The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

A Youthful, Energetic Stage Adaptation Of Disney's 'Newsies'

By Melody Udell in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 16, 2014 8:30PM

Dan DeLuca (Jack Kelly) (center) and the original North American Tour company of NEWSIES. ┬ęDisney. Photo by Deen van Meer.

Haters be warned: If you’re morally against a tween-targeted, enthusiastic-ensemble-driven mega musical, just stop right here. Newsies isn’t for you. For the rest of us—those who can forgive a Disney-sanitized plot and squeaky-clean musical numbers—then the touring version of this 2012 Broadway hit (a revival of the 1992 movie-musical flop) just might be charming enough to help us convert a few non-believers. I’m not saying that they’ll suddenly have a change of heart and embrace a swarm of fresh-faced newsboys pirouetting their way through a union-led newspaper strike against publishing bigwig Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard), but they might come close. And while the touring production isn’t quite headline-making, it’s impossible not to appreciate the show’s boundless energy, triple-talented cast and memorable tunes, at the very least.

The newsies are led by the charming Dan DeLuca, who plays the hard-knock yet charismatic Jack Kelly, one of many kids on the street who hawk “papes” for a living in industrialized, turn-of-the-century Manhattan. Sick of New York’s grime and crime, Jack dreams of the open air and sunny weather in Santa Fe, but his plans are derailed when Pulitzer, owner of the New York World, starts charging the newsboys more for the papers that they sell. (And to make it worse, the thugs [played by Michael Ryan and Jon Hacker] who sell the papers in a sort of ad hoc wholesale fashion, won’t buy back any of the papers that the newsboys don’t sell that day.) Jack is outraged, and with encouragement from Davey (Jacob Kemp), the new kid on the block and the brains to Jack’s brawn, this ragtag group of 12-year-olds forms a union of sorts to strike against the price jacking.

Dan DeLuca (Jack Kelly) (center) and the original North American Tour company of NEWSIES. ┬ęDisney. Photo by Deen van Meer.
Lyricist Jack Feldmen and composer Alan Menken, creators of the original movie's songs, were tasked—20 years later—to work on the stage adaptation. And the two have put together a slew of rousing, anthem-like tunes that succeed so well in an underdog musical like Newsies. In fact, just listing the songs’ names alone is enough to feel the tough-grit enthusiasm of the newsboys: “Carrying the Banner,” “Seize the Day,” “The World Will Know” and “Once and for All,” among others. But it’s the choreography, perfectly timed to complement the ensemble’s harmonizing vocals, that is the real show-stopping element in Newsies. Conceived by Christopher Gattelli (who took home the Tony for this work), the dance sequences are highly athletic, engaging and, above all, relentless—the number of backflips easily outnumbers the cast and crew who put this show together. Yet set against Tobin Ost’s three-tiered, erector-set of a backdrop—and aided by Jeff Croiter’s spot-on lightening design—these scrappy newsboys and their dance numbers are difficult to resist.

Jack, when he’s not scrambling off stage, amusingly, when the pirouetting begins, has a host of problems. Not only does he feel wholly unqualified to lead the newsies, he’s trying his best to look after his friend, the aptly named Crutchie (Zachary Sayle), and catch the eye of Katherine (Stephanie Styles), an underdog herself who’s trying to break out of the social pages by reporting on the newboys’ strike for a competing paper. In one of the battles against Pulitzer’s thugs, Crutchie gets taken away to the children’s refuge, a supposed orphanage that’s really just a holding tank for street-urchins-turned-prison-inmates. In the touring production, the audience gets a new song, “Letter from the Refuge,” sweetly sung by Crutchie to let Jack know about life inside welfare-services captivity. This simple song—sans dancing—is a warm, welcome addition to a lineup of chorus-led power ballads.

While Disney makes it difficult to truly understand the plight of penniless, streetwise newsboys, Pulitzer himself, turned into a sort of hybrid Disney-slash-Dickens villain, seems to be a stand-in for the ills of industrial-age capitalism. (Oh the irony, Disney Corp.) Yet the minute you start truly pondering a few of these messy underlying issues, the show—with the ever-jovial Harvey Fierstein as the book writer—distracts you with a high-leaping newsboy, ready to tuck-jump his way into your heart. And you know what? I’m OK with that.

The show runs through Sunday, Jan. 4 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, 312-977-1710 or online.