Extra! Extra! Watch all about it!

by Mindy Leaf

Breaking news! Slow Burn Theatre Company ends their famously popular 2022/2023 season with one more exhilarating, high-energy extravaganza!

NEWSIES: THE BROADWAY MUSICAL is captivating audiences of all ages at Broward Center’s Amaturo Theatre through June 25. Based on the 1992 Disney movie, it features a Tony-award-winning score by theater titans Alan Menken (“Little Shop of Horrors,” “Sister Act”) and Jack Feldman, and a book by Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein (“Kinky Boots”). Best of all, this musical is inspired by a true, heartwarming and heart wrenching story set in old New York at the turn of the 20th century. A time of child labor, struggling unions, all-powerful media moguls … um, how far have we really come? 

Standing up and striking for their rights. The cast of Disney’s NEWSIES ignites
Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater stage through June 25. Leading the charge is Samuel
Cadieux as Jack Kelly, flanked at the left by little Nate Colton as Les, Mickey White as
his brother Davey and, to the right, Joel Hunt as Crutchie. Photos by Larry Marano.

Back then young boys and some girls (as young as seven through their teens) called “newsies” bought, and then hawked, daily newspapers (owned by names like Pulitzer and Hearst) on the streets of New York City. In the summer of 1899 they went on strike for two weeks when publishers decided to raise distribution prices at the newsboys’ expense. (They were forced to buy the papers first and part of their union’s ultimate win would include refunds for unsold copies.) 

The two-and-a-half hour musical (with one intermission) is an amazing “Broadway can’t do it better” production that dazzles and delights through memorable songs – both poignant and invigorating – awesome dance numbers, and striking scene changes that are a testament to the incredibly talented cast and creative team. Quality we’ve come to expect from our locally celebrated Slow Burn brand, but impressive nonetheless. 

Multiple Carbonell and Silver Palm award-winning artistic director (and co-founder) Patrick Fitzwater once again shines as director (as he has for all of the company’s 62 performances). Here he’s also credited with sound and wig design. When an enthusiastic (as always) Fitzwater leaped onto the stage on opening night to welcome the audience and introduce “Newsies” and their upcoming season, he received a well-deserved star reception. I’ve been a loyal Slow Burn follower since he and executive director (and co-founder) Matthew Korinko’s earliest productions on a high school stage far out west. This stubbornly local company has managed to achieve nary the impossible – start out great and just keep getting better. And in this show we get to once again enjoy Korinko, the actor, in his portrayal of ruthless publishing giant Joseph Pulitzer. 

Proving a young lady can have great ideas while singing and dancing up a storm is
unsinkable Lea Marinelli as reporter Katherine Plumber in Slow Burn’s NEWSIES,
now playing at Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater.

Every part of what makes a musical special excels here – song, dance, storyline, setting, costumes and scenery. But there’s no denying that “Newsies” is number one in dance. From the outset, elaborate all-male dance numbers (later joined by one terrific lady) highlight each participant in incredible gymnastic leaps through the air, somersaults, tumbles, powerful modern dance moves and traditional tap. If you’re only a fan of dance, you need to see this show. Accolades to choreographer Trent Soyster, dance captain Austin Carroll and his assistant Samuel Colina. Most of the leads are amazing “triple threats” (actors, singers, dancers) as well, but here I’d like to also give a  shout out to the dance ensemble whose high-stepping high-jinx support almost every scene. 

“Newsies” opens to early morning light on a rooftop atop strings of laundry held by fire escape-like scaffolding in a lower class part of Lower Manhattan. This scaffold-type scenic design by Kelly Tighe frequently spins around, manifesting set change wonders throughout the show. All complemented by evocative cityscapes and painted mural projections by Andre Russell, lighting design by Clifford Spulock and Michael Ursua’s music direction. Meanwhile resident costume designer Rick Pena perfectly outfits the cast in authentic period dress, no matter their class.  

