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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Theatre review: Disney’s Newsies is a dance dance revolution

Choreography is the star in this Theatre Under the Stars production

It is quite literally a dance dance revolution on stage at Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl as Theatre Under the Stars presents Disney’s Newsies as the second half of its summer season.

Not only filled with incredible choreography, expertly performed by a cast largely made of community and pre-professional actors, even with the word Disney tacked onto the front of it, Newsies also manages to serve up a somewhat gritty, albeit “mouse-ified”, history lesson.

What can easily be described as an all-male version of Annie, Newsies follows a similar path inside its story of mostly young New York orphans overcoming huge obstacles. And as the eventual newspaper (or ‘papes’ as the newsies prefer) headline reads, it is a story of David and Goliath, where these young men, barely eking out a living selling newspapers on the street, take action when publishing baron Joseph Pulitzer decides to raise the wholesale price of his newspaper.

Based on the real-life newsboys’ strike of 1899, the newsboys create their own union to force Pulitzer to roll back the price. Their quest, at least as presented here, has far bigger implications though, as the musical casts a wider net on the real-world exploitation of child workers at the time. That it also addresses the changing role of women in a male-dominated world at the turn of the century, is a bonus. And while these themes are explored within the context of 120 years ago, it isn’t difficult to see parallels to society today where, ironically, companies like Disney themselves continue to take advantage of its young workforce, and women are still struggling for equality.

But while its history lesson is at its base, where this Newsies really shines is in Julie Tomaino’s choreography. Also acting as the show’s director, Tomaino puts her young cast through their paces with enough acrobatics and high-stepping moves to fill a dozen different shows.

It is both an awe-inspiring and goose bump inducing spectacle. Moments of ballet, tap, and even a Spanish-influenced dance sequence are punctuated with some incredible athletics. And even as the dance is so filled with vitality that it will leave you exhausted just watching, you’ll also be hard pressed to find a single young actor on stage breaking a sweat, or out of breath.

Dancing aside, there are also some nice performances from this likable cast. Adam Charles gives us his best Michael J Fox impression with an endearing portrayal of Jack Kelly, the newsies’ leader who dreams of a better life.

Julia Ullrich as Katherine Plumber and Adam Charles as Jack Kelly in the Theatre Under the Stars production of Disney's Newsies. Photo by Lindsay Elliott.
Julia Ullrich as Katherine Plumber and Adam Charles as Jack Kelly in the Theatre Under the Stars production of Disney’s Newsies. Photo by Lindsay Elliott.

Charles is perfectly matched with Daniel Curalli as Davey, his unwilling union brother, with a presence that is felt each time he steps onto the stage. Jordyn Bennett is adorable as Davey’s pint-sized brother Les, and Jovanni Sy has a great deal of fun playing the blowhard Joseph Pulitzer.

As Jack’s love interest Katherine, Julia Ullrich brings a lightness to the role with one of the best voices of the night, and Robyn Wong does nice work as theatre owner Medda.

Vocal abilities among some the show’s leads did not always match the dance abilities though, and the required New York accents caused some issues with diction. But it is a small price to pay to witness the incredible ensemble Tomaino has gathered here, collectively giving this Newsies its heartbeat.

The cast of Disney's Newsies. Photo by Lindsay Elliott.
The cast of Disney’s Newsies. Photo by Lindsay Elliott.

Music director Christopher King leads his eleven piece orchestra with skill, thanks in no small part to Brad Danyluk’s sound design which made every moment crystal clear, both onstage and from the pit.

On the technical side, set designer Francesca Albertazzi effectively uses moveable set pieces to provide depth and height, while allowing plenty of room for the seemingly endless dance numbers. Christine Sinosich gives us believable period costumes, although they sometimes read a little too “clean” for these young boys who largely live on the street.

While audiences will appreciate the history lesson of Disney’s Newsies, it is ultimately the dancing that makes this a must-see show at Theatre Under the Stars this summer.

Disney’s Newsies with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and a book by Harvey Fierstein. Based on the Disney film written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White. Directed and choreographed by Julie Tomaino. A Theatre Under the Stars production. Playing in repertory with Mamma Mia! on stage at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park (610 Pipeline Rd, Vancouver) until August 17 . Visit for tickets and information.

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