SANDY — The stage adaption of the 1992 movie Newsies has taken Utah by storm, with another new production mounting, this time at the Hale Center Theatre in Sandy. Directed and choreographed by Dave Tinney, the show has music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and a book by Harvey Fierstein. The story follows the events of the newsboys strike in 1899 in New York City, where they are fighting against a hike in paper costs that they turn and sell to the public.
The Hale Centre’s recently opened building is a technical masterpiece, and that was quite evident in this production. Set design by Kacey Udy took advantage of all that this new stage has to offer with great results. The protagonist, Jack Kelly (played by James Bounous), is an amateur artist, and the LED screens around the stage displayed Jack’s artistic talent via projections designed by Joshua Roberts. It was a visually beautiful choice that added a great deal to the performance. I was also impressed with how the set design matched the projections with precision, such as using projections for bridge extensions and the stage curtains in the scenes set inside a theatre. Additionally, set pieces such as Joseph Pulitzer’s desk and the old printing press were authentic and gave the show a strong connection to the time period that it is set in. The Hale’s ability to move the stage to different heights was used to portray moving and falling with great success as well. Lighting designer Michael Gray helped connect the set design and projection with well placed lighting choices that emphasized different levels of the set at different times.
Costuming was also a strong element in this production, with fantastic designs by Peggy Willis. Particularly noteworthy were all the costumes for Medda Larkin (played by Kandyce Marie), as well as those of Joseph Pulitzer (played by Ric Starnes). One of the vests worn by Pulitzer was a fine velvet that seemed appropriate for a rich man in the time period and, and the tailored jackets served as a stark contrast between the life that Pulitzer lived and the life of the newsboys. It is a mark of excellent costuming when elements like that help tell the story on stage.
The cast of Newsies in this production was musically harmonious, although the prerecorded orchestrations at a production of this caliber left the final product feeling slightly flat. Music director Rob Moffat was able to get the newsies to sing with precision, and their ability to blend and project was flawless. Add to that the masterful choreography by Tinney, and the result is a show that is visually and auditorily impressive. Of special note in choreography are the numbers “Seize the Day” and “King of New York,” the first for the impressive gymnastic stunts, and the second for the entertaining tap dancing routines.
Bounous as Kelly had vocal strength during all the musical performances, however his New York accent was overstated and distracting. My many years in New York made me feel that Bounous’s accent was more of a mockery than an accurate portrayal, and he may have been better off choosing to not use an accent at all. Bounous did have good chemistry with all the other performers, especially with Gunnar Russell as Crutchie. Gunner and Bounous open the show with the song “Santa Fe,” in which their vocal harmonies mixed seamlessly.
Kelly Hennessy Pulver does a fine job in the role of Katherine, a young theatre critic hoping to get an opportunity to become a reporter in a world not ready for female reporters. The song “Watch What Happens” is always a crowd favorite, and Pulver did not disappoint. Marie also impressed with her strong performance as Medda, the vaudeville star that has taken Jack Kelly under her wing and offered support when needed.
While not the best cast I have seen, the Sandy Hale may have created the most technically intriguing production of Newsies since the original staging. Hale Centre Theatre knows its audience and continues to put on strong productions that will please their patrons. The innovations of set, projection, lighting, and sound amplify this show and make it an exciting evening of entertainment.
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