NEWSIES—Seize the Day, but keep it Truthful

NEWSIES—Seize the Day, but keep it Truthful

Photo: The cast of the NEWSIES national tour

Review: NEWSIES THE MUSICAL on tour at the Cadillac Palace Theatre

By Hilary Holbrook

I am developing a respect for those who venture into the world of adaptation. To take a film script and adapt it for the stage takes a clear perspective on what elements of the story are absolutely necessary, and what elements play best on the stage or behind the camera. Most importantly, each telling of the story should be able to stand alone in its own right; one should not have to see the play in order to see the movie and vice versa. NEWSIES, playing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre until August 7th, adds some nuances to the script that set it apart from the film, but the direction zaps all the stakes and believability from the story, leaving us with disappointing Disney “fluff”.

Based on the 1992 film starring Christian Bale, Newsies is the story of the 1899 Newsboy strike against Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, and other newspaper moguls of the time. Fans of the movie will be pleased. All the favorite songs are there, and the new ones fit the world quite nicely – not a surprise considering music and lyrics are by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman. Some story elements are cleaned up as well. Most notably, the love interest takes a more prominent role in the stage version, but I don’t think we needed it. The focus is (and should be) on Jack’s (Joey Barreiro) relationship with the newsboys, but there are moments where it’s clear the direction gives more weight to the love story than it should. This leads to another important point:  just because it’s a musical does not mean the story should be downplayed, covered up by spectacle, or that the actors are given full reign to play for every single laughable moment in the script.

Part of the reason the movie was so successful was that you saw the gritty (albeit the Disney version of “gritty”), hard-knock-life existence for the newsboys, who had the kind of “devil-may-care” attitude that only comes from those who have nothing to lose. The acting and the set did nothing to further this idea in the stage version. This production had dialogue that was delivered at record speeds. Everyone seemed jittery and eager to move on to the next moment, and the set didn’t give them much to work with. The main concept is a three-tiered, fire escape-esque structure, with more stairs and gates than a chutes and ladders game. It serves the purpose of illustrating New York life during the turn of the century, but the chase and fight scenes end up looking cartoonish and a little claustrophobic.  I’m not asking for anything grandiose or revelatory, but I couldn’t help thinking “That’s all they could come up with?” However, all of this is immediately overshadowed when the dancing starts, and, trust me, these guys can dance!

There is a reason this show won the Tony for best choreography, and I could watch these guys dance over and over again! There’s tumbling, tap, ballet, and more, and it all was just simply fantastic. This show would inspire any young kid, and probably a few adults, to take up dance lessons, and that is well worth the price of admission.

Overall, I enjoyed myself, and my inner tween was delighted to re-visit this world. This is a show to bring your kids to in order to get them excited about the theater, and I’m more than confident that it will. I’m disappointed that there was not more emphasis on the acting, which would have propelled this show from a money-maker to a Broadway musical, but it definitely has staying power. So continue “Carrying the Banner”, Newsies, because watching David slay Goliath will never get old.

About author

Hilary Holbrook

Hilary Holbrook has worked as an actor and violinist in Chicago since graduating from Loyola in 2008. When not in the theater, Hilary enjoys knitting, antiquing, and adventures of all kinds!