IVINS — In 1992 a movie came out that made my little 8th grade heart just burst. Singing, handsome boys who could also dance and stand up for their rights and change the course of history. All of this combined with a nearby dollar movie theatre led me to seeing this movie countless more times than I should have. When Newsies was transformed into a stage production in 2012 I was both elated and terrified. Having seen a few different productions of the stage version, I have learned to adjust to the differences from the screen to the stage and enjoy the different aspects of each. As part of their summer season Tuachann has made the choice to bring this popular production to life in southern Utah.
Newsies has music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and a book by Harvey Fierstein. The story is based on the 1899 newsboys strike in New York City against the price hike they have been forced to face in order to sell the papers that represent the only way they have to make a living. The story follows the young boys in various circumstances from orphans to those who have been in the youth jail system, families down on their luck, and a young woman who wants to make a break as a reporter.
This production was directed and choregraphed by Jeffry Denman. Just before the show began, the newsies came out into the audience and started selling newspapers to the audience members, which was a very fun touch to start the show off with. In the opening number, “Carrying the Banner,” I was a little worried about how the production would go, because there were a few missteps in the song and the energy seemed a bit fleeting. By the time we reached the song “The World Will Know,” I realized that it may have been opening night jitters because the quality seemed to have improved greatly.
I commend music director D. Alexander Rovang because the music was one of the strongest elements of this production. The harmonies of the newsies in “The World Will Know” and “Seize the Day” were stunning. Additionally, the two lead newsies, Jack (played by Ryan Farnsworth) and Davey (played by Daniel Scott Walton), were well matched vocally. As a result, each time that they sang together on stage was a pleasure. Farnsworth was a very convincing Jack, and he seemed to be able to appropriately capture the challenges faced by the character throughout the show.
The role of Katherine, played by Whitney Winfield, is a new character in the stage production and not a part of the film. I confess that in previous productions I have had a hard time identifying with the character, but when Winfield sang the ballad “Watch What Happens,” I found myself appreciating the character for the work she does to try and open the eyes of New York City to the challenges faced by the poor—especially children. Winfield’s voice is strong, and her dancing and singing in “King of New York” added a great deal of excitement to the performance.
Indeed, “King of New York” and “Once and For All” were two of the strongest numbers of the performance, combining excellent choreography, vocals, and superb lighting design by Cory Pattak to bring the spectacle up to anything beyond what most Utah theatre companies are capable of. The set design by Brad Shelton was also excellent; having lived in Brooklyn for several years, I especially enjoyed the Brooklyn Bridge in the backdrop. One element that was in the Broadway production that I missed in this production was the movement of the set as part of the dancing, but likely that was not something that would have been possible on the stage. Additionally, some of the dancing audiences may expect from Newsies was not employed in this production, such as dancing on the newspapers and more of the difficult aerial stunts.
Newsies is a great choice for a family evening adventure at Tuachan. The leads in this production were aptly cast and made the performance strong. The opening night nuances will likely be cleaned up and polished and the performances will continue to be entertaining throughout the summer. In order to get the full Tuachan experience, I took advantage of the preshow meal that is offered to patrons for around 14 dollars a person. Previous tickets are required, and I found the meal worth the cost and a nice touch to an enjoyable evening.