Extra! Extra! Count this one ‘Headline And Shoulders’ Above The Rest! After two years of a darkened house, 3-D Theatricals, the resident musical theater production company at “The Cerritos Center For The Performing Arts” has at last returned—and with a show worth stopping the presses for: Disney’s “Newsies”. The hit stage adaption (many would say improvement) of their 1992 film musical of the same name, this winner of two 2012 “Tony Awards” (for “Best Choreography” and “Best Original Score”) features a book by Harvey Fierstein and music by Alan Mencken and lyrics by Jack Feldman. 3-D Theatricals new production is directed by the company’s Co-Founder T.J. Dawson, with choreography by Chaz Wolcott (recreated from the Broadway original by Christopher Gattelli,) and vocal direction by Crystal Barron, while the Musical Conductor is Julie Lamoureux. Theater is at its finest when it’s also a celebration of some kind—whether it be life, romance, joy–or even of just theater itself; such is the case with all of these to be abundantly found in this new staging.
Fierstein’s book (re-envisioned from the screenplay by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White) is clever and quick-witted–full of gold-medal puns around every turn. Based on a documented New York City Newsboy strike in 1899, the story introduces us to “Jack Kelly”—a lad from modest beginnings, but with a charismatic streak that is sure to take him far from the humble streets, where he works as a newspaper seller (or “Newsie”.) Along with his friends, they toil day in and day out for none other than the infamous “Joseph Pulitzer” himself, whose “Pape” (as the kids call them,) is “The New York World”. Trouble is, Pulitzer (as has been widely and historically reported,) wasn’t the best or most honest man to work for–nor do business with. “Just because we make pennies, doesn’t give nobody the right to rub our noses in it!” Jack indignantly proclaims over Pulitzer’s sudden, capricious and unfair edict to raise the cost of the papers they sell, which its sellers must pay for. “Jack’s” luck seems to change though, when he meets an ambitious young female journalist named “Katherine Plumber”, as well as two brothers, new to the paper selling trade, named “Davey” and “Les”, who have had to go to work after their family has fallen on hard times. Together, they formulate a bold plan to attain a little justice for themselves and all of the young workers of ‘Old Manhattan Town”.
“It’s so good to be back!” Director T.J. Dawson expressed on opening night, voicing the overwhelming sentiment of all those in attendance; “Welcome back to LIVE theater!” Here, Dawson proves once again he’s in his element with a faster-paced show like this, and he expertly mixes the lighter or more buoyant elements of the story in with the more somber ones (most of these young people are without parents after all, and each has to scramble every day to survive a hard-hearted city,) giving all full-measure and a suitable balance. The key to this particular show however, lies in its choreography and accordingly, this “Newsies” is every bit the equal to other dance-heavy musicals like “West Side Story” or “A Chorus Line”. Even better, it’s the acrobatic embellishments seen all through, which makes this show undeniably flourish! Indeed, if you’re an aspiring dancer (of any genre or discipline) this is the show will keep you dutifully attending your classes for a long time to come!
To say that the first big ‘group’ undertaking, “Carrying The Banner” is ‘lively’ is far too much of an understatement. At one point a contest/challenge dance breaks out infused with snappy leaps and snazzy pirouettes, as the Newsies try to outdo one another with some absolutely phenomenal maneuvers (they also deliver plenty of awesome harmony in this one too.) Count this a luminous spirit-lifter and an excellent way to launch the goings-on (Afterward, the applause was understandably, thunderous!) “And The World Will Know” is yet another A-Plus intermezzo, punctuated by some seriously eye-popping dancing, as the “Newsies” defiantly assess their situation and the options available to them, ultimately vowing to go on strike until Pulitzer and his cronies at other newspapers agree to lower the price of their papers for those who break their backs selling them. Subsequently, the First Act conclusion, “Seize The Day” quickly evolves into an all-out acrobatic free-for-all (–again with numerous pirouettes, backflips, grand-jétes and other vigorous phrases that are as Athletic as they are Balletic!) Act Two commences with the rollicking “King Of New York” set in a local “Newsies’ hangout, as the gang learn they’ve actually made the front page for their efforts. Another tap-worthy crowd-pleaser, like so many of the show’s most astonishing dance-breaks, this too, starts with a steady, driving vamp before a few of the boys hop up onto the nearby bar to revel in their accomplishment by engaging in some simple timesteps, outdaring their pals to join in and even better them. This they eagerly do–performing some nifty “maxi-fords” with an old broom as their ‘partner’, before getting even more adventuresome, eventually expanding into several repeated somersaults and cartwheels across the stage. Before they’re done, those assembled wind up using “trenches” (the classic tap step that has the feet dragging across the ground whilst the right and left legs quickly alternate front to back,) to essentially ‘shred” the underfoot newspapers that won’t be sold. There’s even an inventive section where they accompany themselves by rhythmically clanging some handy spoons together. (“42ND Street” was never like this—even the scene change will get your toes a-tappin’!) This is soon followed by a quick but compelling “Quartet” reprise of “Watch What Happens”, presenting “Jack”, “Katherine”, “Davy” and “Les” as they forge ahead with their plans for their city-wide rally, before resulting in a rousing reiteration of “Sieze The Day” with the assembled “Newsies” and other workers from all five of the city’s boroughs (literally packing the balconies of “The Cerritos Center”!) Before they’re done, the day seized is the day saved –with the help of no one less than “His Honor”, the visiting New York Governor, “Theodore Roosevelt”. This jubilation builds up to an astounding (and fully choreographed) finale and curtain calls.
