Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Disney's 'Newsies' Looks Better Than Ever

The cast of Newsies (Photo: Mark Kitaoka)


When Disney announced in 2010 or so that they were making a stage musical based on their 1992 film Newsies, people were skeptical. The movie was a flop and a failure in the eyes both the press and the public. Though the music was written by Alan Menken, some of it was described as “forgettable” by some critics and others called the film “Snoozies.” In fact, one song, “High Times, Hard Times,” won the Golden Raspberry for Worst Original Song that year. But that is all in the past now.

The current stage production being presented by Village Theater at the Everett Performing Arts Center appears to have worked out all of the bugs that plagued the film. The story was re-worked, the pace sped up, a few characters changes were made and the “forgettable” songs were dropped. What is left is a new musical that feels like a classic and for this local production, it’s totally top-shelf material.

(Photo: Tracy Martin)
Newsies is inspired by the very real Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City but only loosely though. In 1899, in an effort to boost sagging newspaper sales, Joseph Pulitzer (Greg Stone), publisher of the New York World, increased the cost of newspapers sold to delivery boys. Newsboy Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro), along with all of the other “newsies” are furious and together they decided to band together forming a union and go on strike. This captures the attention of Katherine Plumber (Taylor Niemeyer), a young newspaper reporting struggling to make a name for herself. She hopes that covering the newsboys’ strike will give her the break that she is looking for. In turn, she captures the attention of Jack.

Guthrie Greenwood Bettinger (Les), Mike Spee (Davey),
and Marlette Buchanan (Medda Larkin).
(Photo: Mark Kitaoka)
This production stars Joey Barreiro who starred in the Broadway production’s first national tour of the show, but despite his star power, he doesn’t outshine the local talent. He is joined by Michael Krenning (as Crutchie), Mike Spee (Davey) and Guthrie Greenwood Bettinger (Les) along with a whole group of other newsies. Marlette Buchanan plays singer Medda Larkin in a role that doesn't show its importance until much later in the show, but her solo, "That's Rich" is a delight just the same.

The first half of Village Theatre’s production was so entertaining that it flew by. All the songs were winners, especially Katherine’s solo, “Watch What Happens” which forwarded the story by showing her vulnerable side of wanting to succeed with her first real news story, doubting that she would, while also trying to sort out her feelings for Jack. It’s the best of the new songs added to the show.

Taylor Niemeyer (Katherine) and Joey Barreiro (Jack)
(Photo: Matt Kitaoka)
While some of the dance moves become repetitive and a few seem out of place for a group of homeless teen boys in 1899, overall the choreography is great. And that is including how the characters are used to bring in props to set up the next scene. Sure, it doesn’t make sense that the boys are suddenly lounging in leather office chairs, but then, they get up, the backdrop changes, Mr. Pulitzer and crew come on the stage and we’re off.

The pace of the second half of the show slows down a bit and almost to a crawl during the obligatory love song, “Something to Believe In,” another new (and unnecessary) tune. Finally, the curtain calls are just as much fun as the show as everyone rises to their feet and claps along.

Newsies continues through playing at the Everett Performing Arts Center through February 4, 2018. The theatre is located at 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, WA 98201.