At the turn of the 20th century, America was marching through the industrial age, young families were encouraged to go west and newspapers were king.
This is the landscape for the musical “Newsies,” which opened Tuesday at the Adrienne Arsht Center. The show takes place in 1899 during the age of newspaper tycoons, when newsboys would go out onto the streets peddling their papers to make a living.
“Newsies” was a 1992 Disney movie following the plight of newsboys at the turn of the 20th century. The saga about this golden age of newspapers was adapted and made its Broadway debut in 2012.
The story follows a group of newsies as they go on strike when newspaper tycoon Joseph Pulitzer raises the cost of newspapers – a brutal increase for boys living day to day on the street. The show won Tony Awards for Best Choreography and Best Score.
As one would expect from a Tony Award-winning production, the ensemble dance numbers were stunning. Utilizing everything from chairs, spoons, gymnastics, flights of stairs and, of course, newspapers, the creativity of the choreography matched the high energy of this boisterous group of rag-tag boys.
The clacking during the tap dancing scene paralleled the clacking of a typewriter, both clicking away to create an enthralling story. The cast of dancers proved up to the challenge of carrying out the demanding routines.
Despite a slow beginning, the energy increased during “Seize the Day,” the swelling anthem that served as the catalyst to propel the cast’s urgency through the second act. “King of New York” was the true show-stopper where dazzling tap dancing met incredible harmonies to create the musical’s signature theme song.
As the show begins, the audience is introduced to Jack Kelly (Dan Deluca), the leader of this misfit group of newsies. Deluca had swagger and charm, but needed a stronger stage presence and powerhouse vocals.
Stephanie Styles added a dash of spunk to Katherine, an already precocious promising reporter, as she constantly spurned Jack’s advances. Styles’ solo masterfully captured the fear and anxiety every young journalist feels on the verge of his or her first big story. Combined with a soaring voice, her performance kept the audience engaged as she deftly avoided the dangers of falling into a cliche role.
Davey (Jacob Kemp) provided the most pleasant surprise as he rose to the challenge of the role by using his strong, rich voice to bring the revolution together.
Beyond the lead characters stood club owner Medda Larkin (Angela Grovey) – the true definition of a powerhouse prima donna. Grovey commanded the stage evoking laughs and show-stopping applause during her solo. Her bold, sassy personality brought the color that the ink-stained set needed. From her bold outfit to her saucy remarks, Grovey gushed with bravado.
In a time when traditional print publications are grappling with their business models and looking for an innovative way to get the news to the masses, the show presents an interesting juxtaposition. The theme of underdogs taking on mass media battling to get the word out is something that rings true today in a world full of personal blogs and news aggregator websites. “Newsies” provides an introspective look at people’s basic need to have their stories heard, which proves to be a story worth stopping the presses for.