New York City Theater
Nederlander Theatre, Broadway
Bring the kiddies, by all means. For “Newsies,” newly opened at the Nederlander Theatre, is wholesome family fare. Not surprising, since it is a Disney-produced musical, and is based on the Disney film of the same name. This, in turn, is based on a true story, the newsboy strike of 1899. And, indeed, numerous children were in the audience, cheering the show, on the night this reviewer attended. (Though how those youngsters and their parents managed to buy the exorbitant tickets is hard to say!)
We had great expectations, given the name Harvey Fierstein on the program (he wrote the stage adaptation). But the show is not top drawer, even though “Newsies” meets the requirements of family fare. As the story goes, the kids, faced with poverty and starvation, defeat the villains. Good triumphs evil against great odds. The villains are the newspaper publishers and their henchmen, and the kids, ragged orphans who sell papers to survive, are the heroes. When the great Joseph Pulitzer, editor of the New York World, forces the boys to pay more for the papers they sell, they strike.
How well does all this work on the Nederlander stage? For starters, the theater itself is a period piece and a good venue for the past. Opened in 1921, the Nederlander (formerly the National Theatre, the Billy Rose and the Trafalgar) has retained its old trappings and ornate décor. The theater is more vertical than horizontal, with cramped audience space but soaring ceilings. This works well for the three-story set, which resembles a giant Erector set (a popular construction toy of earlier years). The nimble newsboys (when they aren’t dancing up a storm) scramble up, down and across the set.
In fact, the dancers are the best part of this so-so show. Any time the ensemble goes into its dance routine, the audience cheers are well deserved. But the singing (particularly that of the leads) lacks luster. It hardly does justice to composer Alan Menken’s tunes. And Jack Feldman’s lyrics (which may or may not be exciting) are lost. Though Jeremy Jordan, as the strike leader/newsboy Jack Kelly, gives a strong performance, his co-performers are less satisfying. In particular, Kara Lindsay, as the love interest, is somehow out of place, as if she wandered on to the wrong set. Though she looks fetching, her performance never reaches the Kelly level. Lindsay plays Katherine, Pulitzer’s daughter and “a damn fine reporter,” according to her father.
Which brings us to the question of this romance. What was writer Harvey Fierstein thinking? Or did he take this component wholesale from the original film? In any event, Jack Kelly’s age is never mentioned, but he is supposed to be a newsboy. Would he be old enough for a romance with a career woman?
All told, “Newsies” manages to be entertaining, given the “damn fine” dance numbers. But we had hoped for much more from such a stirring moment in American history.
Apr. 4, 2012