The introductory song “Santa Fe” by lead newsboy Jack Kelly (Samuel Cadieux) and his adopted “brother” with a bum leg, crutch dependent Crutchie (Joel Hunt) speaks to their fantasy dream of clean air and a quiet life far from their struggles to survive in the mean streets of Manhattan. I, for one, was surprised to learn that the majority of these young newspaper hawkers were both homeless and parentless, too busy earning pennies for food to attend school and forever on their guard against an even crueler fate, i.e. lock up at The Refuge, a horrendous juvenile detention center run purely for profit. Crutchie’s haunting solo “Letter from The Refuge” in Act II provides impetus for the newsie union to include all under 21s in sweat shops and low-wage positions throughout the city to join their strike for a brighter, more humane future. 

Kareema Khouri as burlesque theater owner Medda Larkin brings down the house with
her powerful opening number while entranced newsie brothers Davey and Les peek
from the back alongside a beautiful pastoral scene painted by artistically talented strike
leader, Jack Kelly.

Wide newspaper coverage of a recent trolley strike is mentioned early on as an activist model. When two brothers who actually have a mom and dad join Jack’s newsies to help support the family, we learn of their father’s tragic work-related disability and how a union might have saved his life. These roles are played by Mickey White as Davey and Nate Colton as his nine-year-old brother Les (you might recognize this impressive kid from his part as Mr. Banks’ son in “Mary Poppins”). Newspaper coverage of their strike is how they ultimately succeed in spreading the word to newsies across all five boroughs and the public. Despite Pulitzer’s best attempts to stop the presses by stating: “If it’s not in the papers, it never happened.”

What does happen is young garden-and-social pages reporter Katherine Plumber’s (Lea Marinelli) determination to cover a major news story, not to mention her unexpected attraction to Jack. Katherine’s quick-thinking, singing, then manic typing attempts at getting it just right in “Watch What Happens” is a wonder to behold (and particularly resonates with this journalist). While the “Something to Believe In” romantic rooftop scene between her and Jack makes anything seem possible. 

Indeed Katherine’s resoluteness in opposition to the status quo – along with her connections among the second, younger generation of publishing icons – end up saving the day when “The Newsies Banner” special edition paper highlights the dismal work conditions of young people everywhere and calls on all under 21s to strike. Printed in secret at a basement press, newsies then distribute it throughout the city.

Serving as an oasis for Jack – a place where he can relax and be celebrated for his artistic talent – is Medda Larkin’s (Kareema Khouri) burlesque-style theater. Khouri’s powerful rendition of “That’s Rich” is simply a showstopper. In addition to serving as a quasi-mother figure to Jack, she donates use of her theater space for a citywide rally of young strikers. We all cheer at the last holdout arrival of tough guys from what’s effectively “the third largest city,” Brooklyn, and their high-impact number, “Brooklyn’s Here,” featuring Spot Conlon (John Casaveno) and the newsies. 

Still, it’s not all smooth sailing from there. The newsies continue to grapple with obstacles – both physically and emotionally. There even comes a time when Jack doubts the feasibility of continuing the good fight in what reporter Katherine describes (among numerous headline-grabbing phrases) as a conflict between David and Goliath. I was truly horrified when Joseph Pulitzer unleashed his bullies to beat up the strikers and, when they thought the cops had finally come to their rescue, these patrolmen viciously joined in, even attempting to round up the “rabble-rousers” and dispatch them to juvy detention. (Here highlighting the talents of Tim Canali as fight director and John Casaveno as fight captain.) 

So it is a great relief when help comes from fellow newsies and, finally, long overdue justice from Governor Roosevelt (Michael Materdomini). He has read and is touched by their special edition paper, condemns the evils wrought by those in power and sets out to make things right. Introducing the finale is a reprise of one of the musical’s most famous numbers, “Seize the Day.” Of course this superb cast then danced onto the stage for a long and well-deserved standing ovation.

Disney’s NEWSIES: THE BROADWAY MUSICAL captures the hearts of young and old alike at Broward Center’s perfectly sized Amaturo Theater through June 25. The premier performing arts venue is located in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale’s Arts & Entertainment District at 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale 33312. For tickets, log into www.slowburntheatre.org, or call 954-462-0222. Tickets can also be purchased in person at the Broward Center Box Office. Make sure to check out the theater’s website for a just-announced look at their exciting 2023/2024 upcoming season. It starts in October but you can already get a deal on a season pass or reserve individual seats to your favorite shows.

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