By Julia Simon
August 10, 2016
What started out as a movie (and box office flop) in 1992 commands the Belk Theater’s stage in a highly enjoyable, multiple Tony-winning musical: Newsies comes to Charlotte this week, August 9-14. “Musical” just scratches the surface of all this performance packs in. Acrobatics play a key and dazzling role, with seldom fewer than four people and as many as 20 flying across the stage at least once a scene. There’s a tabletop tap dancing act, rich performances by veteran actors (Joseph Pulitzer, played by Steve Blanchard, of particular note) and song after catchy song, seamlessly woven together with smooth transitions by gorgeous set pieces and skillful lighting.
Fans of the theatrical release will notice many changes, most good– the love interest has been updated (performed in a rather modern tone by Morgan Keene), Jack (Joey Barreiro) is given artistic “aptitudes” that help deepen his character, and there is a bit of serious singing in “That’s Rich,” performed by Aisha de Haas. As with most musicals, song themes intertwine scenes and storylines and Newsies does this beautifully and with some measure of grace. Accents, on the other hand, are laid on thick like too much frosting, but it’s hilarious and I’m hoping… intentional? After all, this ain’t real life.
A Disney production, the sets are built to impress. Three stories of fire escape-esque scaffolding move forward and back across the stage, turn 45 degrees, then 90, lit skillfully and eerily. Weirdly reminiscent of Hollywood Squares when flat against stage front and packed with Newsies, but cool nonetheless. Projected animations on retractable screens liven them up a bit, and add context for objects we’d not be able to see otherwise: a drawing or a newspaper, often shown while the song or act references them below.
The crowd on opening night was largely comprised of families, a sea of women, their friends, and their daughters; Newsies is a great family-friendly musical, just as you’d expect from any Disney show. That’s probably why the sole curse word, uttered by a perturbed Jack in Act Two, lingered in the air for jusssst a minute to a smattering of giggles. References to skirt chasing, as well as Medda’s vaudeville-style theater play with slightly adult themes, but it’s all very tasteful and sweet. Nothing a six year old wouldn’t adore, for sure. The audience was comfortable and happy, even a bit raucous and, as a result, forthcoming with applause at all kinds of on-stage antics: a crazy mid-air somersault, a kiss, a joke and a wink from an actor. A “we’re all in this together, rooting for our scruffy boys,” kind of vibe. I don’t know if it was the ensemble cast, the old tale of David versus Goliath being told anew, pro-Union propaganda or what, but I was right there with them, cheering and clapping. Good vibes from a good musical.
Catch Newsies August 9 to 14 at the Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center
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