ST. GEORGE — When it comes to an evening filled with strong ensemble choreography, music, and acrobatics, take a line out of one particular Newsies song and “watch what happens.” With name recognition and popularity on its side, it is not surprising to see such buzz generated by The Stage Door’s production of this Disney classic (lyrics by Jack Feldmen and book by Harvey Fierstein). What may surprise some is just how polished a community theater version of Newsies can be.
The ambiance of a late 1800s New York City street started before the show began, with newsies hocking “papes” in the form of playbills for the evening. From there, the stage setup with a video screen backdrop added depth to the space that was otherwise quite small for the size of the ensemble.
The Stage Door has successfully produced a wide range of shows at The Electric Theater in downtown St. George, including Altar Boyz, Chicago, Miss Saigon and more. This cast size, and the movement required by the enthusiastic and energetic choreography, made the stage feel a little crowded at times. Adding additional levels in front of the main stage helped, but scenes that incorporated 16-18 actors on stage at a time proved to magnify the issue. Sometimes less is more.
By the same token, in terms of singling out dynamic talent in the overall strong cast, Les, played by 9-year-old Charlie Stover, really is more. Whether in amateur or professional theater realms, kids have a way of stealing the scene. In this case, the theft was totally justified. Not only was Stover an adorable and believable depiction of the youngest of the newsies clan, but Stover was also genuinely hitting all his dance moves, vocal harmonies, and catchy cute lines with precision. He is someone with potential for an acting future.
Of course the lead role of Jack Kelly, played by Chris Oram, cannot be overlooked. Oram had all the swagger and confidence necessary to pull off the Jack Kelly persona. He held his own in the dancing scenes, and his voice resonated as natural and well trained. It just needed to be a little louder. Early on, Oram’s soft-spoken nature showcased a delightful vulnerability in the character, particularly in the opening scene song, “Santa Fe (Prologue),” where his friendship and chemistry with Crutchie (played wonderfully by Justin Gibbs) set the tone for their moving story arc. But when the audience is aching to be swept away in the passion and fervor of his voice in “Santa Fe” at the conclusion of Act One, Oram’s strength fell just short of the mark.
Similar problems with volume cropped up at various intervals throughout the show. As a group, the cast meshed well vocally, which clearly gave them strength on the many fantastically executed large and small group numbers. If there were any way to pump up the volume on some of the solos without blowing out the balance, it would be worth it to showcase the talent available in a more powerful way.
One area that was just as powerful as it needed to be was the combination of dancing and tumbling moves. It seemed everyone on stage was capable of the impressive jumps, kicks, flips, and twists that have become synonymous with the choreography for this show. Even characters like Davey (played by Tanner Sorensen), who struggled to cut loose in some of the scenes, turned in impressive toe touches, flips, and split leaps.
While the heroes of the production fall mainly on the side of the newsies, along with reporter Katherine Plumber (played on alternating nights by Allison Ryan and Ashley Madison), several of the “grown ups” in the show deserve praise.
Paul Nickels’s version of Joseph Pulitzer was believable and fun to watch. He fortunately does not step too far into the caricature of an adult that is sometimes relied upon in shows where the kids are the good guys and the grownups are bad. He played a refreshing happy medium. Finding the right person to portray Governor Teddy Roosevelt is likely a challenge in community theater, but Kirt Keeler pulled it off extremely well. Mikalene Ipson showed off her acclaimed vocal prowess to a great degree in the role of Medda Larkin.
Adult or child, pape hocker or executive, The Stage Door’s production of Newsies is ready to be enjoyed by all. The community theater production is polished, and the acting talent is surprising. The choreography and execution of the dance moves will excite, and the vocals are well balanced, if a bit soft on the solos. And because the show only runs through Sept. 7, now really is the time to “seize the day.”