Widgets Magazine

‘Newsies’ at SHN Orpheum Theatre: Thoroughly entertaining but hollow

Original company, North American Tour of NEWSIES. ©Disney.  PHOTO BY: DEEN VAN MEER

Original company, North American Tour of NEWSIES. ©Disney. PHOTO BY: DEEN VAN MEER

Spinning, leaping and belting with impressive gusto, the cast of Disney’s “Newsies” enthralls its audience in the SHN Orpheum Theatre. As part of its North American Tour, director Jeff Calhoun and his band of high-flying, predominantly male acrobats bring the popular Broadway musical to San Francisco this February and March. While the production is aesthetically engaging, it fails to leaves any meaningful impression as it is undermined by insincere acting, a bland, chauvinistic script and contrived choreography.

The show kicks off with the charming yet damaged hero, Jack Kelly (Dan DeLuca), expressing his desire to go west. From the get-go, I don’t believe him. “Santa Fe,” while sung beautifully, rings with insincerity. Granted, Jack Feldman’s tired lyrics (e.g, “Close your eyes, come with me, where it’s clean and green and pretty”) don’t do DeLuca any favors. Still, the lead actor seems to be fully aware that Santa Fe is a pipe dream, and consequently, undercuts a major source of conflict for his character.

The scene then transitions to reveal a brilliantly-designed, three-story labyrinth of metal staircases and platforms, simulating a tenement building. Here, set designer Tobin Ost has outdone himself. Placed on wheels, this versatile structure is quickly maneuverable and makes way for various other settings — Pulitzer’s apartment, “The Refuge” and, most notably, Medda Larkin’s vaudeville theater. Yet another token of Ost’s ingenuity, Medda’s theater — which Jack uses to hide from police and union-busters — manifests itself in the way of a brightly lit, violet curtain. Minimalist but vibrant, this curtain backdrops Angela Grovey’s jaw-dropping performance as Medda.

Grovey, portraying the sassy actress, is a hurricane of vocal panache. In “That’s Rich,” Grovey’s indulgent slides and belted phrases complement her rich tone and set the audience roaring with applause. Grovey’s physicality fits the spirited singer well: She swaggers across the stage, hips-out, breathing new life into the archetype of the vaudeville performer.

Stephanie Styles (Katherine) and Dan DeLuca (Jack Kelly). Original North American Tour company of NEWSIES.  ©Disney. PHOTO BY: DEEN VAN MEER

Stephanie Styles (Katherine) and Dan DeLuca (Jack Kelly). Original North American Tour company of NEWSIES. ©Disney. PHOTO BY: DEEN VAN MEER

Matching Grovey, Stephanie Styles gives a dynamic performance as Katherine Plumber — the up-and-coming journalist looking to carve a place for herself in a male-dominated field. As Jack’s romantic interest, Style’s sharply timed retorts — “I’ve got a headline for you: ‘Cheeky boy gets nothing for his troubles’” — are a much-needed relief from the otherwise testosteronic production.

When the newsies learn that hard-hearted newspaper tycoon Joseph Pulitzer — played by the refined Steve Blanchard — has raised the price of newspapers, they riot. Breaking into spins, leaps, splits and flips, the “Newsies” ensemble flaunts their expansive dance training in the number, “Seize The Day.” In the number’s dance break, the ensemble dances on leaves of torn-up newspaper; one member impressively executes a fouette turn, thrilling the audience.

While the show’s choreography is undeniably entertaining, its style contradicts the boys’ reality. When they’re not dancing, they carry themselves with chests puffed-out, legs spread widely and hands shoved cooly into pockets. How is it that these absurdly hypermasculine, unschooled orphans known how to launch into jetés?

Admittedly, this incongruency is characteristic of the musical theater genre. Thus, the choreography epitomizes the production’s fatal flaw — it beats its audience to death with clichéd musical theater tropes.

“Newsies” is a lighthearted, fun musical, but it deals with issues of serious import. Union busting, chauvinism and income inequality are still relevant social ills in America. Leaving the Orpheum Theatre, I noticed a group of homeless men lying on the sidewalk, compelling me to ask: Do we risk trivializing issues like poverty by framing them in the context of a feel-good musical? This remains unanswered but important to bear in mind.

“Newsies” runs at the SHN Orpheum Theater in San Francisco until March 15th.

Contact Ian Anstee at ianstee5 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Ian Anstee

Ian Anstee is a Theater Desk Editor for Arts and Life at the Stanford Daily. He is primarily interested in theatre performance but also has an unhealthy obsession with classical music. Ian was born and raised in Havertown, Pennsylvania and is a proud member of the class of 2018. On any given weekend, you may find Ian hiking the dish, achieving nirvana at Windhover Contemplation Center, or binge-watching House of Cards. Contact him at ianstee5 "at" stanford.edu.