Exuding all the magnetism and talent the role requires, Dillon Klena gives a superlative performance (emphasis on the “Super”) as “Jack Kelly”, the scrappy protagonist of our story. Gifted with a luminous voice, he gives us a lad who, in his own words, is “not looking for a small life in the big city; I want a big life in a small town…they say folks is dyin’ to get here; me, I’m dyin’ to get away!” This leads into his touching introductory descant, “Santa Fe” from which we discover the dreamer Jack truly is, imagining a life far beyond simply peddling papers. As the act develops and “Jack” meets “Katherine”, “I Never Planned On You” gives Klena the opportunity to slow things down a bit and go further inward as he suddenly feels a strange attraction to this headstrong girl he, on the face of it, doesn’t even trust. Perhaps most importantly though, Klena gives “Jack” an inherent affability that makes it easy—almost natural–to “be on his side”. As his would-be Journalist Cohort and later Love Interest, “Katherine”, Allison Sheppard likewise exudes supreme likeability, and she, herself demonstrates some exceptional vocal abilities managing the unique syncopation of “Katherine’s” fast-paced, tongue-twisting soliloquy, “Watch What Happens”, in which she assures “Jack” given her help, she “will show how you turn a boy into a legend!” She also demonstrates some pretty fancy stepping at the center of the second act dazzler “King Of New York”; but it’s the sublime duet between “Jack” and “Katherine” titled “Something To Believe In” that decisively gives her portrayal a bit of genuine gravitas, which she categorically makes the most of, ranking this among the very best pieces in the entire show (–and it quite fittingly ends with a kiss!) Every story needs a villain though, and here it comes in the person of Norman Large as none-other-than the iconic publishing magnate, “Joseph Pulitzer”. Large’s overall ‘take’ on this bigger-than-life media giant is that of a soft-spoken “Ugly American”—the type who gave this ‘Belle Epoch” that turn-of-the-century America is poetically recalled as, its smarmy under-taste. He never seems to raise his voice—he doesn’t need to. This man holds all the cards, and he knows it as he tranquilly rationalizes the extra cost to his workers as “A real-life lesson in economics”. Other than his parts in the smaller ‘drawing room’ number, “The Bottom Line” and its reprise, he is not afforded much of an opportunity to show off his creditable singing but, interestingly enough, this lack of musicality makes his character seem all the more insidious: “You are as shameless and as disrespectful a creature as I was told!” he spits at Jack; “Do you know what I was doing when I was your age, boy?! I was fighting a war! It taught me a lesson that shaped my life: You don’t win a war on the battlefield—it’s the headlines that crown the Victor!”
Carrie Compere also hands over a praiseworthy performance as “Medda Larkin” a “Music Hall” maven who has kind of been like a surrogate mother to the orphan “Jack”. Compere’s approach is that of a charmingly world-wise Chorine, whose fading coquettishness endures regardless–and oh, the costumes she gets to wear, starting with a ‘hot-pink’ lace-and-sequined gown and matching feathered head-dress for her triumphant showstopper, “That’s Rich”. If anything, one wishes she had more to do or more melodies to amaze us with; happily though, she definitely impresses with this which she does have. Moreover, outstanding support is granted by Rod Bagheri as “Davey”—a new “Newsie”, who explains how he and his younger brother “Les” have had to quit school to seek employment to help their family make ends meet, after their father suffered a workplace accident and was in turn, abruptly laid-off without pay. Taking a shine to these two ‘fishes out of water’, “Jack” offers to teach them the ropes for a small cut of the added “papes” they’ll sell. (“Ya learn from Jack, ya learn from da best!” “Crutchie”, Jack’s own proxy brother-from-an-unknown-mother advises the boys.) A bit more educated than the others, “Davey” tempers their rashness with some much needed common-sense, suggesting before they eventually strike, they hold a rally to drum-up support from all the other “Newsies” at the other papers. He too, does a commendable job initiating “Seize The Day”– the vibrant anthem leading into the Act Break that swells into another brilliant full-group endeavor. Noteworthy as well, is young Colton Dorfman as his wise-cracking little brother “Les”, who interjects the goings-on with bits of levity whenever needed —usually with an always handy wise-crack or off-handed observation. (When Jack asks him his age he replies, “I’m ten…almost”; “If anybody asks, you’re seven—younger sells more ‘papes’!” the more seasoned ‘headline-hawker’ then instructs him.) If “Les” effectively lightens the mood, then Kyle Frattini as “Crutchie” gives it its heart and emotional core. So named due to his game leg and reliance on a wooden crutch, he points to the numerous hardships many of those with a disability faced on a daily basis in any big city prior to the turn-of-the-century: “We don’t need a family,” he tells his best-pal “Jack”; “We got friends.” (Such in a nutshell is the relationship all these street kids have of necessity formed with one another.)
