STOP THE PRESSES! “Newsies” is making News in La Mirada California! As the final musical of their 2017-2018 Season “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” in association with McCoy-Rigby Entertainment invite audiences to “Seize The Day” as they present this fine show about life “Carrying The Banner” (–the last word in newspapers circa the turn of the last century!) Based on Disney’s 1992 film starring Christian Bale. Ann-Margret and Robert Duval, the story itself is inspired by an actual labor strike in New York City that took place in 1899, when Newsboys (commonly referred to as “Newsies”,) walked out protesting for fairer wages from then-media giant Joseph Pulitzer and others of his standing within the newspaper industry. This 2012 stage version however has been significantly buttressed and improved—thanks in large part to a snappy new book by Harvey Fierstein and the rousing Tony-Award Winning score featuring music by Alan Mencken and lyrics by Jack Feldman—incorporating a handful of additional songs written just for this stage adaptation.
This new staging in La Mirada was directed and choreographed by Richard J. Hinds with Musical Direction by Brent Crayon. As for any inevitable comparisons between stage and screen–Forget the movie! Fierstein’s book is exciting and even considerably moving at turns; he has re-focused the action into a far better and more cohesive ‘whole’, enhancing what worked on-screen while completely eliminating anything that didn’t; replacing it instead with vibrant new elements, which on stage work profoundly well. Here, unfolding under David McQuillen and Fourth-Wall Scenic’s ever-looming scenic designs, the over-all ‘look’ of the show favors a more utilitarian flavor, with the sets being comprised of a series of bare-bones metallic rafters punctuated by large rear-screen projections of oversized newspaper pages suitable to the times (July 25th 1897 to be precise!) Yet if there was one ‘take away” from this particular production (although in truth there are indeed many,) it would be what incredible dancing this live theatrical reworking can boast (even the scene changes are thrillingly choreographed!)
The group in “La Mirada” patently amaze right off with the energetic opening “Carrying The Banner”, which opens and then practically stops the show with an eye-popping mix of athleticism, acrobatics and striking suavity. (Few openings in a musical are so impressive!) “Uptown to Grand Central Station, down to City Hall, we improves our circulation, walkin’ ‘til we fall!” our intrepid band of newsboys exult of their daily tasks of hawking “Papes” (their term for the latest edition of their newspaper) during the opening. That’s when we meet “Jack Kelly”–our young hero around whom, and by virtue of, all the action materializes. At first glance Jack seems to be gritty realist, resigned to his humble fate trying to sell the daily headlines. Look a little closer though and we quickly learn this ‘uncultured’ veneer hides and protects the secret soul of dreamer. “They say folks is tryin’ to get here,” he breezes in his pensive introductory prologue titled “Santa Fe”; “Me, I’m tryin to get away!” Once he and his compatriots arrive at the “Banner’s” distribution center to buy their daily “Papes”, their enthusiasm is curbed when the find that the big boss, “Joseph Pulitzer” has raised their price of every lot to a whopping 60¢ (–virtually a King’s ransom for them to pay on a daily basis!)
Enter “Davey” and his kid brother “Les”—two boys with parents and a home, but who have been pressed into the work force (such as it is) due to their father becoming hurt on the job and summarily laid-off (with no benefits and no other recourse.) This means the pair have to put school on hold and try to keep a roof over the family’s head by selling—you guessed it–newspapers. Luckily, Jack agrees to take them under his wing and show these hapless newcomers the ropes regarding how to best peddle their papers: “Lernin’ from Jack is the chance of a lifetime—lernin’ from his is lernin’ from da best!” the others tell the boys. Ironically (–and fortuitously) though,
Jack himself will come to find the benefits go both ways. More educated and eloquent than the most of other guys, its Davey who helps our boy to successfully formulate his plan for the betterment of them all, and much to the consternation of ”Boss Pulitzer”. In due course, Jack convinces his fellow Newsies to form a union and to strike, leading to the electrifying group endeavor, “And The World Will Know (–and the Journal too!)” Enlivening their lyrics with some stirring group harmony (that is sincerely worthy of a standing ovation in its own right,) the lads take to the streets-now hawking their fight for better pay and fairer treatment at the hands of Pulitzer, Hearst, and all those other “Media Moguls” and “Robber Barons” of the age who rules and ruined what to this day is frequently (albeit misguidedly) known as “The Belle Epoch” in America.
Determining that to be truly effective they need to enlist the aid of all the Newsies from all the various boroughs of Manhattan–including (or especially) Brooklyn, they decide to convene a city-wide organizational meeting to be held at the Bowery Burlesque House where “Medda Larkin”—Jack’s friend and “surrogate mother” headlines. They also call upon “Katherine Plumber”, a would-be journalist Jack met earlier at the theater to help spread the word about their efforts. Unfortunately, it also happens that their attempts at labor-organizing enrage Pulitzer who loses no time sending his band of hired thugs to put an end to their—or anyone’s–ideas of bettering their work-situation.
