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“‘Write what you know’
So they say, all I know is I don’t know what to write
Or the right way to write it.
This is big, lady, don’t screw it up,
This is not some little vaudeville I’m reviewing.
Poor little kids versus rich greedy sour pusses
Ha! It’s a cinch!
It could practically write itself—
And let’s pray it does, cause as I may have mentioned,
I have no clue what I’m doing.”

—”Watch What Happens,” Newsies: The Musical

That seems like an appropriate quote to begin with, because I’m not sure how to go about reviewing the musical. There are so many different things I want to talk about, from set design to little details that made me happy. (That’s why it’s taken me over six months to write this.)

Was the musical good? I saw it three times here in Dallas, which isn’t all that surprising when I remember how many times I watched the movie the first time my sister & I rented it from Blockbuster, but is more frequent than I’ve gone to any other musical during the course of a run. (It helps that once was with free tickets, and the last time was through the Winspear’s ticket lottery.)

The set design was brilliant. Towers that looked like the steel beams of elevated train stations. Just enough furniture to denote specific settings—such as Pulitzer’s office or Jacobi’s Deli or the House of Refuge—without cluttering up the stage. Screens with projected images to provide backgrounds as needed. Everything moved around or on/off stage in such a manner that it blended in perfectly with choreography or whatever action was taking place. Only a few times were pieces wheeled on and off by an obvious stage crew member; most of the time cast members handled the transitions so seamlessly. For example: at one point, a newsie dances on Pulitzer’s desk as it’s being wheeled on by some of Pulitzer’s staff members, but you don’t pay attention to the scenery change until the newsie leaps off and the “office walls” are projected onto the screens that have lowered.

More than once the fourth wall is broken, very effectively. Medda commands the stage and speaks to audience members during her big show number. As a vaudeville star, why wouldn’t she? Spot Conlon and David Jacobs both treat the audience as newsies at the rally. The first two performances I saw, the audience responded in kind, but during the matinee the response was not as energetic. (I’m guessing it was because an older audience didn’t expect it.) Still, I loved the idea of using the audience as an audience.

As for plot, I felt that the changes made—from pulling “Santa Fe” to be the opening number to the creation of Katherine’s character—tightened up the story for the stage. Starting off the show with “Santa Fe” made going West more of a driving force for Jack, and highlighted the concept of the newsies being a family. While I’m still undecided about how I feel about Katherine’s alter ego—Pulitzer did have a daughter named Katherine who would have been the right age, but she died in 1884—I loved that she was very much a headstrong newspaper woman in the vein of Nelly Bly. Over all, I felt that movie Newsies and musical Newsies are rather like Neil Gaiman’s Stardust—the novel and the movie both tell the same story, but the way in which each is told differs to meet the needs of the storytelling medium. One is not better than the other; they compliment each other.

The score is wonderful, as well. It’s a nice mix of old favorite musical numbers—”Santa Fe,” “Carrying the Banner,” “Seize the Day”—and new. Alan Menkin and Jack Feldman wrote the music and lyrics again, so everything flows together beautifully. One of my favorite new songs is Crutchie’s “Letter from the Refuge.” And Medda’s new showstopper gets stuck in my head frequently, but not as frequently as “Brooklyn’s Here.”

I had the opportunity to watch Dan DeLuca twice as Jack Kelly, and Michael Ryan once. I can’t say that either of them is my preferred Jack, because they both gave outstanding performances. Where Dan’s Jack displayed innate self-confidence, Mike’s displayed a brash facade (which I think is directly correlated to the amount of time each has spent in the role). Little nuances I enjoyed picking out. Now that many of the lead roles—Jack, Katherine, Davey, Medda, Les, the Delancy brothers—are being played by new actors, I’m curious what nuances the characters have now.

My favorite detail is that the front page of the newspapers that they destroy during the strike are near copies of The World from July 21, 1899. Most obviously, the “Trolley Strike Enters Third Week” headline is made up. But, the other articles on the front page are, with a few rewordings here and there, almost exactly the same. The main illustration is different, as well. The inside pages and the back page also look period, with articles and ads instead of blocks of Lorem Ipsum.  For a prop that most of the audience won’t see up close, the attention to detail made my heart happy.

If you have an opportunity to see it before the tour ends (cities & dates can be found here), do so. I think it’s definitely a not-to-be-missed experience.

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