Newsies, based on the newsboy strike of 1899 in New York City, first hit the screen in 1992. And its stage adaptation, Newsies The Musical, hit Broadway two decades later. Now, The Arlington Players have opened their production of this touching story of defiance and bravery in the face of greed and corruption, at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre through October 2.
The show’s book, by Harvey Fierstein, is based on the film’s screenplay by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White. Music is by Alan Menken with lyrics by Jack Feldman.
The set design (by Austin Fodrie) is an assortment of scaffolding, rolling ladders, and tables that move around to create rooftop scenes, the windowsill of the juvenile detention center (the Refuge), and various locations. Very rugged and simple but effective for the New York City streets in the Industrial age.
Cristian Bustillos plays Jack Kelly, the main character and unofficial leader of the newsboys. Bustillos has a strong voice, though he sometimes struggled with the top notes, and for the diamond-in-the-rough, abused, and overlooked Jack, his acting works. Jack has a tough-guy persona, but with an underbelly of neglect and sentiment that makes him instantly endearing.
Jack’s bestie Crutchie, played by Jesse Friedson, has a heart of gold and an undefeatable positive energy that Friedson captures well. And next in line is John Jennings as Race, with his signature cigar and smug confidence, easily backed up with a wonderful stage presence and strength. Friedson and Jennings have a great dynamic, with Jennings’ Race often carrying Friedson’s Crutchie through dance numbers and chase scenes.
Olivia Clavel-Davis plays aspiring journalist Katherine, who gives the newsboy strike the voice and attention it needs to succeed. Clavel-Davis is a standout when she sings “Watch What Happens” with her lovely, clear tone and feisty attitude.
Brand-new newsboys Davey (Evan Hamilton) and Les (Caleb Dawkins) have found themselves selling papers because their dad is out of work. With their cleaner clothes, fresh faces, and smoother pronunciation, it is clear that they are much better off than the mostly homeless and family-less kids. But Bustillos’ Jack welcomes them with open arms, immediately recognizing the selling advantage of the young, innocent Les. Dawkins as Les is charming and has many scene-stealing moments with his unexpected confidence and posture, which is in opposition to his size.
And Kaya Harrison plays the bold Medda Larkin, who is one of the few adults on the side of the strikers. Larkin provides a safe haven for Jack and his friends and even offers up her theater to host their rally. Harrison brings the kindness and sympathy of Medda that Jack needs while also holding him accountable and challenging him to do more for himself. She sings the fun “That’s Rich” with perfect sarcasm and sass.
Most of the songs are sung by the full cast and are filled with layered harmonies, rounds, and ever-building power and emotion. Musical Director Justin DeLong has worked this cast to fully realize and express this gorgeous score.
There are many highlights, but the big show stoppers start with “Carrying the Banner” at the top of the show, which sets the bar high with its expression of the contrast to the newsboys’ poor positions to their joy and exuberance for a new day.
Their frustration and anger boils in “The World Will Know” as the group fights back against the paper price hike and decide to strike. And “Seize the Day” at the end of Act I punches up that fire further as the kids realize their strike is about more than papers but also the abuse and terrible working conditions of all the youth in New York City.
Newsies is known to be a dance-heavy show, and this production did not disappoint. Choreography by Brianna Galligan stays true to the show’s original style, and the actors do a phenomenal job executing the moves, especially the featured Dance Corps, including Sean Cator, Rachael Fine, Jeffrey Hollands, Victoria Jungck, and Ashley Sese.
There were some technical problems during the show. The sound went in and out multiple times, but it seemed related more to the venue’s equipment than to an execution issue. And the actors powered through, compensating with added projection and never faltering from their characters.
Also, the scene changes were a bit loud and clunky, but Galligan has filled the void by creating beautiful dance interludes, which carry the newsies across the stage while the transitions occur.
One change I would love to see is a simple adjustment in the clothesline that spans the stage in the rooftop scenes. Large items of clothing are hung on the line and block the view of the actors half the time. Smaller items spread out more sparsely would easily resolve the blocked views from the far right and left seats in the house.
All that aside, The Arlington Players’ Newsies directed by Emily “EJ” Jonas is overall an impressive, lively show that has fantastic performances from the entire ensemble, who sing and dance their faces off.
The music fills the heart to bursting, and the dancers are inspiring. Newsies has been one of my favorites since it originated from Disney and, thirty years later, the musical still instills the audience with the passion of expression, the importance of fighting for what’s right, and the joy of being surrounded by others who believe in you.
Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes, with one 10-minute intermission.
Disney’s Newsies plays through October 2, 2022, presented by The Arlington Players performing at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre at 125 S. Old Glebe Road, Arlington, VA. For tickets ($25 adults, $22 for seniors and military, $15 for students and children), call the box office at (703) 549-1063 or go online.
The cast, creative, and production credits for Newsies are here.
The performance on Sunday, October 2, will be ASL-interpreted.
COVID Safety: Masks are required at all times for all patrons regardless of vaccination status. See the company’s complete COVID protocol here: Vaccination Policy
Jack Kelly- Cristian Bustillos, Crutchie- Jesse Friedson, Race- John Jennings, Albert- Cameron Powell, Specs- Cady Denk, Henry- Eileen Parks, Finch- Victoria Jungck, Elmer- Cadence Gates, Romeo- Nathan Smith, Mush- Itsuko Scoville, Katherine- Olivia Clavel-Davis, Darcy- Emily Carbone, Nuns- Alicia Braxton, Joani Calles, and Angela Cirino, Morris Delancey- Emily Carbone, Oscar Delancey- Jeremy Venook, Wiesel- Angela Cirino, Davey- Evan Hamilton, Les- Caleb Dawkins, Joseph Pulitzer- Preston Grover, Seitz- Angela Cirino, Bunsen- Josh Hagins, Hannah- Joani Calles, Snyder-Will Shingler, Medda Larkin- Kaya Harrison, Stage Manager- Josh Hagins, Mr. Jacobi- Josh Hagins, Scabs- Ashley Sese, Sean Cator, and Jeremy Venook, Mayor- Alicia Braxton, Spot Conlon- Rachael Fine, Bill- Jeremy Venook, Governor Roosevelt- Josh Hagins, Dance Corps- Sean Cator, Rachael Fine, Jeffrey Hollands, Victoria Jungck, and Ashley Sese, Newsies Ensemble- Emily Carbone, Sean Cator, Cady Denk, Cadence Gates, Jeffrey Hollands, Eileen Parks, Itsuko Scoville, Ashley Sese, Nathan Smith, and Jeremy Venook, Adult Ensemble- Alicia Braxton, Joani Calles, Angela Cirino, Josh Hagins, and Will Shingler, Children’s Newsies Ensemble- Xander Johannesen, Samantha Regan, and Lucy Thiede
Producers- Austin Fodrie and Allison Gray-Mendes, Director- Emily “EJ” Jonas, Music Director- Justin DeLong, Orchestra Director- Jackie Owen, Choreographer- Brianna Galligan, Fight/Intimacy Choreographer- EJ Jonas, Stage Manager- Ramah Johnson, Set Design & Master Carpenter- Austin Fodrie, Properties Design- Griffin Voltmann, Set Dressing- Allison Gray-Mendes, Lighting Design- JK Lighting Design, Sound Design- David Yee, Costume Design- Anna Marquardt, Makeup & Hair Design- Robin Maline