A rousing, rollicking troupe of rag tag kids drove a sold out audience to their feet last night when California Musical Theater’s Broadway series brought Disney’s “Newsies” to the Community Center Theater for a dizzying blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 6-day run.
Twenty four years ago this week, the Walt Disney Studios released an uneven, but charming little movie musical, called “Newsies”. Starring a teenaged Christian Bale, the movie was based on the New York City newsboy strike of 1899. Savaged by critics, the fifteen million dollar budgeted film brought in a paltry $2,819,485 at the U.S. box office.
That probably would have been the end of it. Except a funny thing happened. It developed a cult following. From VHS to Disney Channel viewings to an eventual DVD release, it became the little musical that could.
The little musical that could became the Broadway Musical that it did when Disney’s Theatrical unit planned a revamped stage show run of 101 performances in 2012. Instead, Newsies on Broadway ran for 1005 performances, sold more than 1,000,000 tickets, grossed over $100 million, received eight Tony Award nominations, and won richly deserved Tony Awards for Best Score (music by Academy Award winner Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman) and Choreography (Christopher Gattelli, who melds Kenny Ortega’s soaring balletic numbers from the film with spectacular tap-and-so-much-more dance styles). A new book from four-time Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein wrapped things up very nicely.
The story centers around Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro), an orphaned teen who hawks “papes” on the NYC streets. When Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard), publisher of the New York World, decides to raise the newsboys’ cost for 10 papers from 5 cents to 6 cents, Jack and his newsie pals decide it’s time to go on strike. As the teens rally the newsboys in other parts of the city to join them, Pulitzer and other publishers join forces against the kids, sending goons to break up their protests and threatening to ship them off to a reformatory for troublesome boys. Ultimately, the story becomes about not only the newsboy strike, but also the deplorable factory conditions children were subjected to and the emergence of modern, turn-of-the-20th-Century women in a man’s world. Of course, it’s Disney, so you know everything will be resolved with a tidy Horatio Alger-esqe finish.
Newsies is family entertainment at its very best. Fresh and old-fashioned at once, the production features an immensely talented 34 member ensemble of seemingly indefatigable energy. All deliver fine performances, with special mention of Barreiro’s charismatic turn as Jack Kelly, the endearing Zachary Sayle as Crutchy, Steven Michael Langton as Davey, little scene stealer Ethan Steiner as Les, and Morgan Keene as the intrepid girl reporter, Katherine.
Note to grown-ups: don’t let the Disney name deter you. Newsies is grand entertainment for all ages. It’s only here through Sunday, seize your tickets while you can!
Newsies has a limited run at the Community Center Theater through Sunday, April 17. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 8:00 PM; Thursday at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM; Friday at 8:00 PM; Saturday at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM; and Sunday at 2:00 PM.
For best current availability call or visit the Wells Fargo Pavilion Box Office, (916) 557-1999, located at 1419 H Street, Sacramento. Community Center Theater is located at 1301 L Street, Sacramento. For tickets and more information, visit californiamusicaltheatre.com.
Photo: Company of the Broadway Sacramento presentation of “Newsies” at the Sacramento Community Center Theater April 12 – 17, 2016. ©Disney. Photo by Deen van Meer.