Act Two opens with the gang glum and bruised by Pulitzer’s “Strike Breakers”, but are quickly heartened to find that they’ve at least made the front pages all the evening editions: “Da Woild’s our ‘ice-stuh’!” they playfully cheer leading into the buoyant second act launcher, “King Of New York”. Banding together once again to celebrate, they do so with a cracker-jack Tap break that has these rough-and-tumble mugs rejoicing: “Nobbin’ with all the muckety-mucks–I’m blowin’ my dough and goin’ deluxe! There I be (Ain’t I pretty?) It’s my city–I’m the King of New York!” Even Katherine shakes her shoes and raises her skirts to join them in strutting their stuff through a virtuosic succession of time-steps, pull-backs, shim-shams and trenches “—Da whole nine yahds!” (And the encore is even better!) Before they’re finished though, their 11 O’Clock group “Triumph” (for that’s exactly what it amounts to,) occurs pursuant to the Newsies ultimately bringing their case to child laborers citywide. Dubbed “Seize The Day”, along with its immediate reprise, this compelling bit of mellifluous stage magic coalesces into the very best harmony heard all evening. “Proud and defiant—we’ll slay the Giant!” they proclaim; “Judgment day is here!” (It’s so impressive, it could alternatively be called “Seize The Humongous Applause”!) There’s also lots of electrifying dancing in this one to boot– and here too, this number is where we REALLY see why ‘Newsies” handily walked away with the “Tony Award” for “Best Choreography”! Moreover, the curtain-call is a terpsichorean wonder as well–set up as a choice selection of quick encores involving the livelier dance-sections of “King Of New York” and “Carrying The Banner”!
All of the Principal Players uniformly have stellar singing talents (as do the rest of the cast) and they sure get plenty of opportunities to show them off to full advantage with this Tony-Award Winning Score! Leading them all is Alex Prakken as the dime-store “Samuel Gompers”: “Jack Kelly”. With boyish good-looks and an off-handed charisma reminiscent of “American Horror Story” and “X-Men” star Evan Peters, Prakken also has a formidable vocal talent which, thankfully, here he gets to put to terrific use advantage in his many musical undertakings. In addition to furnishing several sublime vocal and harmonizing contributions as his inaugural decant “Santa Fe”, and later the light and lyrical (but strikingly seductive nonetheless,) “I Never Planned On You”, his reprise of “Santa Fe” which closes the first act has been transformed from a rose-tinted but hopeful pipe-dream into an excruciating lament which Prakken invests with every ounce of his character’s pain and frustration, making it one of his most valiant and memorable moments. (If he hadn’t won us over long before this, he sure does here!) Then again, every great story needs an even better villain and here he is dazzlingly furnished by Paul Schoeffler as legendary Publishing Potentate (and one of the chief devisers of that sensationalist style of reporting known as ‘Yellow Journalism”): “Joseph Pulitzer”. In his skilled custodianship, Schoeffler paints Pulitzer as the perfect “Baddie”—a Ruthless and Amoral Plutocrat with no care beyond how he can increase his own vast wealth and influence—regardless of who may get crushed in the process. His opening salvo, “The Bottom Line” is smooth and even deceptively spritely, as he plots to increase the cost of ‘papes’ unloading the added cost (and hardship) onto those kids who hawk them for him. Beth Stafford Laird is also thoroughly entrancing as “Katherine Plumber”, the gutsy Girl Reporter turned (not surprisingly) Jack’s Love interest–who may be harboring a few secrets of her own! When the two originally meet at Medda Larkin’s “Music Hall” (–euphemism intended) wherein Katherine is reviewing the new show, the burgeoning Labor-leader/Lothario tries to come off as smooth, but she’s not having any of it: “Name’s Jack Kelly” he purrs; “Is that what it says on your ‘rap-sheet’?” she huffs. Laird’s solo, “Watch What Happens”, in which Katherine reveals her longings and insecurities while hoping to be the next “Nellie Bly” at a time when the job (or most) largely was a ‘man’s game’, not only demonstrates just what a propitious voice she has, but how commendably she can invest simple melodies with honest feeling. It’s also an exceptional example of a brilliant “soliloquy through song” in this or any musical! (“Whatever happens, let’s begin!” she exults by the song’s conclusion.) She also impresses in the following act with “Something To Believe In”—a sumptuous and unabashedly romantic duet she shares with Prakken: “And if you’re gone tomorrow, what was ours will still be–I have something to believe in, now that I know you believed in me.”
