Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst may have been big players in New York City, but don’t count out the little guy.
“Newsies,” a sleek and richly satisfying production at Arena Stage, tells the story of a group of mistreated newspaper carriers who took on two of the most powerful people in the print world.
Inspired by the newsboys’ strike of 1899, “Newsies” goes way beyond being a crowd pleaser thanks to an all-around terrific cast and exuberant dance numbers performed to the irresistibly catchy tunes of Alan Menken and Jack Feldman.
With a book by Harvey Fierstein, “Newsies”—which featured a pre-Batman Christian Bale in the movie version—is also a stirring example of how young people can make a difference by simply raising their voices.
And that they certainly do when Pulitzer jacks up the price on papers for these struggling street kids, who are buying up bundles to sell every day.
Under Molly Smith’s razor-sharp direction, this musical has a big story to tell, and it plays out beautifully on Arena’s compact stage. You can’t get too much height in the Fichlander theater, so city buildings have been reimagined with rolling staircases and clotheslines surrounding the audience in Ken MacDonald’s immersive set design.
Leading the charge in the crusade against the newspaper tycoons is Jack Kelly, the dashing union organizer played with incredible gusto by Daniel J. Maldonado. With his big, flashy smile and winsome personality, Jack is able to rally his fellow newsies—whom he sees as family—and, in the meantime, win the heart of a pretty journalist.
He meets his match in the plucky Katherine Plumber. She doesn’t fall for his charm at first, but just give her time. Seven-time Helen Hayes award winner Erin Weaver is radiant as the writer who is trying to leap from the society pages to hard news with her coverage of the poor paper hawkers being taken advantage of by the rich and greedy.
For the newsies, Arena has recruited an impressive band of young performers, whose boundless energy and talent shines through Parker Esse’s dazzling choreography. From the fiery foot-stomper “The World Will Know” to the epic “King of New York,” which features the cast tapping their hearts out, the musical numbers alone are worth every penny.
There are too many performers to name, but among the standouts are Ethan Van Slyke and Josiah Smothers as newsie newcomers Davey and kid brother Les; Joe Montoya as Jack’s cheerful best buddy, Crutchie; and Luke Spring, who gets to show off his dynamic tapping skills as Elmer.
As for the grownups: Edward Gero is pitch-perfect as Joseph Pulitzer—a role suited for the man who is a giant in the D.C. theater scene. Jamie Smithson and Nova Payton are a pair of scene-stealers in their brief but memorable moments as Teddy Roosevelt and nightclub owner Medda Larkin, who supports the newsies in their cause.
With its super-charged production, Arena’s “Newsies” delivers a family-friendly treat perfect for the holidays.