Of the three shows in Connecticut Repertory’s Nutmeg Summer Series, its final production, “Newsies,” may be the least favorite of mine, but that is not any fault of the production team. It has to do with the quality of story and music.
It has more to do with personal taste than it does to quality and caliber of the creative team of the repertory and their work.
Disney’s “Newsies” wraps up Broadway legend Terrence Mann’s first season as artistic director of the series with their third and final show. Though I feel the previous two productions this summer, “1776” and “Noises Off,” are better shows, “Newsies” is still a rollicking and exciting production.
Directed and choreographed by Mann’s brother-in-law, Tony Award-nominee Christopher d’Amboise, “Newsies” is a high energy stage version of the 1992 Disney movie that originated on Broadway in 2012.
“Newsies” is loosely based on the New York City newsboy strike of 1899, told from the point of view of a handful of the kids.
The newsboys who sold the New York World newspaper, owned by Joseph Pulitzer, went on strike and refused to sell the papers because of an increase in price. The boys had to buy the papers first then sell them at the issue price, thus cutting their own profit while the publishers saw an increase in theirs.
The plot is rushed at times, and Harvey Fierstein’s book doesn’t take as much time to develop the characters the way the film does. This is a likely plot condensation to fit more musical numbers within and to build on a romantic relationship between the show’s protagonists, Jack Kelly (Jim Schubin) and a new character, Katherine Plumber (Paige Smith), who replaces Bill Pullman’s character, news reporter Bryan Denton, from the film.
Still, many of the big, classic Alan Menken and Jack Feldman songs from the movie are here, including “Santa Fe,” “Seize the Day,” and “King of New York.”
D’Amboise’s choreography is vibrant, energetic, and appropriately masculine for the young, male cast, but there is a peculiar omission in the choreography for the song “King of New York,” which has built-in tap dance breaks in the music, but there is no tap dancing in this production. Whatever the choice is for this cut, it is a cut that most people wouldn’t notice unless they’re familiar with the show.
As with the two previous productions over the summer series, the set is exquisitely detailed. Tim Brown’s design emphasizes the dirt and grime of the world of the boys who live on the streets of New York City, trying to earn what they can to stay alive. Even the scenes in Pulitzer’s office keeps the detritus of the city incorporated in the background, setting the dichotomy of the rich and poor.
As with the two previous series shows, “1776” and “Noises Off,” the cast is fantastic. Schubin is charismatic as Kelly, Smith is smart and vivacious. The supporting cast, including Noah Kieserman as Davey and Tyler Jones as Crutchie, are great. Jones in particular gives a tempered performance between sympathy and courage as the crippled Crutchie.
Richard R. Henry, who is popping up frequently in theater around the state, this being the third show in which I’ve seen him in the last four months, gives his Pulitzer the right level of pomposity without getting too malevolent, which would have been contrary to the timbre of the show.
Of the three shows of the Nutmeg Summer Series, “Newsies” may be the least favorite of mine, but it is still a great show. This is really a measure of the professionalism Mann has brought to the summer series and I hope he returns next year, because when it comes to summer theater, he and Connecticut Repertory have set the bar for what a quality summer season in Connecticut can be.