SANDY — After Newsies premiered in Utah, I wrote that the musical was likely to replace Joseph… as Utah’s favorite. And boy did it ever. We have long passed the saturation point, as every theatre company in the state seems to have mounted the Disney musical. And now it returns to Hale Sandy, five years after their last production of the show.

Show closes August 26, 2023.

Newsies is based on a 1992 film whose box office failure seems puzzling today. Contemporary critics wondered why ’90s kids would care about a newsboy strike in 1899—oddly overlooking its clutch of outstanding music by the legendary Alan Menken. But the film became a VHS hit, and Disney brought the material to stage in 2011. The reworked material introduced a welcome strong, central female character, but also included some head scratching lyric changes by Jack Feldman. While the film’s most unintentionally funny line “My name is mud” was fortunately cut, other changes seemed capricious—like “stupid” to “nitwit,” and “smooth as butter” to “spreads like butter.” Most unforgivably, the film’s best lyric “Give me a good assassination” was also killed—you can practically hear Disney’s PC police fretting about that one.

Fortunately, lyric changes did not alter the musical’s spirit or winning music, and it went on to win Tonys and worldwide success.

Hale Center Theatre’s 2023 production of Newsies was highlighted by a phenomenal lead performance by Weston Wright as Jack. It was as if the music was a part of Wright, like he was not performing while he was singing, but purely expressing his natural self. Wright’s loose, natural performance commanded the stage and was perfect for the character of a labor union revolutionary. Most fabulously, Wright looked and sounded seventeen, the age of the character. His “Sante Fe” was otherworldly, and his Jack Kelly was one worth watching again and again.

Tanner Garner was equally compelling as Jack’s right-hand man Davey. Garner threaded the needle of a challenging character perfectly—he stood apart from the rest of the newsies with just the right amount of higher class attitude and accent—without seeming like an aristocrat. His costuming by Joy Zhu perfectly conveyed a character with more education and familiar stability than the rest. All together, Garner created a convincing performance as the brains behind Jack’s bravado.

If only Jack’s romantic partner was as strong as his revolutionary one. In Bo Jacqueline Chester’s performance, the character of Katherine was tight, dour, and she seemed far too old for Jack. She was played as a 21st century woman, with modern speech patterns and quirks, contrasting poorly to the accents and mannerisms of the rest of the cast. Katherine’s actions did not seem to belong to a real human being; she had bizarre, physical spazzes of quirky energy and shouted her lines like she did not have a top-quality microphone. While Chester was a strong singer and the purpose of the production was clearly to make her strong and independent, the result was a character so tight, snooty, and negative that she was unlikeable and unrelatable—and lacking any romantic chemistry with Jack.

Other than that four-alarm misfire, the adults in the cast were superb in this demanding show, with solid acting and dancing. Some were occasionally out of breath for their lines, something the director and choreographer may choose to sort out. The odd, super slow fight between Jack and the thugs that ended in flames might also warrant examination. Was the stick supposed to be on fire?

After his work on his work on Godspell and 1820, I was ready to hail Adam Dyer as Utah’s best working choreographer. However, his work on Newsies had hits and misses. The first half was dominated by grounded, individualistic movements—with actors stomping, hunching and thrusting their hands. While this certainly conveyed the tough character and lowly station of the newsboys, it felt like too rooted and grounded for buoyant, celebratory material like “Carrying the Banner.” At curtain call, actors displayed outstanding tumbling techniques—it was a shame those abilities weren’t taken advantage of to a larger degree. Fortunately, the lid on Dyer’s choreography popped off in the second act with a thrilling “King of New York”—where a rousing bar dance morphed into a stage-filling dance number. The number finally filled the stage with dynamic, exciting group movement that took advantage of the theater-in-the-round stage. Adding more cross-stage and vertical movement like tumbling, lifts and jumps might improve earlier parts of the show.

Scenic design by Jenn Taylor was a high point in the production, dominated by a fire escape tower that emerged from the bowels of Hale’s million dollar stage. It was thrilling to watch actors climbing the tower as it rose and see it split apart in a moment for scene changes. The lighting design (by Jaron Kent Hermansen), unfortunately, was not as strong as other technical aspects. The stage was surrounded by searchlights with bright white beams; while they did convey a sense of the bright lights of the Big Apple (although not one lowly newsies would be much a part of), they also created a visual barrier between the audience and the stage. This made it often feel as if everything in the auditorium was illuminated except the actors, who appeared to be dancing in a dark puddle. While the show is about a bunch of street rats, the lighting design made it feel more like a New York City sewer than a street.

Hale Centre Theatre’s Newsies features many fine performances, including an outstanding Jack and Davey, some good technical aspects, and moments of thrilling dancing and singing. At times, this Newsies gave the audience “something to believe in.” But ultimately, an implausible Katherine, unsupportive lighting, and uneven choreography failed to “seize the day.” The director and producer would do well to remember, if you want a production to “carry the banner,” it has to be “one for all, and all for one” in fearlessly making each element work toward the benefit of the show, and the watching audience.

Newsies plays nightly (except Sundays and July 4 and 24) at 7:30 PM, with additional matinees on Saturdays at 12:30 and 4 PM and on select weekdays through August 26 at the Young Living Center Stage at Hale Centre Theatre (9900 South Monroe Street, Sandy). Tickets are $32-75. For more information, visit

These reviews are made possible by a grant from the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks program.