by Beki Pineda

NEWSIES –  Music  by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Jack Feldman; Book by Harvey Fierstein; Directed by Pat Payne. Produced by Candlelight Dinner Playhouse (4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown) through August 26. Tickets available at 970-744-3747 or coloradocandlelight.com.

Many of you may have already seen the movie or the filmed live performance versions of NEWSIES. I went into NEWSIES blind, never having seen either of the film versions. After having seen this live version of the musical, now I want to see the movie. Just so those of you who have seen it before don’t get confused, they made a few changes when they wrote the musical. The character of Bryan Denton (played by Bill Pullman) has morphed into a female reporter, Katherine Plumber, for a love interest for the lead newsie, Jack Kelly. Much of the music is the same with three numbers removed and several new songs written for the musical. But enough remains of the original to please all those who have already fallen in love with this story. Here’s a fun little bit of trivia: The original 1899 strike was led by a newsboy by the name of Kid Blink. In the movie, the minor character of Kid Blink was played by Trey Parker, whose award winning musical, THE BOOK OF MORMON, just played in Denver. How far he’s come!!

Based on a true story of a 1899 strike by the street newspaper boys who hawked Joseph Pulitzer’s paper, The New York World, on the street, it follows their fight against the price of the papers they bought to sell being increased. They would buy as many papers as they thought they could sell for a certain amount. If they didn’t sell all of their papers, they didn’t make as much money as the World didn’t buy back the unsold newspapers. When Pulitzer raised the price they had to pay for the newspapers, it seriously cut into their ability to survive. Jack Kelly became the voice of the strike with help by an educated young man reduced to selling papers to support his family, David Jacobs. They are helped by Medda Larkin who owns a nearby burlesque theatre and Katherine Plumber, a fledgling newspaper reporter who is looking for her big story. When Pulitzer pulls out the muscle and his political cronies to defeat the boys, the strike soon spreads to all the child laborers in the same boat. A story of triumph of the little guy over corporate America!

Director Payne keeps the story moving swiftly forward in collaboration with Choreographer Matthew Peters. Peters has instilled a strong sense of masculine power in his dancers which is sweetly reminiscent of WEST SIDE STORY. These boys (and a few girls) are jumping up onto and off of platforms, fighting with enthusiasm and strength, and bringing physical life to the anthems they are singing. The big Act II opening tap number was especially powerful. These guys must be exhausted by the end of the show.

Kudos go to Logan Traver (another product of the UNC Musical Theatre Program) who plays Jack with natural leadership and charm. He is ably abetted by Ben Griffin as Davey, his second in command of the strike; Kent Sugg as Pulitzer; and 7th grader Tyler Fruhwirth as a smart and spunky Les, Davey’s little brother. Samantha Jo Staggs fills out the Ann-Margret role of Medda Larkin and Harmony Livingston brings a delicacy and determination to the role of Katherine Plumber, girl reporter.

A few rolling platforms and wagons augment the street scene set designed by M. Curtis Grittner. The grubby street clothes provided for the newsies by designer Deb Faber are in sharp contrast to the more elegant clothes worn by the upper class characters. The technical team led by Dave MacEachen were tasked with building a HUGE printing press as a crucial prop for the show. Musical Director Phil Forman trained the singers well and led a nine piece orchestra through their paces with ease.

The kitchen continues to focus on comfort food (not a bad thing at all) with entrees of roast beef in gravy, chicken with a Florentine sauce (delicious!), and swordfish. I’m told the Lemon Drop Martini’s were perfect. Our dinner companions for the evening were four of the most handsome boys in the room (including the ones on stage), the oldest of which was 14. They made for a fun evening. As always, it is a pleasure to visit Candlelight.

A WOW factor of 9!!