By Ed Lieberman
At a time when the youth of the world are taking leadership roles
in calling attention to issues such as climate change and gun control,
Westchester Broadway Theatre is presenting Newsies,
an exuberant musical adaptation of the 1992 Disney movie of the same name that
starred Christian Bale. Although the movie was a box office failure, it developed
a cult-like following for its score and choreography. The musical’s book was
reimagined by none other than Harvey Fierstein, and it boasts an expanded score
by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Jack Feldman.
The show recounts the true
story of an 1899 strike by newsboys in the City of New York against the
newspaper titans of the day, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, over
what the publishers charged the newsboys to sell their papers. During the
Spanish-American War, Mssrs Hearst and Pulitzer, and their rival afternoon
papers, the Journal and
respectively, engaged in an increasingly hysterical brand of journalism known
as “Yellow Journalism.” The main method of selling the afternoon papers was by
newsboys, many of whom lived on the streets, who paid 50 cents to buy 100
papers from the publishers, which they sold to the public for a penny. No
refunds were given for unsold papers. During the war, the publishers raised
their price to the newsboys to 60 cents, which was not a problem while the war
hysteria was pushing sales. After the war ended, however, circulation returned
to normal levels and most newspapers reduced their prices to the “newsies” back
to 50 cents/100. Pulitzer and Hearst refused to do so, however, squeezing the
newsboys. So they formed a union and struck. The strike expanded from Manhattan
to Brooklyn and beyond, and reduced circulation by almost two-thirds. It had
all the elements of a general strike, including anti-scab violence and
pro-union rallies. After two weeks the strike was settled -- not won -- by
compromise: the price remained 60 cents/100, but the newsboys received refunds
for unsold papers. This was seen as a win for the boys and the union movement,
in general, and helped lead to enactment of child labor laws. All this is
touched upon in the book. Thus, following another Disney adage, that “A
Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down,” youngsters in the audience will
enjoy the infectious songs and energetic choreography, while learning some
valuable New York history and lessons in hard-headed labor politics!
It helps immeasurably that WBT has chosen its cast with customary
care. Virtually everyone involved in this production is spot-on. Headlining the
cast is Daniel Scott Walton, as the newsboys’ leader, Jack Kelly, who starts
the show wanting to escape New York City for the open air of “Santa Fe,” but
ends up hobnobbing with the likes of Joseph Pulitzer and Teddy Roosevelt. He
“adopts” newcomers Davey (played by Alec Cohen) and his young brother, Les
(Benjamin Wohl), who have to earn money to support their family because their
father was injured on the job.
Patrick Tombs as Crutchie. "Letter From The
Another main character among the newsboys is Crutchie, played by
Patrick Tombs, who displays a mean Brooklyn accent.
Mary Beth Donahoe (as Katherine Plumber)
"Watch What Happens."
Other leading performers deserving of mention are Mary Beth
Donohoe, as a reporter who befriends the strikers by publicizing their strike,
Galyana Castillo, who plays a nightclub singer/owner, who provides a hiding
place for Jack and other strikers, and a special shout out goes to Stuart
Marland, who plays the villain of the piece, Joseph Pulitzer. Mr. Marland
displays a particularly strong voice, capable of conveying the arrogance and
power of his position.
The rest of the cast, too numerous to name individually, are full
of enthusiasm and talent, which are needed to perform the songs and acrobatic
dance numbers choreographed by Shea Sullivan, under the direction of Mark
Martino. As is typical at WBT, the costumes (by Keith Nielsen), set (by Steve
Loftus) and lighting (Andrew Gmoser) successfully convey the inequalities
between the street urchin newsboys and the titans of industry and politics.
Finally, the musical direction of Bob Bray perfectly managed, and did not
overcome, the large, sometimes unruly, cast of Newsies.
In sum, “Seize the Day,” and bring the kids! They will absorb
valuable history lessons while enjoying the acrobatic dances and infectious
score of Alan Menken. Hopefully, they will be inspired to join their national
and international cohorts and lead us all into a brighter future!
But you must come quickly: Newsies
is only playing through May 26th.
Box Office: (914) 592-2222;