The newsboys of 1899 New York may be downtrodden. They may be barely scraping by on the money they’re paid by their newspaper bosses.
But boy, can they sing and dance!
A cast of a couple dozen amazing male dancers — gymnasts, really — are wowing audiences nightly at the Fulton Theatre in “Disney’s Newsies,” a musical about a turn-of-the-20th-century New York newsboys strike.
They fly through the air with the greatest of ease in several spectacular dance numbers — twisting, spinning, tapping, executing endless backflips and mid-air splits, vaulting off stairs and wooden crates and generally defying gravity all over the Fulton stage.
Director-choreographer Marc Robin has assembled a talented cast, with stellar singing voices, to tell the story of newspaper carriers who risk their meager income and physical safety to stand up to publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst over their working conditions.
As a theater piece, “Newsies” doesn’t break new ground. In fact, though it just hit Broadway in 2012, it’s a very old-fashioned show, filled with classic musical-theater tropes: Plucky orphans, working-class heroes and rich villains, a young man escaping a wretched past and a romance between people from opposite sides of the tracks.
A challenge for the audience is remembering that the talented actor-singer-dancers in this show are supposed to be newsBOYS — young enough to fear being carted off to The Refuge, a notorious juvenile detention center filled with rats, hunger and abuse.
Most of the guys in this cast are clearly young men. But once they start singing and dancing, who cares how old they’re supposed to be?
The newsboys, including their charismatic leader, Jack Kelly, spend their nights on the rooftops of old New York and their days delivering “the papes.” Jack sings of his yearning to leave New York behind and move to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The newsies speak with a Noo Yawk dialect, filled with “dese, dem and dose.” Many of them “ain’t got no muddah or faddah.”
When the newspaper publishers raise the price newsboys must pay for the papers they sell, Jack leads them in a strike aided by his friends, the disabled Crutchie and the smart and more articulate Davey.
The newsboys’ cause is championed in print by Katherine Plumber, a neophyte journalist trying to make a name for herself.
Sparks fly when she meets Jack. But both Katherine and Jack are harboring secrets that jeopardize their budding relationship.
When some of the newsboys are beaten and arrested by the authorities, Jack gives up and seeks refuge in a theater, where he moonlights painting scenic backdrops for his friend, chanteuse Medda Larkin. Jack’s friends must reinvigorate him in his fight for the rights of working kids.
Matt Farcher, who brought beauty to his role as the Beast in the Fulton’s “Beauty and the Beast” earlier this season, nicely explores Jack’s tough and vulnerable sides, and has a wonderful singing voice.
Justin Schuman, as Davey, and Blake Stadnik, as Crutchie, also get to display fine singing voices — Davey, as he bolsters Jack’s resolve, and Crutchie as he writes a mournful letter from The Refuge.
With a strong, bullying demeanor, Brian Sutherland is effective as the villain, Pulitzer. As he oppresses the newsboys, he’s in fine voice as he sings of his obsession with “The Bottom Line.”
As Medda, Angela Grovey gets to show off her strong pipes in a belty music-hall number.
An audience favorite is 11-year-old Timmy Woodward Jr. as Les, Davey’s little brother. Pressed into service as a newsboy because he’s great at looking poor and pathetic, Les is stronger and savvier than most of the older boys, and gets to deliver funny, smart-alecky lines.
The show tunes in “Newsies” are pure Disney, and may sound similar to ones you’ve heard in the entertainment company’s other shows. But it’s also easy to bring some of the up-tempo, optimistic newsboy numbers like “Carrying the Banner” and “King of New York” out into the night with you at the end of the show.
The musical is heavy on group numbers that have the newsboys standing strong and singing in unison about their resolve to gain respect and a better working conditions. The audience may get a whiff of “Les Miserables” as the newsboys advance to the front of the stage in a muscular phalanx.
Costumer Anthony Lascoskie Jr., lighting designer Dan Efros and scenic designer Chuck Kading effectively re-create the newsboys’ turn-of-the-century world on the Fulton stage.
And stage manager Timothy Markus deserves special kudos for executing the technical traffic control backstage at this monster of a musical.
“Newsies” is an optimistic, entertaining and often eye-popping production that’s well worth a visit to the Fulton. And, bonus: You get to take home a newspaper — your program, the “Fulton Times.”