'Newsies' on Broadway: What did the critics think?
Stories about boys as of late have been less than uplifting -- just consider the feuding vampires of "Twilight" and the teen dystopia of "The Hunger Games." So a tale of scruffy lads who take on the villains of big business might be a welcome change.
The Disney movie-turned-musical "Newsies" opened on Broadway at the Nederlander Theater on Thursday night. The story was inspired by the 1899 New York City newsboy strike, although the fictional account has far more backflips, high kicks and pirouettes than your typical tale of unionizing.
The musical is based on the 1992 film flop starring a pre-stubble Christian Bale as the leader of the upbeat street urchins alongside Bill Pullman, Robert Duvall and Ann-Margret. The flick later found a following on VHS and made its way to more homes and modern formats over the last two decades.
For the stage version, Alan Menken, who was responsible for the film's score, teamed with a new story writer, Harvey Fierstein. The musical keeps the movie's memorable songs including "Santa Fe," "Seize the Day" and “King of New York,” but this time around the XX chromosome is represented with a female reporter (and puppy love story) added to the lineup.
The reviews from New Yawk (er, York) are rolling in, and so far, the scrappy musical seems to be far too sugary for most critics' tastes.
Ben Brantley of the New York Times wrote that “Newsies” lacked any real substance behind the flashy headlines, "all set in extra-large type, all goal-posted with exclamation points and all proclaiming essentially the same thing." He added that the over-exuberance spilled over into the many acrobatic dance numbers that have "enough raw vitality to command the attention and even stir the blood. Or they would if they knew when to quit." Brantley added, "I commend the cast members for always appearing to be excited by what they’re doing. Unfortunately, that is not the same as being exciting."
Mark Kennedy of the Associated Press wrote that the "overall story, like newsprint, is black and white," and to expect a version of the Broadway show at a high school auditorium near you. “Part history lesson, part fable and part love story, it's practically got its bags packed."
Vulture's Scott Brown offered a rave review, writing that "Newsies," like "Rent" and "Into the Woods," is a gateway for the musical-theater curious. “Choreographer Christopher Gattelli launches his squadrons of whirling boys into the air, where they appear to hang for hours.” He added that “Disney has unveiled its finest fairy tale in over a decade. There’s enormous magnetism in this show, both for children and the grown-ups who brought them.”
Bloomberg News' Jeremy Gerard praised the airborne acrobatics on stage set with three towers of steel girders but that “Newsies” "gets syrupy faster than I hoped for and while never less than assured, its efforts to earn applause can come mighty close to pandering."
Photo: "Newsies" stars Jeremy Jordan, center right. Credit: AP Photo/Disney Theatricals, T. Charles Erickson