey.
The adults attempt to shine in rather stock characters. Aisha de Haas is good as the sassy vaudeville performer Medda Larkin (played by Ann-Margret in the movie), while Meredith Inglesby is charming as the secretary Hannah.
Stephen Blanchard brings out the arrogance of news titan Pulitzer, and Kevin Carolan has a nice turn as Teddy Roosevelt, then governor of New York.
The female reporter role, Katherine, is ahead of her time — and unrealistic for the period — but hey, girl power in male-dominated newsrooms is fine by me. Morgan Keene does what she can in the role.
Harvey Fierstein’s book is somewhat lackluster, with the stock characters and predictable conflicts dragging down a show understandably known for its dance and splendid musical numbers. The “New Yawk” dialogue is straight out of a Bowery Boys serial from the 1930s.
Let’s just say that “Newsies” doesn’t stray from the successful Disney happily-ever-after formula.
And if this show sells more newspapers, well, in the words of future president Roosevelt, “Bully!” for us.
- Where: Fox Theatre, 527 N. Grand, St. Louis
- When: Now through Jan. 31
- Tickets: Metrotix 314-534-1111; www.fabulousfox.com