I went into Newsies knowing only that it was a cult favorite Disney movie about newsboys that starred a very young Christian Bale and included a song called “Seize the Day” which I once performed at a middle school drama camp. I left having had a pretty darn good time.
If you love splashy dance numbers (which I do), this is definitely the show for you. As one can guess from its 90s Disney movie roots, it’s not exactly a complicated story, serving up all the classic “scrappy street kids” beats (there’s even a witty-beyond-his-years moppet character) without a hint of irony. The set is significantly more complicated than the story, a tenement building represented by a supersized industrial “Hollywood Squares” deal with columns that move independently, traveling upstage and downstage carrying their singing newsies, with individual screens that descend to show headlines, newsprint, and occasionally drawings. I was sometimes so fascinated by the movement of the set that I forgot to watch to watch the dancing happening in front of it, which would be a shame. This show is a true musical spectacle of dance, filled with leaps and spins and acrobatics. Sometimes they would even do a super energetic dances just as part of a scene change! There’s such joy in every number, even when I couldn’t even conceive of still having enough energy to do another backflip, it’s awesome to watch. The dancing is what originally intrigued me about the show at the season preview event…it’s well-worth the price of admission all on its own.
There has to be a love story in a Disney show, of course. I’m never one to turn down a plucky girl reporter, but I have to admit, the real chemistry I saw was between our hero Jack Kelly and his bestest pal, Crutchie. C’mon, the show starts with Jack embracing Crutchie and insisting he should come along with him when he leaves the hustle of NYC behind for idyllic Santa Fe (what’s up with down-on-their-luck New Yorkers in musicals and Santa Fe anyway?), and Crutchie has his own plaintive ballad about how he misses sleeping on the rooftop with Jack and how they should run away together (because, the song belatedly adds at the end…they’re brothers). I knew it was impossible, but a not insignificant part of me wished that Jack and Crutchie could ride off into the Southwestern sunset together at the end of the show.
Enough about the homoerotic undertones (which are pretty much unavoidable when there are maybe 3 women in your entire show). Newsies is a bright, fun show. It brings up a lot of surprisingly serious issues, like child labor, unionization, and women’s rights, and…mostly tap dances them away. But that’s okay – I spent a lot of the time instinctively smiling and even joined in the whoops for a few especially impressive moves, and that’s a good night at the theater in my opinion.
Newsies runs now through January 10 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.