We can chalk up another home run to PlayhouseSquare, which is the current home of the touring production of Disney Theatrical Productions’ “Newsies” stage musical. This megahit from Broadway is making Cleveland the first stop on its tour. The production has been much anticipated, and it is loaded with as much energy as the promotional photos and videos promise. The “juice” that Cleveland has with the touring Broadway show industry is partly based on the magnificent theaters of PlayhouseSquare and also on the huge subscriber base that supports the shows in the KeyBank Broadway Series. For those and other reasons, “Newsies” and other Broadway shows have chosen Cleveland to serve as home for final rehearsals and to launch their national tours. We are all the beneficiaries in that we get to see the shows first.
“Newsies” is based on a Disney film that was, shall we say, less than successful. It did star a young Christian Bale back in 1992. It also has had a strong cult following for 20 years. With an eye to the stage, the show was lovingly crafted into a musical hit that just about everyone can relate to.
In the transition from the 19th to the 20th century, papers were hawked by newsboys – “newsies” – on the streets. They depended on sensational headlines to sell the papers, and these young boys, many of them orphans, were strangely linked to the superrich publishers. Think of Joseph Pulitzer controlling one New York daily and his buddies controlling the others. When they decided to push profits up by raising the price they charged the newsies, they precipitated a strike.
Dan DeLuca is the charismatic Jack Kelly in the touring production. His quick smile and youthful passion comes out strong. The villain of the show is Joseph Pulitzer, played by Steve Blanchard. Formerly playing The Beast in Broadway’s “Beauty and the Beast,” you can imagine the commanding baritone voice he possesses. A good musical must have some romance, and here it is provided by aspiring reporter Katherine. In this role, Stephanie Styles made the audience gasp with her second act “revelation,” which was a magical moment on stage. She also can dance with the best of them.
And that is what the show is really all about – dance. The 15 young performers who make up the ensemble leap, spin, tumble and generally exude the raw energy that has made “Newsies” the hit that it is. From its first number, “Carrying the Banner,” this group is electric. And they have five more major numbers to leave the audience practically breathless.
There are subplots that give the show texture, a faithful replication of the original Broadway set design, and the stunning direction by Jeff Calhoun and choreography by Christopher Gattelli. Yes, in fact this is a Disney-manufactured experience, but it is so good. It actually makes Republican conservatives cheer at the formation of a union to fight the newspapers. Now, that’s the power of the theater.
The bad news is that the demand for tickets for “Newsies” has been huge. Few seats remain for the remainder of the run, which continues through Nov. 16 at the Connor Palace.