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Theater Review - 'NEWSIES'

Theater Review – ‘Newsies”

Produced by The John W. Engeman Theater - Northport

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

Every good musical is firmly rooted in the significant historical facts that form its plot. Indeed, while a show’s success may depend greatly on clever lyrics, flashy costumes, and intricate choreography to command our attention, the fact is that minus a meaningful story line to go with the glitz, our toes are unlikely to start tapping when they should.
A good example of this theatrical phenomenon is ‘Oklahoma.’

It’s all very well for a group of gals in gingham and boys in boots to serenade us with a rendition of ”…oh, what a beautiful mornin’…” but until we’re aware that this is essentially a story about farmers feuding with ranchers, the production’s not much more than a sing-along.
The same can be said for ‘Les Miserables,’ ‘Evita,’ or for that matter, the overrated ‘Hamilton.’

But history’s great upheavals and revolutionaries notwithstanding, I doubt there’s ever been a show on Broadway with a more interesting backstory than the one which opened on The Engeman stage a few nights ago. It’s titled, ‘Newsies,’ and the good news is that we’re unlikely ever to see a more appropriate treatment of an obscure, but poignant, slice of Americana.
The musical is centered on the actual 1899 Newsboys’ Strike in New York City, where a conflict develops between the town’s ragamuffin ‘newsies’ (paperboys) and none other than powerful New York World publisher, the renowned Joseph Pulitzer. Pulitzer has raised the price of The World  to his hawkers a fraction of a cent, but it’s enough to affect the boys’ sales … and consequently their already meager income.
If ever there was a ‘David and Goliath’ story staged on the ‘Great White Way,’ this surely is it.
The show (with music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman) was faithfully written by Harvey Fierstein, and all were nominated for Tony Awards when the musical debuted on Broadway in 2012. Thereafter, ‘Newsies’ went on to stage more than a thousand performances before producers launched its boffo national tour. Not surprisingly, Menken and Feldman won the Tony for Best Musical Score … while Christopher Gattelli took top honors for Best Choreographer.
The endearing show was Toni-nominated in no fewer than six other categories … and an equal number of Drama Desk slots … for singing and dancing. Impressive!
One of the most intriguing aspects of this fascinating re-telling of journalistic history is that it boldly labels an iconic American businessman as the opportunist he actually was. Leave it to Hollywood (where the film ‘Newsies’ premiered in 1992) … and ultimately to Broadway … to blow the whistle on even the mighty Joseph Pulitzer. We have the entertainment industry to credit for tagging Pulitzer the opportunistic ‘yellow journalist’ he turned out to be.
Tom Lucca, who was an Engeman standout in both ‘Jekyll & Hyde,’ and ‘1776,’ doesn’t miss a trick in his interpretation of the hard-hearted Pulitzer, as he balances Dan Tracy’s protagonist, Jack Kelly. Also Whitney Winfield brings charm and grace aplenty to her local debut as the delightful Katherine Plumber. We have not seen the last of this multi-talented young woman. The same can be said for child actor Zachary Podair as Les. Near-perfect stage presence in one so young is an amazing thing to behold … and the mark of a born performer.
Lighting, Costume, and Scenic Design (Zach Blane, Kurt Alger, DT Willis) supply everything we have come to expect from the Engeman’s Creative Team … nor do Director Igor Goldin, or Choreographer Sandalio Alvaraz disappoint. They are among Long Island’s finest practitioners of theater arts.
There’s a strong element of Dickens (primarily ‘Oliver Twist’ and even ‘A Christmas Carol’) in this fine production, though Harvey Fierstein’s pathos will never be mistaken for the simpatico that England’s greatest novelist was able to produce. That said, it’s difficult to imagine Bob Tzudiker and Noni White (who collaborated on the original screenplay) … or for that matter, Fierstein himself … not being heavily influenced by the bleakness which was Charles Dickens trademark.
This dynamic production runs through September 2nd.


Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s newly completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced recently at the Smithtown Library. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

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