Likewise, Daebreon Poiema well-nigh incandesces as the Music Hall Performer and “Greatest Star on the Bowery”, “Medda Larkin”! Done up like “Dolly Levi” in feathers and shocking purple velvet, her primary offering, “That’s Rich” is big, brassy, and just delectably ‘brazen’ enough to have old’ Walt himself at least a tad hot under the collar considering this is a Disney show! Stopping backstage at her theatre with Jack and Davey, young “Les” is initially startled when he meets “Medda”—not because she’s considered a “Star” of the local stage, but rather owing to her costume that allows him a glimpse of her uncovered leg! (Scandalous for the time!) “Theater’s not just entertaining” she winks, “It’s also educational!” A familiar face (and voice) at “The La Mirada Theatre” not to mention many other stages across Southland, anyone who’s seen Ms. Poiema previously knows she gives each performance her all and happily, this instance is no different—if anything it’s a shame that unlike her “big screen counterpart” Ann Margaret (who originated the role,) she doesn’t have more numbers to delight and amaze us with. This aside, Ms. Poiema adeptly elevates “That’s Rich” into a real crowd-pleaser early on (–and you just know she’s also going to make those magnificent ‘money-notes’ heard in the song’s ride-out positively resound throughout the entire auditorium!) Josey Montana McCoy is also a standout presence as “Davey”—the ‘fish out of water’ adolescent schoolboy turned (by harsh fortune) into a working man overnight. Although much of his duties melodically-speaking are limited to supporting verses in larger numbers like “The World Will Know” and the post-intermission reprise of “Watch What Happens”, his lines at the start of “Seize The Day” are remarkably powerful and well-delivered, showcasing his own impressive vocal talents.
Through them, “Davey” bolsters his fellow Strikers courage just when it’s needed most. Subsequently, when Prakken jumps in (—as do the rest of the ensemble shortly after—) the song billows into another unforgettable interlude. “Pulitzer thinks we’re gutter-rats,” Jack spits with fury; “It ain’t no crime in bein’ poor!” Right there beside him most of the time is young Travis Burnett as his plucky little brother “Les”. Like McCoy, Burnett is relegated more to supporting the heftier chorale ventures, but even so, he frequently manages to charmingly stride into that spotlight and make the most of his stage-time too. Austyn Meyers also contributes laudable support as the sympathetic “Crutchie”—so named for the large crutch he requires to walk until it is brutally wielded against him by Pulitzer’s hired- heavies. Ever the optimist, he opines early on “I don’t need folks—I got friends!” Meyers also gets his moment to shine with the touching “Letter From The Refuge”, after he has been confined to the resident “Hell Hole” for housing juvenile offenders. “On the rooftop you said that a family looks out for each other,” he ‘writes’, “So tell all the fellas from me to protect one another. Your friend—no, your ‘Best Friend’…no, Your Brother, Crutchie.” Similarly notable is John Massey as “Theodore Roosevelt”. Massey’s take on such a gigantic and historic personage as this then “Governor of New York State”, is fittingly grand, but hearty and genial–and although he doesn’t appear until toward the very end, as soon as he does, it’s most assuredly worth waiting for!
So here’s the real ‘scoop’: This production of “Newsies” is a fine, “Feel Good” time at the theatre! After “Previewing” on Friday, June 1st, “Newsies” officially opened on Saturday, June 2nd where it will run through Sunday, June 24th, 2018 at “The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts”, located at 14900 La Mirada Blvd in La Mirada California. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7:30 PM; Fridays at 8:00 PM; Saturdays at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM, with Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM. There will be an additional performance on Friday, June 22 at 1:00 PM, with a special “Open-Captioned” performance on Saturday, June 16th at 2:00 PM, and an “ASL-interpreted” performance on Saturday, June 23 at 2:00 PM. A “Talkback” with the cast and creative team will held directly after the show on Wednesday, June 20th. Tickets and reservations may be obtained either on-line by visiting the “La Mirada Theatre’s” website, at: http://www.lamiradatheatre.com or via phone by calling “The La Mirada Theatre Box Office” at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310. (Student, Senior, and Group discounts are available, with $15 “Student Rush” tickets also available for the first 15 performances of this engagement.)
Production Stills By Jason Niedle, Courtesy Of Demand PR (www.demandpr.com) And McCoy-Rigby Entertainment; Special Thanks To David Elzer At Demand PR, Tom McCoy, Cathy Rigby, Richard J. Hinds, Brent Crayon & To The Cast & Crew Of “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” & McCoy-Rigby Entertainment’s 2018 Production Of Disney’s “NEWSIES” For Making This Story Possible.