It’s no secret that our generation has a hankering for good old-fashioned Disney movies. Our nostalgia for the over-the-top musicals full of plucky kids, anthropomorphized objects and talking animals knows no bounds. That’s why it’s no surprise that Disney revived the 1992 film “Newsies” for a stage production a few years back. After winning Tony awards and a new legion of fans for an essentially forgotten film, “Newsies” has made its way to a touring show around the country.
Playing at the Academy of Music through Nov. 2, Disney’s “Newsies” is very much like the classic movies you remember watching as a kid. Each scene is filled to the brim with as much song and dance as it can handle, and each character has as much cheek as they can possibly muster. The songs are full of uplifting crescendos, the actors have voices cartoon-like in their perfection and the dance numbers are beyond imagination.
“Newsies” tells the story of a group of young kids in 1899 that make their living by hawking newspapers. These newsboys struggle to eke out a living wage in between neighborhood rivalries, but no rivalry is as important as the one they have with their publisher overlords. The script name-drops early 20th century publishers like Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst to get across the importance of the printed word. When Pulitzer raises the price of the newsboys’ papers, they organize a union and go on strike.
The show is a Disney production, albeit a Tony-winning one, so the plot is overly simple. This plot arc itself probably takes up maybe 20 percent of the show and the rest is repetitive songs and dances. According to Disney’s not-so-subtle writing style, there are also plenty of slang terms shoved in, like “gams” and “papes” for what we call legs and newspapers, just in case the newsboy caps and heavy old-timey accents didn’t tip you off. The songs seem to rise to incredible peaks out of nowhere. Are they beautiful? Of course, because they were written by Alan Menken, the man behind the scores of “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Pocahontas.” But the overwhelming emotion that pours out of the songs does not seem earned in the least bit until the second act. We barely know the characters’ names before they start belting out their dreams.
Luckily for the traveling cast of “Newsies,” their performances well outshine the childlike structure of their musical world. The musical performances of the cast were incredible. Dan DeLuca, who plays the head newsboy Jack Kelly, has the voice of a pop star and the New York accent and looks of a rough Chris Messina (which, in my book is a huge compliment). The dancers were top-notch, too. The entire cast of newsboys was filled with some of the best young dancers I’ve ever seen. In fact, it honestly seemed like the large cast had distilled every great young, male dancer into one super-group dance troupe. Between the tap and ballet-inspired numbers, every song was fun to watch.
Though it’s only here for a limited engagement, I definitely suggest trying to see “Newsies” while it’s in town. If you can’t make it, though, the 1992 film is worth watching. All you need to know is a young Christian Bale plays the lead. (Yes, I’m serious.)