Sometimes you find someone that is just perfect for you; you have the same sensibilities, they make you laugh and every time you think of them you can’t help but smile. You were meant for each other in pretty much every way – they just get you. If that relationship comes to an end, the next person who comes along doesn’t really stand much of a chance. No matter how perfectly nice or pleasant they may be, they pale in comparison to the person that came before them. It’s not their fault, but they simply can’t live up to previous expectations and that relationship is usually doomed from the get go. You may give it the old college try, but your heart just isn’t in it. On some level, the new person probably knows it too, but thinks that they are going to beat the odds and make you forget about that other person that you loved so much. But whoever preceded them is just too tough an act to follow.
So sorry Newsies – you were my rebound musical.
Before Newsies, the last musical that I saw was Book of Mormon, which I fell completely in love with. It had everything – an interesting story line, great songs, it was hilarious and raunchy but also had a sweet heart underneath all the inappropriate jokes. It was smart and different while still incorporating the best elements of a traditional Broadway show. To me, it was basically perfect; as soon as it ended I was ready to see it again. So Newsies was in the unfortunate position of trying to impress and entertain me after I had seen a musical that actually managed to exceed the hype and that totally enchanted me. And if you know me, you know that I’m always going to be partial to the South Park way of thinking over the Disney was; it’s just how I’m wired. I didn’t go in to Newsies with any ill will – I was totally prepared to be entertained and charmed – but by the end of the first act I knew that this wasn’t going to be a show that I adored. Whether I planned it or not, my mind drifted to the awesomeness of Book of Mormon while I was watching Newsies and the latter couldn’t help but fall short.
Now, to be fair, I don’t know that I would have really loved Newsies even under better circumstances; while it had a talented cast and was entertaining, it was very simple and a little silly. I should have predicted the silliness, since the play is based on a fairly silly 1992 movie. I saw the movie when it first came out and found it generally fun, but it didn’t make much of a long term impression on me. I realized this as I sat down to watch Newsies, the musical, and I realized that I didn’t remember much of the plot or the songs from the film – all that really stuck with me was the hilarious image of a young Christian Bale signing. That’s right – in a prior life, Batman was a Newsie. He wasn’t bad in the film, but the idea of Bale doing much of anything that isn’t dark and broody and serious, let alone a musical, will always crack me up. Always. So beyond the basic plot that the kids who sell newspapers went on strike (based on a real life event), I was going in to Newsies pretty fresh. Even as the story unfolded on stage, not much of it rang a bell. So while I clearly wasn’t a person on whom the original film made a huge impression, I also didn’t have a lot of preconceived notions about the story or the songs.
This was a very Disney production, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but also doesn’t increase the likelihood that I was going to really dig the musical. I know that the story in most musicals isn’t very nuanced and there isn’t a ton of character development, but Newsies seemed to be even more of a trifle than most musicals that I’ve seen. The show struck me as very simple and it just didn’t completely hold my attention. Though it had been over 20 years since I had seen the movie, I found most of Newsies pretty routine and predictable. That’s not to say unentertaining – the show definitely had some moments – but as a whole I found the whole experience pretty pedestrian. It was affable, but fairly disposable. It’s a musical that will please a wide variety of people, but in its attempt to appeal to the masses it feels very generic.
I didn’t have any complaints about the cast, who I thought did a really great job with the limited material. There is a lot of dancing in Newsies – I would argue a little too much – but the numbers are beautifully choreographed and the ensemble is really good. Given the limits of the writing and stage time, the supporting actors do their best to create full characters with the minimal source material and mostly succeed with their effots. Dan DeLuca, who plays the lead Jack Kelly, was particularly good and brought a lot of charm and personality to the role of the strike organizer. He had a definite stage presence and the show was a lot more interesting when he was on stage. Angela Grovey, who plays Cabaret owner Medda Larkin, should also be singled out for her powerful voice. She doesn’t have a ton to do in the play – none of the adults do – but she makes the most of the opportunity that she’s given and belted out her song in memorable fashion. Stephanie Styles was also effective as Jack’s potential love interest, though that part of the story felt the cheesiest in a story that was already swimming in cheddar. I was also impressed with the set design; there were a lot of moving pieces and locales and the production moved pretty seamlessly from place to place.
Some other thoughts:
- If I never hear the word “papes” again, I’m OK with that.
- The only song that I remembered from the movie was “King of New York,” which was still fun. The songs are generally pretty good, but they repeat them way too much. If you took out the long dance numbers and songs were only song once, you’d cut at least 30 minutes from the show. It felt like filler.
- I found it ironic that the Newsies from Brooklyn in the show would probably fit right in in Brooklyn today, with their hats and overalls and general old-timiness.
- There was a joke about violence in football at the beginning of the show that seemed very relevant given recent events. I wonder if that dialogue was added.
- I’m guessing that a lot of hard-core conservatives may have some problems with the basic plot of Newsies, since it’s all about labor, unions and generally sticking it to the rich fat cats.
- You wouldn’t think that there would be a “splash zone” per say at Newsies, but be warned that if you sit close to the stage you might get some newspapers thrown at you during some of the dance numbers. You should have seen the teens in front of me vying for the props that made it into the audience.
- I’d forgotten how badly Pulitzer comes off in Newsies; all he needed to do was twirl his moustache to be more villainous.
For what it’s worth, most of the people around me really seemed to love Newsies; I’m sure the traveling production will make a ton of cash and it’s perfectly suited for the whole family. It is entertaining, but in my opinion it is just too simple and predictable. I found myself rolling my eyes a few times in the production, but we’ve established that I am a monster with no heart :-) Newsies is a perfectly fine musical, but I just didn’t love it. In fairness, I’m probably not the target audience for this play and this might simply be a case of “not for me.” That’s fine; I probably should have figured that out once I realized that this was a Disney product (I’d forgotten who made the movie). I can’t blame my lukewarm reaction to Newsies totally on it following Book of Mormon, but that certainly didn’t help. Still, Newsies has a solid cast and is a great option for families looking for a show that is suitable for grandma and the kids. Not a great musical, but a perfectly serviceable one.