This is one occasion where the entire ensemble should be named and applauded individually because without them and their often incredibly strenuous, always dynamic (and sometimes down right jaw-dropping) artistry, the show wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable as it is. On opening night Director Dawson praised his cast and creative team as “So many talented people involved in our show,” further noting how many were initially cast two years ago and have waited 24 months to be part of this production. They are: Ryan Addison, Candice Rochelle Berge, Lucas Blankenhorn, Rorey Chavarria, Louis Reyes Chavez, James Everts. Jeff Garrido, David Kirk Grant, Callum Gugger, Brandon Taylor Jones, Philly Kang, Jonathan Kim, Anthony Klinner, Anneke May, Ryan Marks, Ariel Silvana Murillo, Daniel Peters, Matthew Ryan, D.J. Smith, Scott Spraggs, Jenna Stocks, Rico Velazquez and Paul Zelhart. Both vocally and terpsichorically each, with their own special or specific contribution, makes this “Newsies” a far larger and more significant theatrical experience beyond that which is being enacted over the footlights.
Scenic Designer Bruce Bockman’s excellent “Brick and Mortar” inner-city split-level sets are a wonder in themselves, incorporating lots of stairs (even among the ‘roll-on’ units.) These are augmented by numerous ‘projections” by Projection Designer Andrew Nagy, that appear here and there (often overhead,) throughout the proceedings–among them several small period-setting ‘news snippets’ projected as ‘graffiti’ against the “brick” backdrop. (Keep your eyes peeled for one of these that portentously reads: “San Francisco Fears Plague”.) One markedly powerful effect has one entire split-level roll-on “wagon” set, slowly move forward downstage, packed–upstairs and down–with the cast on it! Painted on the back scrim is a city scape tableau of ever growing not-quite (thence far) skyscrapers—including the soaring former Minaret-style building of the then “Madison Square Gardens” (which many might recall as a key location in the musical “Ragtime”.) The way the show is laid out, the lighting designs by Jean-Yves Tessier, also play their considerable part in not simply separating day from night, but in also setting focus from thematic “darker” areas to supposedly “brighter” ones (The cold grey basement of “The New York World’s” office building, or the warmer ‘friendlier’ tones at ‘Jacobi’s Deli’ are two examples.) Meanwhile, he saves the out-and-out ‘gaudier’ hues to convey the sparkle and spice of the Burlesque house where “Medda Larkin” and her “Bowery Beauties” strut their stuff nightly. Also spot-on are the scads of circa 1900 costumes by Costume Designer Dixon Reynolds. In 1899 the world (NYC especially) was on the verge of great change and his costume choices correspondingly reflect this, while making little statements in their own right. Take for instance, “Katherine’s” ‘sensible’ (but just this side of severe) ladies’ high-collared “shirt-waist” and “pragmatically pleated” skirt, or “Davey’s” out-of-place suit and tie (which he wears even to sell papers on the grimy street,) not to mention “Crutchie’s” drab and grubby pauper’s rags.
If you’re craving “Live” theater again (and isn’t it about time?) here’s the ‘real scoop’: now is the time to ‘Re-Seize The Day’—and 3-D Theatricals’ “Newsies” is the show to do it with! Having opened on Saturday, May 14th, “Newsies” will play through Sunday, May 29th, 2022 at “The Cerritos Center For The Performing Arts” located at 18000 Park Plaza Drive in Cerritos, California. Performance times are Fridays at 8:00 PM; Saturdays at 2:00 PM & 8:00 PM, and Sundays at 2:00 PM, with an additional Thursday performance on May 26th at 7:30 PM. Tickets may be obtained on-line by visiting: www.3dTheatricals.org or by calling: (562) 916-8500.
Production Stills By CaughtInTheMoment.com Courtesy Of David Elzer at Demand PR (http://www.demandpr.com/DEMANDPR.html) and “3-D Theatricals” . www.3dtheatricals.org ; Special Thanks To T.J. Dawson, Julie Lamoureux, Crystal Barron, Chaz Wolcott, David Elzer, Gigi Fusco-Meese, Jarod Millsap –And To The Cast And Crew Of “3-D Theatricals” 2022 Production Of Disney’s “Newsies” For Making This Story Possible.