By Mary Boyle
Disney’s Newsies, which began as a film in 1992 and then made its way to Broadway in 2012, has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, and it isn’t difficult to see why. For one thing, the generation that fell in love with the film now have kids of their own; for another, children standing up for their rights and changing history along the way seems to be a rather common phenomenon these days (Greta Thunberg, anyone?). Though it’s not holiday-themed, the timing couldn’t be better for Skylight Music Theatre to add this production: they’re celebrating their 60th season under new Artistic Director, Michael Unger, and this show is most certainly a celebration that the whole family can come together and enjoy.
Interestingly, this musical, which feels like Annie meets West Side Story, is inspired by a very real event in our Country’s history: The Newsboys’ Strike of 1899, when the newspaper-selling children of New York took a stand and created a union to fight for their rights. Their strike started the ball rolling for the Child Labor Laws and other worker protections to come; the same laws that keep children from being forced to leave school to take work in dangerous factories because their parents were injured in those same dangerous factories and can no longer work. In any case, audiences will get a lovely history lesson and an important reminder about why unions are needed.
The music of Newsies was written by the great Alan Menken, who is known for his scores for The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast, Enchanted, The Little Shop of Horrors, Hercules, and more, so you know you're going to hear some catchy tunes. Lyrics are by Jack Feldman, who has also written for a long list of Disney productions, but also happens to be the guy who wrote the lyrics for "Copacabana," which basically made Barry Manilow, so there's that. Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the book, also wrote the book for La Cage aux Folles and Kinky Boots, which completes the musical pedigree. One of the great things about Skylight's productions is they always are accompanied by live music; Music Director Christie Chiles Twillie, along with several talented musicians, does this production justice.
Directed by Molly Rhode, Skylight's Newsies reminds me of their excellent production of Hairspray last season in that, once again, they make use of the incredible amount of youth talent Milwaukee has to offer – roughly half of the sizable cast is comprised of performers under the age of 18. Primarily, though, it brings to mind that production because this one is also just full of heart. Marco Tzunux, who makes his Skylight debut as Jack Kelly, the leader of the newsies, has so much passion and energy. Rachael Zientek, who has become a regular on Milwaukee stages for good reason (Elephant & Piggie, Unnecessary Farce) is absolutely delightful and so very funny as New York journalist Katherine Plumber. Three other notable debuts: Nicholas Parrot as Davey, a newbie to the newsies trade, is actually fresh off The Rep's West Side Story and Jordan Arrasmith as Jack Kelly's brother in the streets, Crutchie, as well as Natalie Harris, who delivers a powerful performance as Medda Larkin, a nightclub owner and performer.
Relevant and entertaining for a wide range of ages, Skylight's production of Newsies is an ideal theatre experience for a family, but equally entertaining for the Broadway Musical fan, and the beautiful and intimate Cabot Theatre is my favorite place to catch a show. In all, it's a wonderful holiday production, despite the lack of snow or Christmas carols, because of its universal appeal and all the right feels. Catch it while you can!
Disney's NEWSIES runs through December 29th at the Cabot Theatre, located within the Broadway Theatre Center at 158 N. Broadway in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward. Tickets may be purchased in person at the Broadway Theatre Center BoxOffice, 158 N. Broadway, by calling (414) 291-7800, or visiting www.skylightmusictheatre.org
About Skylight Music Theatre
Skylight Music Theatre's mission since 1959: To bring the full spectrum of music theatre works to a wide and diverse audience, in celebration of the musical and theatrical arts and their reflection of the human condition. Skylight presents productions "Skylight Style" – bringing fresh approaches or interesting twists to music theatre works, creating meaningful connections, not only between the characters on stage, but with the audience, as well.