Arena Stage delivers a flawless and brilliant production of “Disney’s Newsies” directed by Molly Smith that features a talented, hard hitting cast of actors with top notch singing and dancing skills. You will not want to miss this stunning example of musical theatre at its very best.
… simply astounding choreography by Parker Esse that dominates and defines the musical from beginning to end.
Where to begin? I have to start with the simply astounding choreography by Parker Esse that dominates and defines the musical from beginning to end. Esse took me back to the golden age of Hollywood musicals with his full cast leaps and twirls and turns arranged in beautiful patterns that took full advantage of Arena Stage’s unique seating arrangement where the audience is elevated above the stage (and surrounds it). Looking down on the dancers gave us the gift of the pan-out aerial view of his elaborate arrangements of dancers that only could work in such a unique sunken stage or on a film screen.
And those dancers! I have rarely seen a show that featured such high quality performers, from dancing and drumming simultaneously to the entire cast tap dancing on chairs to the featured solos of tap dancer Luke Spring who is a master of his craft that would put Fred Astaire to shame. No, really – I’ve seen just about every Fred Astaire movie that exists and I cannot begin to tell you how much more amazing this incredible dancer is. And what delighted me in equal measure as his skill was the sheer joy radiating out of him as he danced. This is a person who clearly loves what he does with his whole heart and he infected me with the joy that he was feeling as he danced.
The costumes by Alejo Vietti were a feast for the eyes. The play is set in 1899 so we got to see exquisite turn of the (last) century costumes, from fancy corseted dresses on theatre mogul Medda Larkin, played by the sultry and spectacular Nova Y. Payton, to slightly plainer but still beautiful dresses on reporter Katherine played with fire and grit by Erin Weaver. Even the vintage street clothes were so well done and the costumes made this production sing. I also truly enjoyed the sophistication of Lighting Designer Kimberly Purtell in Weaver’s Act One solo “Watch What Happens” when she mimicked the diamond pattern of Katherine’s vest in the lighting pattern on the floor.
The set and staging made full use of Arena Stage’s unique layout and the actors used every bit of it to their advantage – from running up and down the aisles, in and off the stage in four directions, around the seating at the top – this is a show designed for its home theatre that showcases their main stage to its fullest. I loved the flexibility of the set designed by Ken MacDonald and how easily it was rearranged and reconstructed to give actors new vantage points to perform from. The orchestra directed by Laura Bergquist gave life to the show and captured the jazzy feel of the beautiful score by Alan Menken (of “Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” fame, Disney fans!)
Every single actor in the show was spectacular. Lead Daniel J. Maldonado as head newsie Jack Kelly never once loses his strong New York accent and goes from brash to vulnerable in his acting, pairing that with outstanding vocals that blew me away. Child actor Josiah Smothers as youngest newsie Les stole every scene that he was in and held his own and then some against every adult actor in the show. Ethan Van Slyke played his older brother Davey, an emotionally demanding role as Davey is so much less street smart than the other newsies and more intellectual – and Van Slyke hit all the right notes, not coming across as either too weak or too preachy but instead always reading as genuine and heartfelt.
Jack’s best friend Crutchie, played by Joe Montoya, had the right combination of pathos and toughness. Jamie Smithson was a crowd favorite as Teddy Roosevelt and I felt like the role could have easily gone wrong, but he kept it oh so right, finding the best wink of humor in his portrayal. Another standout was Edward Gero as Joseph Pulitzer who showed us that the namesake of the Pulitzer Prize was not exactly the nicest person in New York.
However, kudos truly go to the entire cast, because every single member of the ensemble was not only singing and dancing their hearts out, but staying in character while doing so, giving us face during every dance move and pose, and I have rarely seen such a cohesive and unified cast as this production boasts.
I cannot urge you strongly enough to get to Arena Stage to see “Newsies” as it is a magnificent example of the enthralling power of musical theatre.
Advisory: A few instances of mild profanity and one fight scene that may be too intense for very young viewers. Consider it a ‘PG’ rating and use discretion when considering the show for children aged second grade and below. Also, a gentle note to parents and guardians – please be mindful of the actors when attending live theatre and prep your children ahead of time to not talk during the show – and if they do, a silent finger to the lips and a Look is far less distracting to the actors than a whispered discourse with your child. Take it from a former public school music teacher – even four year olds can sit silently during live theatre when taught proper behavior ahead of time. The audience and especially the actors will thank you for your consideration.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission
“Disney’s Newsies” runs through December 29, 2019 at Arena Stage. For more information, click here.