Review: Moonlight’s ‘Newsies’ headlined by fierce, high-flying fun


Sure, every reporter worth his or her ink stains has tap-danced around deadlines or performed the dodge-the-editor mambo. (Sorry, boss!) But the biz never looked half so fun — nor high-flying — as in the dazzlingly dance-happy “Newsies.”

Moonlight Stage Productions’ just-opened regional premiere of the 2012 movie-based musical bursts with personality, passion and talent — and like the defiant young newspaper hawkers it celebrates, this show knows how to make the sale.

If “Newsies” occasionally lets slip its Disney pedigree with a bit of over-earnestness or some turns toward the predictable, it still would take one sour son of a gun — or son of a newspaper mogul, given how those media titans get taken to task here — to out-and-out dislike this show.

Director Larry Raben marshals a versatile and diverse cast of nearly 30 to tell the history-inspired story of young, struggling paper-peddlers in 1899 New York. Many of these kids — including fast-talking Jack Kelly (Dillon Klena) and his hard-luck but upbeat pal, Crutchie (Austyn Myers) — are orphans who live on the mean streets and get by one newspaper sale at a time.

But those “papes” are about to become more precious: Publisher Joseph Pulitzer (Hank Stratton) sees an opportunity to gouge a bit more out of the newsies, and decides to raise the wholesale price of his New York World by a dime per 100.

“I’ll give them a lesson in economics!” Pulitzer exults, while one of the newsies laments: “I could eat for two days on a dime.”

So led by the pugnacious Jack, with a publicity assist from a tough young reporter by the pen name Katherine Plumber (Katharine McDonough), the newsies vow to make Pulitzer eat his words.

They form a union and announce their vow to strike on the stirring “The World Will Know,” one of many well-turned numbers by the go-to Disney composer Alan Menken. (Most of the show’s music, with lyrics by Jack Feldman, is from the 1992 movie; Harvey Fierstein adapted the story for the stage.)

The show’s leads are first-rate: Klena, in a major star turn, completely inhabits Jack from his New Yawk accent and renegade posturing (on such songs as the buoyant “Carrying the Banner”) to his glints of vulnerability — as played out in the wistful “Santa Fe,” which relates Jack’s dream of someday escaping the grit and grimness of the city.

McDonough is also steely and funny as the world-wise Kate, and unleashes a knockout vocal on the song “Watch What Happens”; there’s a winning give-and-take of comic chemistry between her and Klena.

Young Noah Baird is a cool and confident scene-stealer as the junior newsie Les, brother to newcomer Davey (Scott Arnold, also good). Shirley Johnston, as the vaudeville star Medda Larkin, brings sultry vocals to “That’s Rich,” and Stratton likewise sings with gusto on “The Bottom Line.”

And it’s a treat to see the ever-talented Myers, who grew up on San Diego’s stages, bring his appealing voice and ebullient spirit to the irrepressible Crutchie.

Karl Warden’s choreography is a wonder on number after number, backed by the work of musical director/conductor Randi Ellen Rudolph’s fine 11-member band, which brings out all kinds of satisfying old-tymey textures.

Warden’s work is especially splashy on “Seize the Day,” which gets the ensemble “skating” on newspapers; and “King of New York,” which shows off impressive tap-dancing chops by Baird and others. Those scenes are flattered by Jennifer Edwards’ rich range of lighting; the production’s costumes (coordinated by Carlotta Malone and Crystal Burden) and crisp sound (designed by Jim Zadai) also stand out.

There’s some irony to the themes of the show, given the labor troubles and wage questions Disney itself has faced lately.

But you have to feel a little of that rah-rah spirit when the ensemble marches out into the crowd to distribute copies of the newsies’ own underground paper.

The show may be a fictionalized take on what happened in 1899, but at Moonlight it’s still one rouser of a tale. And that ain’t fake news.

“Disney’s Newsies”

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays. (Doors open at 6:30 p.m.) Through Aug. 4.

Where: Moonlight Stage Productions at Moonlight Amphitheatre, 1250 Vale Terrace Drive (in Brengle Terrace Park), Vista.

Tickets: $17-$57.

Phone: (760) 724-2110


Twitter: @jimhebert