I’m a pretty huge Disney fan. I’ll sit and watch “The Little Mermaid” for fun with a daughter (and, not coincidentally, both daughters are named for Disney characters), or see a newly released animated film while it is in theaters. For some reason, though, I’m not a Fansie.
What? Haven’t heard of Fansies? They’re the cult followers of Disney’s “Newsies”, a musical based on the New York City newsboy strike of 1899. This sleepy 1992 film was so requested as a musical, that Disney took it to Broadway. It seems many tweens on Tumblr followed – in overalls and snap caps – drooling. Now in its first national tour, Disney’s “Newsies” is CURRENTLY IN TAMPA at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
I was offered two free tickets to see Newsies in exchange for an honest review of the show. Here’s my opinion:
I enjoy a musical without too many extra bells and whistles. I like to focus on song, dance and story when sitting in a theatre. Emotion on an actor’s face and in his voice is enough to make me tear up. I don’t need techno tricks and LED boards. Newsies earns an A- in this area. The dancing is highly energetic and emphatic. I read there are over 37 backflips in each performance! These young men are acrobatic and adorable, and can capture your eye while pirouetting 6 times on a single piece of newspaper.
On the other hand, the songs are repetitive. Kinda cute and catchy, but repetitive both in the lyrics and in the way they reprise throughout the show. Maybe this is to help get the crowd singing the songs in their heads, or to leave singing “I’m the king of New York!” But my husband admits that trick didn’t work on him. He did not leave singing and had forgotten most lyrics aside from the phrase “I’m the king of New York!” by the next morning. As much as he was entertained by the spectacle, he’s truly not a fansie. Like the Orlando Weekly said, “Alan Menken’s score, which includes “King of New York,” “Santa Fe,” “The World Will Know” and “Once and For All” from the film, plus a few newly composed songs, really has less than a dozen tunes in total, with several reprised repeatedly.”
The set has a bit of digital background, but other than that it is old-school. The multiple levels of fire escapes spin, while losing and gaining staircases, creating clever use of space. The first time the set moves completely before your eyes, it’s quite captivating. The digital effect I liked the most was that the clouds in the “sky” moved across the moon throughout the show. It made me feel like the boys were really outside even though I was in a theatre.
I grew up with much love for the musical “Annie”. I wondered if “Newsies” would just be Annie for boys? In fact, the two shows have had a sing-off over which is the ultimate show about New York City. But despite the appearance of ragamuffin youngsters and a Roosevelt or two, the shows aren’t very similar. “Newsies” had a larger story about challenging a young generation to make change for the future. Perhaps boys selling newspapers working together to fight ‘the man’ could also help make life better for children in sweatshops, shoeshines and others trapped in child labor. Seriously, this is discussed in song in the show!
In a review of the show by Carter Gaddis for Tampa Bay Bloggers, he says, “Morgan Keene‘s performance as Katherine on Watch What Happens was my favorite number — as a longtime journalist, I could relate to the nerves associated with an intense desire to get the story JUST right.” In this somewhat-meta song she mentions the story in a story placed before her and the audience. There’s the David and Goliath story of the newsboys rising up against media giants, and there’s also the thought that she could cover the story and make news out of the little guys. I enjoyed the message of this song, but Keene’s performance here was not my favorite. My husband and I both thought she got a little screechy at times.
Something about the refrain she sang throughout the show made me hum a line from Beauty and the Beast’s ballad “Home”, “What I’d give to return to the life that I knew lately.” The musicality of the two were very similar to me.
To see a bit of the show for yourself, here’s a playlist of clips:
Follow @newsies or #newsiesontour online to find out more about the cast.
Disney’s “Newsies” is at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Florida, through Sunday. Click here for show times and tickets. I was provided with two tickets to the premier of “Newsies” for review purposes.