by Lorie Lewis Ham
Disney’s Newsies musical hit the Roger Rocka’s stage this past weekend, presented by Good Company Players. I had never seen the show before, but I was familiar with several of its songs and had seen a performance on the Tony’s, where it won awards for Best Original Score and Best Choreography.
The musical Newsies is based on the 1992 film of the same name, which in turn was inspired by the real-life newsboys strike of 1899 in New York City. The musical made its debut on Broadway in 2012. The story is about a group of boys called “newsies”, many of them orphaned and homeless, who deliver the city’s newspapers to make money to survive. They are taken advantage of by the newspaper publishers. One of the newsies is a homeless Irish boy named Jack Kelly (Jacob Phelen). He delivers papers with his best friend, a crippled boy named Crutchie (Diego Sosa). Jack dreams of one day saving up enough money to move to Santa Fe where he believes that things are better (what is it with musical characters wanting to move to Santa Fe?). One morning they meet Davey (Shawn Williams) and his little brother Les (Jackson Estep-this role is double cast and some nights is played by Vinny Folmer) who want to sell papers because their father was hurt on the job and can’t work. Joseph Pulitzer (Greg Ruud), the publisher of the paper they sell, decides to raise the price he charges the newsies so he can make more money. Jack feels this is unfair and tries to organize a strike. Along the way, he meets a young reporter named Katherine (Maya Gengozian) who he quickly falls for. She wants to help the boys and sees this as a story that could make her career.
Other characters in the show include Medda Larkin (Camille Gaston) who owns a vaudeville style theatre and pays Jack to paint backdrops for her, the corrupt Warden Snyder (Robert Gaertig) who runs a juvenile detention center called The Refuge, Pulitzer’s thugs the Delancey Brothers (Daniel Sutherland and Allen Gaertig), Mayor Teddy Roosevelt (Eric Estep), and a bunch of very talented newsies. Eric Estep and Brian Rhea play multiple roles and are hilarious in each one. Greg Ruud is fun as the over the top tyrant Pulitzer.
This show is filled with wonderful big song and dance numbers that look and sound awesome! My favorite songs in the show are two of those numbers, “Seize the Day” and “King of New York.” Shawn Williams was a definite standout in the dance numbers.Jacob and Shawn do excellent jobs of bringing these characters, and the plight of child laborers, to life. Jackson as Les is flat out adorable and very funny. Vocally, the standouts of this show are Camille Gaston and Maya Gengozian. Camille has one of the best voices in the Valley, and you can always count on her songs to be amazing. Her solo in this show, “That’s Rich”, was no exception-she blew the house away! This was my first time seeing Maya on stage–what an amazing and powerful voice this young woman has.
Newsies is an inspiring show, and very appropriate for our current times—made all the more powerful by the fact it is based on a real event. Not only do we see the power of unions to give the little guy a voice, but the incredible power of the press when the newsies manage to use the press against Pulitzer.
This production is moving and fun, and worth the price of a ticket for the big numbers alone! Newsies continues on stage at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre, 1226 N Wishon Ave. in Fresno until July 14. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at (559)266-9494.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out our new Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can check the podcast out on iTunes and Google Play, and also on podbean. Thomas Nance has been the reader on several episodes.
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