When Disney resurrected its movie Newsies as a stage musical, the show won the 2012 Tony for best musical score and best choreography, both on vivid display in the dynamic revival now running at Media Theatre.
The show, with a Harvey Fierstein book, deletes a few of Alan Menken and Jack Feldman's songs from the movie, adds a few new ones, and touches up lyrics on the others. The rousing core story remains: New York City newspaper boys rise up to challenge Pulitzer and Hearst with a strike in 1899.
In Media's production, Jeff Sundheim is a full-voiced and pensive presence as Jack Kelly, the 16-year-old strike leader. In moments of despair, Jack sings "Santa Fe," a solo. But most songs build into choral numbers. Music director Ben Kapilow surprises you with his mix of harmonic arrangements that gracefully fade into cascades of dance.
Director Geoffrey Goldberg's choreography is an electrifying mix of balletic leaps, tap dancing, and acrobatics. Under set designer Kyle Brylczyk, the stage itself feels like it is in motion with its steel scaffolding and rotating props.
This world teems with joyous Lower East Side ragamuffins, outfitted by costume designer Carol Sorensen. Yet the kids worry their struggle is doomed unless the Brooklyn newsies join the fight. (In the real 1899 event, the lads did band together to cripple circulation of New York City newspapers for two weeks, then settled for a wage compromise.)
Jack has a best friend, Crutchie (Christopher Infantino), a kind of Tiny Tim character. Here, too, are Davey (Tony Clements, whose rendition of "Seize the Day" is elegant) and Katherine (Megan McDevitt), Jack's love interest.
Along with mysterious vaudeville chanteuse Medda (Ryane Nicole Studivant), they all join forces to give Jack the grit to take on Pulitzer (Kelly Briggs), who cares only about "The Bottom Line."
The musical captures the tumult of a strike but hits a speed bump late in Act Two with the song "Brooklyn's Here."
Because the arrival of the Brooklyn newsies is climactic, do we get a big choral and dance workup of the sort we have seen all night? Nope, we get a romantic duet instead.
Still, given today's global economy and its shadowy masters of the new bottom line, this high-energy show strikes a chord.