For anyone interested in putting together a by-the-numbers, formulaic musical, then the team behind Newsies is the one from whom you should seek counsel.
There is nothing particularly new or innovative about this narrative (which is why the more interesting Once beat it out for a Best Musical Tony Award in 2012), but to paraphrase another exuberant musical, Damn Yankees, it has a lot of heart.
That, and Christopher Gattelli has created some of the most vibrant choreography — filled with throwback references but still amazingly fresh — seen in a while. This is a dance show, and the cast in the national tour making its North Texas debut at AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House is marvelous.
Local and regional theaters, professional and amateur, need to see it to learn why well-rounded chorus performers can make all the difference.
The show is based on the 1992 movie of the same name, which flopped and was critically hated (and nominated for several Golden Raspberry awards), about a newsboy strike in 1899 Lower Manhattan. It had its fans, and they passed that love on to their children. That led to so much interest in a stage version from high school theaters that Disney revisited it.
The songwriting team stayed (composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman), and Tony winner Harvey Fierstein was hired to rework the book. Along with director Jeff Calhoun, they created a show that has the bones of the movie but includes an important female perspective, which adds a love interest and a message about workplace equality for women.
In this tour, that character, Katherine, is played by Stephanie Styles with verve and warmth. She, along with Stephen Blanchard as this story’s villain, Joseph Pulitzer, turn in the best performances. Dan DeLuca as the hero newsboy Jack was difficult to hear Wednesday night, but that was probably an issue with the sound operators. He does have plucky charm.
If it all feels a bit too facile, that’s fine when the result is this enjoyable. The story is a feel-good, fun musical with a few memorable songs (Santa Fe, King of New York) that bodes well for its future success with high school and amateur theaters. Provided they have a good dance program.
That has much to do with the choreography, which won Gattelli a Tony Award. The actors playing the newboys are in their 20s and too old to be young/mid-teens, as these characters are, but how else could you find the Broadway chorus boys who could execute this athletic, high-flying, leg-splitting choreography?
There are elements of classical ballet, along with tap and jazz, but much like Jerome Robbins’ legendary Broadway work, there’s nothing derivative about it. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see a contemporary ballet company performing Newsies Dances in the future.
The dancing is enough to warrant the ticket price — and please see it in this tour, because you probably won’t see another production of it with this level of dance talent.
They might as well call it Dancies.