Thursday, May 10, 2012

Newsies

Newsies is very slick. It’s basically full of faux-soul. As much as I didn’t like the music in Once, it’s stands as a stark contrast to the over-produced, paint-by-numbers, mass market sheen of Newsies.

I’m not saying Newsies, directed by Jeff Calhoun (Bonnie & Clyde) is bad. It isn’t. It’s fun enough and Christopher Gattelli’s Tony-nominated, acrobatic choreography is thoroughly impressive. (Hell, full on song-and-dance numbers in a new Broadway musical are impressive in this day and age.) But there isn’t much character to Newsies. Just lots and lots of Disney perma-smiles.

Based on the 1992 film flop turned cult favorite (which famously starred a young – and singing – Christian Bale), Newsies tells the story of a group of rag-tag newsboys – they sell the “papes” – that took on Joseph Pulitzer and fought for children’s rights. It’s certainly still relevant today, though this is Disney so don’t expect much in the way of a socio-economic dissertation.

Luckily, though, we have a pretty game cast. Andrew Keenan-Bolger (brother of Peter and the Starcatcher’s Celia) is absolutely adorable as Crutchie, the lame newsboy with the can-do spirit. Kara Lindsay makes a splash in her Broadway debut. Really, though, the ensemble – maybe the hardest working on Broadway right now – deserves much of the credit. They tirelessly bound, tumble, jump and flip across the stage. The act two opener, “King of New York” is taptastic. It’s no “Anything Goes,” but damn it if Lindsay and the ensemble aren’t trying their hardest to entertain. It’s a great big fun song and dance number, a great thrill for an audience member.

But the show rides on star Jeremy Jordan’s shoulders. And he can’t sing.

It’s not so much that he can’t sing; it’s that he lacks a powerful range. Whatever the male equivalent of a “belt” is, Jordan doesn’t have it. (He does, however, sound better than he did in Bonnie & Clyde.) Whenever he goes for the loud, strong, sustained note, he sounds terribly strained. When the notes are shorter and more in his comfort zone, he sounds nice. It’s a voice for recording, maybe, but not for a Broadway leading man.

The book, by Harvey Fierstein, is kind of tired, with telegraphed and totally predictable jokes. And the score, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman, is catchy but not noteworthy.

Still, this is a show that was never “supposed” to come to Broadway. It was written for licensing and touring, but the smash success it had at the Paper Mill Playhouse prior to the Broadway run made it destined for the Rialto. And that’s okay. It’s great for its original purposes, but it’s also good because, like Spider-Man, it will get kids – and especially boys – into a theatre and possibly into performing.

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