“Newsies the Musical” has all of the earmarks of a Disney megahit: orphaned children, villains, a clear study of good versus evil, catchy numbers and accessible dancing. There’s a chaste romance and a happy ending.
It also has all of the earmarks of a Broadway hit: excellent songs, a dreamy leading man, a clever set and a genuine cause to rally around.
Based on the 1992 movie flop, what’s going on at the Nederlander Theatre, with music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman and book by Harvey Fierstein, is a non-stop, aggressively buoyant musical that will likely run for ages.
Jeremy Jordan just continues to be more wonderful in each show. He was a standout in “Rock of Ages” and “West Side Story.” In “Bonnie & Clyde,” which ran for just December, he was terrific. Now he’s commanding as the charismatic Jack Kelly, leader of urchins who hawk papers on the street and are known as “newsies.”
Never mind that Jordan is a little old to be an urchin. There’s just a hint of danger about him, and that whiff makes him slightly more grown up and reckless than the usual Disney hero.
He’s a true Broadway belter, moves well and, of course, gets the girl in the end. As Jack Kelly, he commands the stage; you just want to unite with him in a cause.
And this is a great cause, based on real events.
What gives “Newsies” its ballast is that this was a little-known yet important chapter in history. Forgive the history lesson, but it is at the crux of this show.
Once – and right now it seems like an era so long ago that it aches to write this – newspapers ruled. The men who ruled them were the publishers. It was the extremely rare woman who worked her way off the women’s pages to become a reporter, never mind owned the printing presses. Publishers thought they ran the world, and in many ways they did.
On good days, they were despots. They dictated the news. And the newsies sold the papers, or papes as they called them, on the streets. They led miserable lives.
If only this part were relegated to history. The very wealthy men, in this case publishers – the one percent – were standing on the throats of the 99 percent, the newsies. They charged the kids for the papers and would not buy back any that went unsold. When their profits were not enough, the publishers decided that rather than make any changes in their gilded world, they would charge the kids more for their papers.
The kids revolted, staged a strike and rallied the city behind them. In 1899, kids worked nasty jobs and were abused, neglected and homeless. These newsies, a ragtag band of 16 kids, many of whom seem to have studied the Bowery Boys for their accents, work hard.
Jack Kelly works as hard as any of them. Charismatic and really an artist, he had been locked up in a rat-infested refuge home. He falls for young, pretty reporter Katherine (Kara Lindsay). She is pure Disney, lots of twinkle and a good voice but never quite sure of herself.
This show, though, belongs to Kelly and the newsies. It’s pretty unusual to have a dance number bring cheers, but this does, even though the choreography is standard, flashy and well-executed, but standard.
The set, with its interesting three-level steel structure of three across — think of a tenement version of “Hollywood Squares” — is used well by the chorus. And the audience does appreciate the many years of ballet the chorus boys took to perfect a string of fortes and pirouettes.
The show feels a little too over-packaged and overproduced, and by introducing a forced romance, it somehow loses its heart.
That just means that while I did not adore “Newsies the Musical,” I did like it, and would be genuinely shocked if it does not play to packed houses for years. It’s a good-time musical with an immediate hit in “I’m the King of New York” and it will have you leaving the theater humming.