The poorly written book doesn’t stop this company from shining!
Disney’s NEWSIES has a tremendous score. It’s hummable. And it’s raucous, too. But despite such a melodic and memorable soundtrack, I find the book – especially some of the too-cute-for-its-own-good dialogue to be cringeworthy. So, I don’t relish seeing the show when it’s produced locally. Plus, it’s really hard to find a cast this large who can sing and dance so well.
But Eric Byrd and his cast and crew overcome the poorly composed script with enthusiasm, professionalism – and some very important chemistry. Briefly, Jack Kelley and his ragtag band of newspaper salesmen get tired of the treatment of the corporate fascist, Mr. Pulitzer, and go on strike. A female newspaper writer covers the story – and, by the way, she’s the villain’s daughter. And she and Jack fall in love. And there’s a lot of dancing. And old-timey accents. And they say the word “pape” about four bazillion times. (Have I mentioned how much I hate this script?)
Peter Neureuther stars as Jack; his angelic voice and charismatic charm are just what this show needs to hold things together. My friend audibly said, “Wow,” after Peter’s first solo – and she asked me at intermission if I knew if he had any albums she could buy.
Evan Blust plays sympathetic best friend, “Crutchie,” and is outstanding in every way. His acting is natural, he remains present throughout the show, and I was surprised to read that he’s just now graduated high school. Big things are heading his way, I think.
Andrew Burke is “Davey,” and he is accompanied by Dez Flynn Hutchens, who plays his little brother “Les.” Dez nearly steals the show in several scenes. Rodger Pille is unlikeable enough as “Pulitzer,” but Evan Koons upstages him with the evil as “Snyder the Spider.” He’s something right out of a cartoon – and I mean that in the best way possible. Kyndra Dyanne Jefferies brings polish and pizzazz to the role of “Medda.” The rest of the ensemble is above average for a show at the Incline. I have to mention Henry Howland, who was cast in my first full-length play in 2016 – when he was 16 years old – is a phenomenal ensemble member. He was good when he was a kid; he’s now been away to theatre school and has become a PROFESSIONAL. I was impressed.
Most impressive, though, is Grace Marie Rusnica, who is otherworldly. Her solo number, “Watch What Happens,” reminded me why I love musical theatre. As a rising junior at CCM in the musical theatre program (along with Neureuther and Burke) she embodies everything a triple threat should be. Her voice is pristine. She can make even the stupidest dialogue sound plausible (again, this script!), and she dances like a star. She’s one to watch!
Perhaps the best thing about the show is the chemistry between Rusnica and Neureuther. Their scenes together are intimate, meaningful, and infinitely watchable. Clever casting, here, Mr. Byrd.
I wish someone would have added a touch of reverb to the group songs and maybe turned down the volume just a tad; there’s a lot of belty goodness going on, but sometimes it’s a little hard on the ears. The set is well-designed and quite functional. Pacing-wise, things move briskly enough, but if Cincinnati Landmark Productions keeps drawing large houses like this one, then they need more restroom capacity. Intermission was long, I assume to accommodate, and had we not investigated prior to dinner at Primavista, we would have potentially been too late to get our vehicle from the valet.
Overall, though, this is production is a great choice for a night out; but hurry. . . you only have a couple more chances to see it!
Disney’s NEWSIES runs through Sunday at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre. For tickets and more information, click here.