BREAKING: A recently-founded Union has brought the city to a standstill. Representing low paid workers, a representative has issued a statement saying that their members are not afraid of hard work but they just want “a square deal”. Strike action followed their employer imposing a real-terms pay cut. The strikers have insisted that they “cannot be bullied”.
No, not the television news, but the remarkably-timely narrative of Disney’s Newsies. Based loosely on true events, Newsies revolves around a strike by the teenage newspaper sellers in New York in 1899 after press magnate Joseph Pulitzer hiked up the prices that the newsies were charged for his papers.
This long-awaited show takes up residence at Troubadour Theatre Wembley Park as a newly-staged production rather than a rehash of the Broadway production. The first impression on entering the auditorium is to be stunned by the scale of the production. While Troubadour has all the intimacy of an aircraft hanger, the much in-demand superstar set designer Morgan Large has created a world of turn-of the-century New York to surround and immerse you. Tenement windows, advertising hoardings, water towers, large warehouse windows, washing lines spread across the huge auditorium. The iconic Newsies multi-storey scaffolding remains upstage. It feels like the scale of an arena tour rather than your typical night of musical theatre.
Michael Ahomka-Lindsay takes the lead as Jack Kelly, the leader of the Manhattan newsies. Many will associate the part with Broadway’s strong-jawed Jeremy Jordan, but Akhoma-Lindsay’s portrayal is a more subtle affair. While he has a smooth, velvet tone to his voice and a dazzling smile, he is perhaps a little laidback for the charismatic Jack. It’s hard to find the firebrand within him needed to inspire and lead the citywide strike. Bronté Barbé is strong as the opinionated, self-possessed Katherine Plumber. Often the only woman on stage surrounded by a gang of male characters, she more than holds her own. While both have shining moments in their solo scenes, their vocal harmonies together are somewhat oil and water, while their romantic chemistry is also lacking.
Few would argue that Newsies is composer Alan Menken‘s best score – certainly not in comparison to Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and The Beast or Aladdin – but the tunes remain melodic and crowd-pleasing. The show’s story is skimpier than a newsie’s wage packet, but in truth it is more of a Disney “dancical” than a musical. And what dancing!
Director and choreographer Matt Cole‘s routines are nothing short of thrilling. The performances of the dancing newsies are jaw-dropping and utterly irresistible. From balletic pirouettes and saut de chats to street dance back spins and slides, they are a blur of tumbling, leaps, scissor kicks, back flips – you name it, they’ll dance it with aplomb! And the dancing doesn’t remain on the stage. The newsies roam up and down the aisles and from scaffolding balconies around the auditorium. Newsies is packed with ovation-inducing choreography, the phenomenally-talented cast generating enough energy to power the National Grid.
One criticism would be the production’s sound. Seemingly lacking in bass, the top heavy sound mix renders the musical backing of the 13-piece orchestra tinny and worse the vocals in several songs (The World Will Know, King of New York, Once and for All) harsh and lyrically inaudible. Having said that, Jack Feldman’s lyrics often tend towards banalities such as “Stay on track / ’cause Humpty Dumpty is about to crack!“, maybe it’s not such a bad thing not being able to hear the words.
While Newsies is produced by Runaway Entertainment and not Disney itself, this production is like a well-oiled ride at Disneyland. All the mechanics and levers are pulled in exactly the right places to deliver the maximum thrills and spills to have you screaming. And scream they do. Shall we name the enthusiastic Newsies fans “the noisies”? It seems strangely appropriate that the Troubadour Theatre used to be home to the X-Factor and its fanatical, whooping audiences.
You may have heard a lot of chatter online about this production but the hype is real. You cannot underestimate the power of a show that can inspire such wild reactions and utter devotion from its audience.
If your idea of musical theatre is delving into character and story through song in a relatively intimate space, Newsies is unlikely to be for you. But if a night of bold, boisterous dancing and singing played out on a grand scale is what you are after, read all about this: Newsies is for you.
Hold the front page – The Recs gives Newsies ★★★★ 4 stars