Daina Janitis reviews Newsies

This Review is going to cut right to the chase. Here’s my concluding paragraph: GO!!!

  • If you are a fan of musical theatre at its finest – GO!
  • If you love dancing and gymnastics choreographed by a genius- GO!
  • If you want to see some of Canada’s best theatrical talent assembled under brilliant direction – GO!
  • If you are a news junkie or a politics buff or a labour union member or a raving neoliberal – GO!

I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve not been a lifelong musical theatre fan. I considered it a pastiche of opera and “real” drama- a little bit bread-and-circusy for entertainment-seekers with limited attention spans. After escorting school music trips to American Big Cities (note the Trumpian capitalization) I became hooked. “Wicked”. ‘Million Dollar Quartet”. Tired Broadway reruns of “South Pacific” and “Phantom of the Opera”- I loved them all. But few productions have ever matched the energy, imagination, and professionalism of “Newsies” in a theatre barely an hour’s drive from London (with top ticket prices at $48.00).

When you go- not IF- the company’s bio’s are there for you to read in the intermission. The historical background may not be as accessible. The story reads like a dream by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In 1899, the major US newspapers (published by Pulitzer and Hearst) were distributed to homes by wagon in the morning – but in the afternoon, newsboys were essential for sales. The lads bought “papes” at 50 cents for a hundred, and sold them at 1 cent each- a profit of a half-cent per paper. The Spanish-American War helped to boost paper sales and publishers raised prices to 60 cents per hundred. After the war, the two major publishers refused to lower that price. Most of the newsboys were orphans, homeless, or eking out a bit of extra cash for parents who had been let go from their jobs.

On July 8, 1899, a group of newsboys declared a strike against the Pulitzer and Hearst papers. Fellow Newsies followed in solidarity. On July 24th a city-wide rally attracted 7000 boys from Manhattan, Brooklyn, and other boroughs. They agreed to curb violent tactics of protest – and eventually a compromise was reached – papers at 60 cents per hundred, but the publishers would buy back any paper that could not be hawked that day.

The spunky newsboys of this Drayton production are singing, dancing phenomena. Even when “Crutchie” is carried off to The Refuge (a homeless children’s shelter that might have elicited gasps from today’s audience through similarity to border incarceration centres in the US), the production makes no cheap and obvious parallels. The production could easily pander to political jibes and audience prejudices- but it does no such thing.

Worthy of special mention are several people in the team. Mark Kimelman is choreographer with an exhilarating task. His newsboys dance with athletic grace and balletic precision, often singing as they do pirouettes, leaps, and flips. Mark has London ties- a psychology degree from Western and stripes earned on Broadway, choreographing for Katy Perry, the New York City Ballet, Phish,  Kurt Browning, Neil Young and Vogue magazine (don’t ask…I don’t know)

The only female featured on stage is Julia McLellan as Katherine Pullman, a feisty, witty, intelligent cub reporter who portrays a newswoman supportive to the newsboys’ cause. Although all media mention her starring in “Kinky Boots” on Broadway- she steals the stage in every appearance of “Newsies” with dance moves, a glorious singing voice, and natural dramatic presence.

The set designer deserves credit for a stage that uses all four dimensions, highlighting the dancers’ facility with levels and the tenement wall that remains an effective backdrop to the action happening on stage. Bravo for that!

I should single out Kale Penny for his multi-faceted role as Jack Kelly,  Gregory Pember for Crutchie, Daniel Greenberg and his “little brother” Thomas Winiker, but why? My words of praise are empty until you get caught up in the energy and expertise of this production.

I mean it – GO!

Daina Janitis, for The Beat Magazine, June 30, 2019.

Newsies is playing at Huron Country Playhouse Mainstage until July 13.

Check out tickets at www.draytonentertainment.com

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