The Broadway Theatre of Pitman kicked off the new year with their production of Disney’s Newsies, taking audiences back to 1899 New York City. The production is directed by Drew Molotsky, music directed by Will Powell and excellently choreographed by Heather Grasso.
The show opens with orphaned newsboy, Jack Kelly (Andy Spinosi) dreaming of a better life in Santa Fe, a haven mentioned throughout much of the story. The set is nicely designed–half conceptual, half realistic with newspaper headlines framing two scaffolds designed for the industrial era. Jack and his fellow newsboys spend their day-to-day roughing it and delivering newspapers for the New York World, until the prices of “papes” are hiked without reason. Jack, along with his back-flipping, high-kick wielding, aerial spinning flock of fellow newsies set out to take down the big wigs of the 1899’s press circuit, encountering obstacles in love, loyalty and poverty.
My favorite part of this piece is the exciting, fast-paced, scrappy Newsies ensemble. Composed mostly of men and a handful of women doubling up on roles, the ensemble is ENORMOUS and incredibly engaging. I did find myself wanting more distinguishable character choices, something to help me differentiate between Newsie #1 and Newsies #2, #3, #4… But nevertheless, I found myself excited when I heard the beginning chords of “The World Will Know” and “King of New York” as I knew more of Grasso’s brilliant choreography was to come. A notable performance is given by Devon Sinclair, who plays the role of Specs. While the character itself is not heavily written into the show. Sinclair makes sure you remember him. Whether it is rolling from one side of the stage to the other or his flawless fouette turns during the “Seize the Day” dance break, he definitely makes a lasting impression on audience members.
While the ensemble numbers bring the crowd to its feet, I found I was losing focus during some of the more intimate scenes. The love story between Jack Kelly and Katherine Plumber (Anna Ferrigno) seems contrived, which makes the last scene of the show seem strange. Katherine promises to be by Jack’s side “always” and you are left thinking “Well, you definitely just met?” No doubt a flaw deriving from the text itself (Alan Menken, Jack Feldman, Harvey Fierstein). The villainous moments with Joseph Pulitzer and his crew of smug, business stiffs are a bit underwhelming. Low energy and subtle character choices influence numbers like “The Bottom Line” and “Something to Believe In” which slows down the pace, although the songs are innately good and the actors sing them well.
The vocal talent of the cast is not to be overlooked. The harmonies are impressive and I found myself humming the tunes on my way out of the theatre. Many of the actors in this particular production are high school aged, which adds a layer of authenticity to the stakes of the story and a greater appreciation for vocal dynamics. An excellent vocal performance is given by actor Anna Ferrigno as Katherine Plumber. Ferrigno hits all of the right notes in the best way, wishing you could replay her performance on your Spotify as you head back to the city.
Aside from the energetic cast or talent, the production features live musicians, which is always a treat for regional theatres in the South Jersey area. Sound design from Matt Shoppas is excellent, aside from the somewhat random pre-show music (featuring songs from “Hamilton,” “Mamma Mia,” and “The Greatest Showman” that thematically was lost on me.) Lighting by Shawn McGovern is diverse, complimenting the stunning stage pictures created by director, Drew Molotsky.
So, do you go see it? Yes. It’s got one more weekend left and even for $35+ dollars, it’s definitely worth it. Parking is free, Pitman is cute… plus, the show’s got a huge twist toward the end that made one theatergoer during the performance scream, “WHAT?!” Disney’s Newsies runs through February 3.
Photos by Tony Scardapane.