By MIKE CHAIKEN
Exuberant, fun, heartfelt, touching.
These are just a few of the words that come to my mind after catching the opening night of Disney’s “Newsies” at the Palace in Waterbury last Thursday.
The musical, based on the Disney movie, tells the tale of a bunch of newspaper boys who took on the newspaper magnates at the cusp of the 20th century.
It was a night of spot-on dancing by a team of young dancers. And it was a night of music that touched the heart.
The road tour that arrived in Waterbury is the freshman journey for the show that wowed Broadway. And the show arrived in Connecticut just shortly after previews in Schnectady, N.Y.
If there were any kinks in the show this early in the run, I couldn’t see any.
First off, as I hand out the kudos, I have to offer a tip of my hat to all the young men who played “Newsies.” As dancers, as choreographed by Christopher Gatteli, they all seemed to be cream of the crop. In the world of dance, where females often rule, these young men reminded the audience that male dancers—when they’re good—are really fun to watch. The “newsies” also proved to be triple threats. Vocally, on the choral numbers, they were strong and passionate. And their acting was spot on for the script. There were so many “newsies,” it’s nearly impossible to name them all in a limited space. But the collective was one of the linchpins that ensured the success of the Oct.23 performance.
Another factor in the success of “Newsies” at the Palace was Dan DeLuca, who played the heroic Jack Kelly. As the lead character, and the focus of the story, DeLuca held our attention. He offered a good deal of charisma that made it easy to understand how he could gather the “newsies” around him for his—and their— cause. He also gave the character a good dose of humanity because he clearly conveyed the self-doubt that his character experienced. He was a leader with a conscience. As a singer, DeLuca adeptly worked throughthe songs by Alan Mencken and Jack Feldman. He set the right tone for the rest of the story—along with Zachary Sayle (Crutchie)—with the opening number, “Santa Fe.”
Stephanie Styles, as Katherine, also was fabulous. She gave the character the right amount of spunk, sass, and strength needed for a young reporter trying to prove that she has the right stuff to succeed. She was the prototypical Disney heroine. She also was believable as someone who the hero could fall in love. Styles’ shining moment was “Watch What Happens,” as she deftly wound her way through the mouthful lyrics and driving melody.
This was a cast with rich performances from top on down.
Jacob Kemp was did a great job as Davey, effectively bringing to life the transformation of his character from a teen full of self-doubt and a bit meek to a young man to someone who is full of confidence and fully capable of being Jack Kelly’s right hand man in the “newsies” cause.
And Steve Blanchard, as the villainous Joseph Pulitzer, offers an effective target for the “newsies” rebellion. “The Bottom Line” served as a pointed comment on today’s times.
Tobin Ost’s set design, which evoked the skyscrapers and subways of New York also was epic, and impressive. It made full use of the Palace’s spacious stage. And it’s sheer size helped provide a dimension to the size of the “newsies” task if they wanted to change their world.
Overall, director Jeff Calhoun has to be saluted for pulling together a fun and monumental musical.
I give Disney’s “Newsies” at the Palace Theater on Oct. 23 four out of four stars.