|Casey Likes (center) and the cast
photo by Laura Durant
Newsies is a family-friendly, plucky musical spectacular in true Disney fashion, and Greasepaint Youth Theatre brings it to life in exceptional fashion. The show itself is challenging to perform not only on a physical level, with many intense dance numbers and fights, but also musically, and the cast delivers on every front. Newsies is a powerhouse of a musical, and Greasepaint's production packs a powerful punch with a cast full of talent and, clearly, hard work.
Released first as a musical film in 1992, Newsies portrays the Newsboys' Strike of 1889 in true Disney fashion. Of course, the details don't exactly match historical accounts in the movie or the stage adaptation, but history doesn't often make for good entertainment without a little creative license.
Both the film and the stage musicals feature the story of Jack Kelly, a newsboy who ends up the unwitting leader of a group of urchin newsies striking against none other than Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World. Kenny Ortega's directorial debut didn't land well, the film tanked in the box office, but developed a cult following down the road. Newsies is proof that sometimes, an adaptation can truly outshine its source material. The stage adaptation in 2011 went on to gather eight Tony Award nominations and won two of them. Fans who remember the original movie and newcomers alike jumped on board with the Broadway musical, and with catchy original songs by the legendary Alan Menken, it's not hard to see why.
With a cast as large as this, a few standouts are to be expected, but Greasepaint continues to impress with capable young actors who put their all into every character. Leading man Casey Likes brings Jack Kelly to life with a mixture of bravado and earnest vulnerability that's rare to find in young actors. Riley Van Cleave tackles the role of Katherine Plumber with aplomb, her spotlight number "Watch What Happens" is an intensely difficult song, but she delivers it with exactly the amount of bursting personality and doesn't miss a single note. It's her moment to shine, and she positively beams. Ethan Drew's take on Davey proves that his character is the true heart of the show. His clear, soulful voice anchors the newsies and the audience all at once, and his acting is touchingly genuine. Crutchie's character provides a mixture of comic relief and poignancy, and Owen Stewart delivers on all counts. Faden Shapiro, Kevin Wang, Nainoa Aguano, Nico Lanese, and Micah Lawrence, playing Albert, Specs, Race, Romeo, and Finch respectively, shine in the supporting roles. Each of them are engaging and hilarious in their own unique ways, and truly give life to the ensemble of newsies. With such a large and talented cast, it's difficult to give everyone the accolades they deserve, but there is truly no weak link in this production. The power behind their voices when they all sing in unison is chill-inducing, in the best way.
Greasepaint's production excels largely due to the creative team, who clearly take care to play to the strengths of their entire cast. Newsies is known for high-flying dance numbers and soaring vocals, and though it's nearly impossible to have full triple threats in a cast this size, Dale Nakagawa's direction makes full use of the broad stage and maximizes the best of all of his actors' talents. DeAnn Mauro's choreography makes brilliant work of her principal dancers with the expected high-flying jumps and flips, and tailors the choreography to suit the cast at large, providing near seamless transitions from one ensemble to the next. Diana Likes' costumes stand out while also perfectly matching expectations for the period, and most notably so by embracing the gender diversity of the newsies. Likes' decision to include tattered dresses among the vests and newsboy caps adds authenticity to the characters that are typically portrayed as exclusively masculine. J'ana DeLaTorre's musical direction shines, and Tom Holmberg's simple set leaves plenty of room for the numerous dance numbers while still giving the audience a sense of place, with the help of Michele Harp's props. Bob Nelson's lighting design compliments the production beautifully as well.
This production is fully sold out, and for good reason. This cast and crew earned their standing ovation, and certainly will be having many more until it closes. Newsies is all about kids coming together to fight for what they earn, and this cast embodies that spirit of courageous youth with strength and finesse. It's truly a spectacle, and not one to be missed if you can help it.
Newsies, through May 12 at Stagebrush Theatre, 7020 E 2nd St, Scottsdale, AZ. For tickets and information, visit https://greasepaint.org/.