Newsies the Hot Off the Press Dance Show
“Whoever said ‘War is Hell’ wasn’t trying to sell newspapers”
Disney’s Newsies is based on the real strike of news paper sellers on Long Island in 1899. Many of these boys were orphans or unsupported. The morning editions were delivered but the afternoon edition relied on these boys to sell the papers all afternoon and into the night. They bought a pile of 100 for 50 cents and sold them for 1 cent each. The newspapers, The World published by Joseph Pulitzer (Cameron Blakely) and The Journal published by William Randolph Hearst put their price up to 60 cents. This caused the News Boys Union to call, a strike.
In the vast space at the Troubadour in Wembley, the set for the musical is impressively large but miniaturises the performers. A structure of scaffolding can fold in and out and behind are the smoke pollution stained walls of tenements. To the side are projections of more tenements onto which newspapers can be shown. An advertisement shows the Santa Fe Railroad which one of the boys aspires to.
This huge space has the effect of the words of the songs being hard to catch as the vocals are under-amplified compared to the band. What is outstanding and is as wonderful as I have ever seen is the amazing dance, athletic and balletic. It is jaw dropping to see this sumptuous choreography and the dance skills of the cast. I had read that there are 31 back flips in the stage version of Newsies but I was unprepared for the flying splits and incredible jumps. I lost count of the back flips but the synchronized jumping was mind blowing. I was reminded about the first time I saw the film of West Side Story with George Chakiris’s groundbreaking dance.
Sadly you won’t go for the storyline where the strike was inevitably not won when you look at the power balance between these ragged boys and the newspaper tycoons. Nor for the hard to hear melodies from Alan Menken which I am sure are pretty and will be memorable when you have heard them enough. Nor for Harvey Fierstein’s book nor Jack Feldman’s lyrics. The dance is the reason why I can say you must see this musical.
The boys are dressed authentically in shirts and waistcoats, braces and belts, with tweed cloth caps are not a colourful addition to the set. Only Medda Larkin (Moya Angela)’s club with her bare legged show girls are in bright colors. The spectacular is however with the athletics.
One boy travels in on a zip wire from the highest rear of this hangar like auditorium. During a set number, dancers hang from the many hanging lights set over the tables and you will gasp at how thrilling this dance is. Some must be trained in ballet and the modern dance uses traditional balletic leaps.
A woman journalist passing herself off as Katherine Plumber (Bronté Barbé) helps the boys tell their story but they are unaware that she is the daughter of a famous father. Women in 1899 had almost as few rights as these poverty struck boys. The outcome for their strike involved bribery to the union leaders, a severe temptation with the amount of money involved. Jack Kelly (Michael Ahomka-Lindsay) does reject the money but goes for the compromise that the boys will get a refund for unsold copies which they were never before entitled to and which kept them out until late in the evening to sell the last copies.
Newsies may not be the fully accurate record of the strikes but it is an opportunity to show case the dance talent we have in this country and how accomplished these dancers and director choreographer Matt Cole are.
Santa Fe (Prologue)
Carrying the Banner
The Bottom Line
I Never Planned on You/
Don’t Come Knocking
the World Will Know
Watch What Happens
Seize the Day
King of New York
Letter from The Refuge
Watch What Happens
Something to Believe In
Once and for All
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Jack Feldman
Based on the original Disney film written by Bob Tzudiker and None White
Directed and Choreographed by Matt Cole
Director and Choreographer: Matt Cole
Set Designer: Morgan Large
Costume Designer: Natalię Pryce
Musical Director and Supervisor: Nigel Lilley
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson
Sound Director: Tony Gayle
Performer Flying: John Maddox
Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Booking until 30th July 2023
Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre
3 Fulton Road
Wembley HA9 0SP
Tube: Wembley Park
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Troubadour Theatre
on 8th December 2022