Malkin Bowl, Vancouver – July 10, 2019
This summer, Stanley Park’s lush forests and moonlit sky provide the backdrop for Theatre Under The Stars’ production of Disney’s Newsies – a musical about the Newsboys’ strike in 1899 in New York City, and the charismatic newsboys who led the movement.
The newsboys, and occasionally girls, were typically orphans or children of poor families who earned what little they could hawking newspapers in and around New York City. When the publishers hiked the wholesale price of the papers, severely cutting into the newsboys’ meager profit, the newsboys organized a union and held a two-week strike which ended with the publishers conceding to buy back any papers the newsboys weren’t able to sell. Although their movement was brief, it inspired similar newsboy strikes in other American cities and brought attention to the harsh conditions of urban child labourers.
A sprinkle of Disney magic in this TUTS production turns these events into a heroic and timeless tale about the power of the underdog, consequences of corporate greed and the strength of union. Directed and choreographed by Julie Tomaino, who carries a long list of musical theatre credits as a performer and choreographer, this show reveals the talents of its cast with each number.
Tomaino’s choreography is feisty and athletic. An acrobatic ensemble flips and tumbles through the street scenes, pumping their fists and kicking up their legs. There’s also a tap dance number that expresses a celebratory mood, but still maintains the rough edge of these street-born revolutionaries.
Through the principal cast, the story captures the wide impact of the Newsboys’ movement. Adam Charles, in the role of Jack Kelly, the leader of the Newsboys, emphasized toughness in stance and dialogue, delivered in a heavy New York street accent, while harbouring a protective compassion for his best friend Crutchie (Cole Smuland), and the fates of the other Newsboys. Joining them were Davey (Daniel Curalli) and his little brother Les (Jordyn Bennett), who had to make ends meet when their father lost his job after a severe workplace injury. Both Curalli and Bennett gave strong performances. Julia Ullrich gave a stellar performance as Katherine, the female reporter who wrote about the Newsboys and helped to publish their story when other reporters cowered to their editors, was also fighting for her place in a male dominated trade. Jovanni Sy was true to character as Pulitzer, the greedy newspaper publisher.
Although times have changed and through social media and the internet, everyone can more or less communicate to a public forum, the importance of expressing one’s voice endures.
Disney’s Newsies alternates with Mamma Mia. Shows daily until August 17.