‘Newsies’: A newsboys’ life has more challenges

The “Newsies” newsboys gather to show their energy and determination to succeed, leaning on one another for support and shaking their fists in defiance.

When I was maybe 11 or 12, I asked my dad about getting a newspaper route. It looked fun and I could make some money beyond allowance and babysitting.

“I will not let you have a newspaper route,” Dad said sternly. “Do you know how hard the the kids who deliver papers have to work?  And how little money they make? Newspapers treat kids like slaves.” 

My father, an immigrant, grew up in the Italian ghetto in Waterbury, Conn., and he well knew how hard it was for kids to get work and how they could be mistreated. His childhood, a generation later than the time period of “Newsies,” was not much different in its mistreatment of children, especially those who were immigrants, poor or orphaned.

“Newsies is set in 1899, the year of the New York City newsboys’ strike. Publisher of the New York World Joseph Pulitzer (Nick Albrecht) wants to make more money and wants to do it on the backs of the newsboys. To get back their own they go out on strike. 

Evidently there were no newsgirls, since the young women in the cast, except for a reporter, Pulitzer’s secretary and the women in the burlesque house, play boys who deliver the papers. 

And those girls as boys have every bit as much energy as the boys, really young men, themselves. In fact, the musical practically bursts off the stage sometimes with all the energy, especially in the big song and dance numbers. Thursday night’s dancing needed some polish, but the dancers were working hard to live up to Isaiah Mahon’s choreography.

The music and dancing are the play’s strength but also a weakness. We get to see these beautiful young people performing in clothes that are both interesting and very functional, allowing for lots of easy movement. Though they are dressed similarly, they each stand out. That’s as much the result of Allyson Moon’s direction as it is her clothing designs.

But the score offers little variety. The sameness of a number of songs makes the play exhausting. The score beats us over the head with the newsies’ youth and energy and idealism. Enough already!

One of those songs on the stage at “Vikings on Broadway” lights up the stage. Several in the first act can cause a person to nod. 

Music director and conductor Matt Berthot has done a yeoman’s job with the music and at the podium looks very elegant in his period suit. The combo, Nick Hofmeister, Billy Bearden, Anthony Groper and Nathan Johnson, give their usual strong performances. 

It is wonderful that the band is upstage behind the performers so the music doesn’t get in the way of the voices. And most of the singers are well miked so their voices come through clearly except when they speak or sing too fast. It’s just that music isn’t very interesting.

KC Randall as Jack Kelly is charismatic as a young natural leader would be. He has a strong carrying voice for both speaking and singing and compelling body language even when he is part of a crowd. Let’s hope we see him in more productions. 

Emmanuel Paz’s Davey is a strong variation on Jack. He’s physically darker, but his character is steadier, calmer, less emotional. They make a good leadership team.

Evie Quiett as Davey’s younger brother Les holds onto the spotlight whenever she gets it. Small and mighty. She, too, should be seen more.

The musical follows history, so the horrors of the French Revolution in “Les Mis” don’t repeat themselves in the newsboys’ strike. 

I’m betting opening night blew the audience away. I hope so. Having theatre at Southwestern College is a pleasure.

“Newsies” is onstage tonight at 7:30 and Sunday afternoon at 2 in Richardson Performing Arts Center.

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