The mean streets of New York City at the turn of the 20th Century were dotted with children, mostly poor immigrants and orphans, struggling to eke out a survival living by selling newspapers. They were the “newsies” who sold the “papes.”
When greedy publishers began squeezing them for pennies by raising the wholesale price of their papers, the newsies rebelled–and won.
It’s a serious chapter in labor history, but one transformed into a warmhearted musical, “Newsies,” now playing at Paramount Theatre in Aurora.
The story is based on both the 1992 Disney film of the same name and the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in NYC. The theatrical version culminates with a message of cross-cultural unity that resonates today.
Paramount’s stellar cast, directed by Jim Corti, is male-dominated (even though girls also toiled as newsies), but that just allows the two main female roles to shine even brighter.
Justine Cameron as Katherine Plummer, a budding journalist in search of a story that will get her off the society beat, is a crystal-clear soprano who commands the stage.
Jerica Exum as glamorous burlesque theater owner Medda Larkin through Oct. 7 dazzles visually and vocally with her solo “That’s Rich.” (Katherine Lee Bourné assumes the role on Oct. 9.)
Alex Prakken shows emotional range and strong vocal chops as ringleader Jack Kelly who is tenderly protective of his fellow newsies as well as a fierce champion for their rights.
Additional standouts are Michael Kurowski as Crutchie, the newsie determined to avoid the brutal orphanage despite his disability, Koray Tarhan as Davey who flexes his leadership talents and Bret Tuomi as the pompous newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer.
The role of pint-size precocious newsie Les, brother to Davey, is alternated between Nathaniel Buescher and Daniel Font-Wilets due, ironically, to current-day child labor laws.
The dance numbers, choreographed by Joshua Blake Carter, are thrilling to watch. High-flying newsies reach daring heights with grand jetés, mid-air splits and heel-click jumps. A special moment was when each was given a few seconds to strut signature moves. We only wish we could have seen more of the fleet-footed tap dancers.
The invigorating score by Alan Menken is led by Tom Vendafreddo and performed by the 12-piece Paramount Orchestra.
Also on Paramount’s creative team are scenic designer William Boles, lighting designer Victoria Bain, sound designer Adam Rosenthal and costume designer Jordan Ross.
“Newsies” debuted on Broadway in 2012 and played for more than 1,000 performances, capturing eight Tony nominations and winning Best Choreography and Best Original Score. The lyrics are by Jack Feldman and the book is by Harvey Fierstein.
DETAILS: “Newsies” is at Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, through Oct. 20, 2019. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes including a 15-minute intermission. Suggested for ages 8 and above. For tickets and other information call (630) 896-6666 or visit Paramount Aurora.
Pamela Dittmer McKuen
For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago