In one of its strongest productions to date, Westchester Broadway Theatre mounts Disney’s “Newsies” on stage through May 26.
Buoyed by now iconic musical numbers, the show is based on the historic newsboys’ strike at the turn of the 20th century. In 1899, newspaper moguls Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst hiked up their prices, causing an uproar among New York City’s poor, teenaged newspaper distributors. In a true-life David and Goliath story, the boys formed their own union and waged war on the industry tycoons. Their strike gained national traction and, against all odds, ended in victory.
Walt Disney Pictures released the original, live-action musical “Newsies” in 1992, with a script by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White and a score by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman. The film’s success was underwhelming, but the staged version, developed by Feldman, Menken and Tony Award-winning playwright Harvey Fierstein, became a hit.
“Newsies” opened in a four-week run in 2011 at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse before moving to Broadway in 2012. That production starred Jeremy Jordan and Kara Lindsay, and earned eight Tony nominations, including Best Musical. It won that year for Best Choreography (by Chirstopher Gattelli) and Best Original Score.
At WBT, all of the show’s winning elements are in place — deft direction by Mark Martino with musical direction by Bob Bray. The ensemble delivers Shea Sullivan’s athletic choreography well overall, and WBT veteran Steve Loftus offers a versatile set. The newsboys are appropriately scrappy in waistcoats and flat caps by costume designer Keith Nielsen, contrasted by the smartly dressed bourgeoisie.
At the heart of the show is head newsie Jack Kelly, played with charm and fervor by Daniel Scott Walton, whose WBT credits include “Show Boat” and “Christmas Voyager.” Leading the strike and wooing intrepid reporter Katherine Plumber (Mary Beth Donahoe), Walton inspires flusters with his flirtation and cheers with his resolve. He stuns in the Act One closer “Santa Fe.”
Donahoe, who toured nationally with Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” is sincere and fiery as the young reporter on the rise. Her character is eager to break the glass ceiling of hard news and seems the only one willing to give the boys’ cause some ink. While her vocals don’t always dazzle, Donahoe paints an enjoyable and relatable portrait of a 19th-century woman making waves.
Alec Cohen is less convincing as Davey, one of the few newsies with a home and a family, which includes his little brother, Les (Benjamin Wohl). After their father loses his job, the pair hits the streets selling papers to keep the family afloat. Patrick Tombs, whose off-Broadway credits include “Lautrec in Paris,” (Lautrec) achieves a touching portrayal of Jack’s best friend, Crutchie.
The story’s message of free press and fair treatment resonates as much now as it did in 1899. In a note in the show’s playbill, WBT representative Pia Haas wrote, “The themes in ‘Newsies’ have become more relevant than ever — a group of young people standing up and saying ‘no more’ to the [world’s] injustices.”
Live musicians accompany the cast on the show’s fabulous soundtrack, including crowd favorites “Carrying the Banner” and “The World Will Know.”