Newsies' "Extra! Extra!" Energy and Inspiration
Simple stories about the "little guy" can be so much bigger than what lies beneath the surface. This is what one is left with as the stage goes dark, the house lights come up and the audience regains their composure after quiet falls upon the energy and excitement that embodies "Newsies," the touring Disney musical now playing at the Orpheum through Feb. 14.
This may seem like "just a musical" about a bunch of scrappy young lads hawking "papes", as they like to say, but really it's about the small kid who dreams big, and what happens when someone realizes and uncovers the power that lies within even the smallest among us.
Based on actual events, newsies recounts the story of the Newsboy Strike of 1899. At its heart is Jack Kelly, a feisty newsboy who has hopes and aspirations beyond the walls of the big city. The "big man" of the sorry is Joseph Pulitzer, a greedy publishing giant who raises newspaper prices and cuts into the livelihood of Jack and his fellow newsies.
Along with the morning paper, desperate times are at the doorstep. But with help from Katherine Plumber, a talented (and of course beautiful), reporter, Jack and the gang of newspaper buddies take action and we are off on an action-packed whirlwind of music and dancing, all which works well to get the whole of New York City behind the young ones.
The show is technically excellent, starting with the captivating set which reflects the dark times upon us amid the streets of New York. Even the dreary set draws you in completely as the young guys are delivered and thrust center into a beautiful, mood-lit stage. The costumes reflect the times and conveyed the classes of each of the characters with striking detail.
In an age when print news feels all but dead, this is a show filled with performances, songs and dance numbers that are all internet-viral-buzz worthy. In all fairness, these 'newsies' are not your average old-fashioned, run-of-the-slums rugrats. The almost all-boy cast brings the story to life with enough energy, stamina and vigor to get anyone's blood pumping. We are talking all-out headline-worthy, elaborately choreographed dance numbers punctuated with enough Broadway kick-lines and acrobatics to satisfy our appetite for a constant, attention-grabbing 24-hour-a-day, always-on news cycle.
Sure we're not watching ground-breaking news unfold here - a lot of this is familiar territory - but the excitement and relentless pursuit of a kinetic energy that constantly pushes to new heights is all in service of the story here and I'll say it works.
"This is big, don't screw it up," declares the song "Watch what Happens." The number was the musical highlight of the show for me, and it captured the struggle we face when we stand on the edge of the big moments in life. The lyrics are touching and definitive, and the music stands as a reminder of just why Disney has been so successful in churning out hits, both on screen and on stage, in the hands of composer Alan Menken.
I couldn't help thinking of today's actual headlines, political and otherwise, portraying themes or friendship, love and loss, and the hunger for standing up for what you believe in. Newsies offers a simple story, yet it's power is big, and it inspires us. As the show declares, "give life's little guys some ink, and when it dries just watch what happens."