Previews from Wednesday 30 November (tickets £30). Opening night Thursday 8 December.
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As stagings go, you could hardly get more atmospheric than the current production of Newsies.Telling an inspirational story of David vs Goliath through music and energetic dancing, it plunges the audience right into turn-of-the-20th-century New York, with its grimy overcrowded tenements screaming poverty, their black walls crisscrossed by metal fire escapes and walkways that extend across the audience sitting on three sides of a projecting jagged-edged stage.
On these starkly lit streets (lighting designer Mark Henderson) a group of homeless children, mostly orphans, scrape a precarious living by selling newspapers for press baron Joseph Pulitzer. They are the 'newsies' of the title.
Based on a true story, the plot is relatively thin, if thrilling in its improbability: in an attempt to keep profits high, Pulitzer raises the price the newsies have to pay for his papers. Their livelihoods threatened, the children, led by the firebrand Jack Kelly, go on strike and are soon joined by child workers from across the city. A cornered Pulitzer (Cameron Blakely in villainous mode) has to give in. Courage and solidarity have won the day.
The multi-award-winning trio of Alan Menken (music), Jack Feldman (lyrics) and Harvey Fierstein (book) – Broadway royalty all – have turned this episode of New York history into a gripping show, whose story-telling never falters. Add to that pulsating choreography by Olivier Award nominee Matt Cole, performed by a remarkable cast of young dancers, and you have a sure hit.
The cast of Newsies. Photo: Johan Persson
Some of the children are given individual stories, which help us connect. Jack Kelly, convincingly played by Michael Ahomka-Lindsay is a naturally gifted painter and a born leader, who's formed a touching friendship with the disabled Crutchie (Matthew Duckett). This friendship will eventually prove one of the motors of the denouement.
Michael Ahomka-Lindsay as Jack Kelly, Matthew Duckett as Crutchie in Newsies. Photo: Johan Persson
Kelly’s ‘Santa Fé’ ballad, which conveys his yearning for a better life, is a recurring motif, one of three softer ballads in an otherwise punchy, fast-moving score.
This kind of story requires, of course, a little romance, and Kelly is duly provided with an improbable love interest in the person of spunky budding journalist Katherine Plumber, a striking-looking Bronté Barbé. Little does he suspect who she really is…
Bronté Barbé as Katherine Plumber in Newsies. Photo: Johan Persson
It is unfortunate, though, that most of the cast’s individual singing is never up to the high standards of the rest of the show. And the Troubadour’s poor acoustics means it’s difficult, often impossible, to discern both song lyrics and spoken dialogue.
However, with dancing of this quality – balletic, acrobatic, explosively performed by an outstanding group of young dancers – music played live by Nigel Lilley's spirited orchestra driving the story at a good clip, and an immersive staging, Newsies is a hugely enjoyable show, one we are more than happy to recommend.
|What||Newsies Musical review|
|Where||Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre, Fulton Rd, Wembley, HA9 8TS | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Wembley Park (underground)|
30 Nov 22 – 30 Jul 23, Wed–Sat 19:30 mats Thu & Sat at 14:30 Sun at 13:00 & 17:00 Dur.: 2 hours 30 mins inc one interval
|Price||£25-£91.50 (previews £30)|