'Newsies:' The Singin’est, Dancin’est Labor Economics Lesson Ever

By Richard Green
In Culture

A year from now, we’ll have a new president.

And, with lots of exuberant song and dance, “Newsies” at The Fabulous Fox targets what (at least) some of us will be talking about in this year’s presidential campaign: the destruction of the working man, by power-mad business owners.

Morgan Keene and the Newsies

Morgan Keene and the Newsies (photo by Deen van Meer)

Because a musical can be about anything, right? Pick three out of a hat: “South Pacific,” “Allegiance” and “Hamilton.”  Well, okay, they were all about racial tension, and social justice …

But, seriously, this one really is different.  I mean, it IS about social justice, but just hear me out.

From 2011, “Newsies” is all scrappy young guys soaring in the air, or singing soaring anthems (by Howard Menken and Jack Feldman), when they’re not stickin’ it to The Man. It’s a sparkling re-imagining of the real-life newsboys strike of 1899, with Joey Barriero in the lead role. Director Jeff Calhoun put it all together, before entrusting the touring company to stage manager Jeff Norman.

But before the show, local entertainer Desire’ Declyne pointed out that “Newsies” librettist Harvey Fierstein also happened to do some ghost-writing on “Hairspray,” too.   (“Hairspray”? Racial tension/Social Justice.)

And for structural reasons, what may be a “signature Fierstein touch” surfaces in the final 10 minutes, as conniving billionaire David Koch—sorry, make that conniving millionaire, publisher Joseph Pulitzer—is bullying everyone in sight.

It’s just then that you might see Pulitzer (the very capable Steve Blanchard) as a pretty  good stand-in for the ruthless Mr. Hodgepile in “Hairspray.” And that Mr. Barriero, as Jack Kelly, is Tracy Turnblad all over again (although he’s ripped and handsome, with a splendid, intimate acting style, and I’d like to have his baby).  And like “Hairspray,” and 100 other musicals, it all ends with a big celebration.  Then, just like Tracy in “Hairspray,” Jack Kelly “feels like dancing!”

It’s all just another excuse to put on a big, fun, feel-good show, which it is.  And as an added benefit, “Newsies” reminds us that labor unions are most definitely not the Worst Thing About America anymore.

Other stand-outs in the cast include Morgan Keene as a crusading girl reporter; Zachary Sayle as the show’s Tiny Tim, with a moving song from a jail cell; and Aisha de Haas as this show’s version of Motormouth Maybelle.

And maybe if Motormouth Maybelle could just beat the living crap out of Mr. Pulitzer in that last scene, we’d really have a show for the ages.


Through January 31.


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