I’d heard a lot of good things about Newsies The Musical, a Disney Theatrical Productions show – their Aladdin and The Lion King are currently playing in the West End. Having finally seen Newsies, albeit in cinematic form, it’s a surprise that this is being billed as the final opportunity to see it, supposedly forever. It certainly deserves a London run – the number of newspapers still in evidence on the streets of central London on any given weekday is an indication of how Londoners still like their newspapers – and the production values in Newsies are more than high enough to satisfy the standards West End audiences have come to expect from a modern musical.
I am reliably informed that the 1992 motion picture of the same name wasn’t a commercial success, simply because it wasn’t very good at all. This stage show adaptation is, irrespective of the movie, an absolute smash hit: I have never before sat in a cinema and been blown away (in a good way) as much by what I’d just seen. Move aside, La La Land – Newsies is, to quote Tina Turner, ‘simply the best’ musical cinematic experience since the twenty-fifth anniversary concert of The Phantom of the Opera was beamed from the Royal Albert Hall to cinemas across the country in 2011.
There may, I appreciate, particularly for those who haven’t been to a cinema to see a stage show before, be doubts about whether the shooting of a live stage experience would work. Here, the camera crew has done an absolutely splendid job – and I very much felt like I was watching an ‘as is’ theatre show. There’s even a (presumably inadvertent) shot of someone in the audience getting up mid-performance. But there are close-ups were appropriate, and there are more panoramic views for the big ensemble numbers.
The choreography (Christopher Gattelli) is frankly astounding. You may be aware of the mesmerising performance Charlie Stemp brings to the current London production of Half A Sixpence: imagine a whole group of young men (playing paper boys, of course) going for it with tap dancing, jumping and backflipping – and more – at that sort of standard. That’s what Newsies is like. This is a very American audience watching a very American show – the reaction to the Act One showstopper ‘Seize The Day’ didn’t seem all that overblown for me, and I’m sure I would have risen to my feet if I was there at the vast 2,703-seater Pantages Theatre in Hollywood and not in a cosy cinema. It’s one of their stories, based on true events, a reiteration of the American Dream, where even school-age boys can rally together and influence change for the better.
Jack Kelly (Jeremy Jordan) has a lot to deal with, what with strike action against the newsies’ belligerent employer Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard), combined with the difficulties of getting the word out across New York City given that there’s, um, a newsies strike going on. This being Disney, there’s a love story to contend with too, with reporter Katherine (a rather feisty and likeably confident Kara Lindsay) charming her way into Jack’s life, even if it’s originally purely for journalistic reasons. Various newsies are in various states of mind as to the best way to proceed, or even to proceed, and it’s a fascinating story with marvellous character development.
It’s a fast-paced show, insofar as the full Broadway-length musical was over all too soon, even with an ‘intermission’. There’s not a weak link in this cast, though the stand-outs for me were Aisha De Haas as Medda Larkin, and Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Crutchie, probably not the character’s ‘real’ name but so-called for not very imaginative reasons. The former is a bold and sassy lady, the sort of inspiration so beloved and so inspirational to the boys. The latter is the epitome of triumph over adversity; his musical number ‘Letter from the Refuge’ (as I understand it, added for the US National Tour, and thus not on the Broadway Cast Recording) was on a par with ‘The Letter’ from Billy Elliot the Musical for heartfelt expression.
Entertaining, exuberant, energetic and enthusiastic, this is not just another Disney fairy tale. There’s considerable depth to this astonishing achievement.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.