by MIKE CHAIKEN
If you’re looking for some athleticism out of your musical theater… and you are a firm believer that there is no “I” in team, I have the musical for you.
Disney’s “Newsies”—the musical about a paperboy strike against the newspaper moguls of the early 20th century now playing at The Bushnell in Hartford—should be right up your alley.
The stage show is jam-packed with dance.
That, in itself, is not that unusual.
But, typically, musical dance numbers tend to lean toward the female end of the spectrum.
There are, of course, practical reasons for this.
There just simply are more female dancers than male (just check out dance-oriented reality shows like “Dance Moms” or “Bring It”). And there are simply more opportunities for female dancers on stage.
Just last week, I caught for the heck of it, “42nd Street” at The Palace Theatre in Waterbury. There were male dancers in that stage musical translation of a Busby Berkley film, but their primary role was in the background… many times the “boys” simply provided partners for the “girls”.
“Newsies,” however, has a nearly all-male cast… packed full of young dancers brimming over with power and muscle… and the necessary grace of any fine dancer… to make every movement seem effortless.
The choreographer of “Newsies,” Christopher Gatteli, has done a wonderful job at allowing the show to put on display of the very best of male dancing. He draws from a variety of genres such as jazz, ballet, acro, and tap. And he clearly knows the strengths of what a male dancer can bring to a performance. By pushing the limits of what a male dancer can bring to the stage, Gatteli has injected an over-the-top crackling energy that keeps the audience engaged.
Even if you are not familiar with the language of dance, “Newsies” will make you mouth the word, “Wow!” over and over again.
The other key to “Newsies” is teamwork.
Yes, for the sake of a story, there are lead characters—in particular Joey Barreiro as “Jack Kelly” and Morgan Keene as “Katherine.” But even the lead actors allow themselves to meld into the ensemble to ensure the entire performance is about the whole and not just “the stars.”
Speaking of the actors, in particular, there were many great performances at the Bushnell on Oct. 13.
Of course, Barreiro is key to the show. As the boy who organizes the “newsies,” Barreiro is fabulous. When he’s on-stage, like his character, he becomes the magnetic center for the audience’s attention.
As a singer, Barreiro has mastered the difficult art of singing in character. This is especially evident in the opener, “Santa Fe,” which reveals a good deal about what you need to know about his character, and his duet with Keene, “Something to Believe In.” And as a dancer, he is clearly at home moving his feet and like his singing, his dancing is reflective of his character—strong and powerful—but when the need arises, he can pull it back to be part of the team..
Keene has probably one of the toughest roles on stage. She is the sole female character that is integral to the story written by Harvey Fierstein. And she is surrounded by this amazing ensemble of men. But she shines through as she effectively portrays the internal conflicts she faces as a professional woman trying to make her mark in a man’s world at the turn of the 20th century, without relying on family connections. And she also makes sure she leaves her character’s vulnerability as Katherine weaves her way through the landmines of human emotions.
There were plenty of other actors who helped make the show a delight such as Zachary Sayle as “Crutchie,” Benjamin Cook as “Race,” Aisha de Haas as “Medda,” Ethan Steiner as “Les,” Stephen Michael Langton as “Davey,” and Steven Blanchard as the– boo hiss—villain “Joseph Pulitzer.
If you want to see the best in dance in the context of an engaging, delightful musical—here’s the scoop, “Newsies” is exactly what you need.
I give “Newsies” four out of four stars.
Performances of “Newsies” at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Ticket prices start at $21.00. For tickets, go to Bushnell.org or call (860)987-5900.by