Surely, the actors onstage these days at Slow Burn Theatre Company's Amaturo Theater are burning calories while wowing crowds with leaps, backflips, spins, somersaults, handstands, kicks, flips, jumps, cartwheels, and more.
Impressively, the performers make it all look effortless as they execute the forceful, physical choreography of the award-winning, irresistible stage musical adaptation of "Newsies" under director Patrick Fitzwater and choreographer Trent Soyster.
The production runs through Sunday, June 25.
Unquestionably, the vigorous choreography reinforces the characters' fearlessness and indomitability.
Call them unrelenting underdogs.
More specifically, "Newsies," based on the 1992 Disney film of the same title, tells the true tale of spirited, wisecracking youngsters in 1899 New York City who sell newspapers. When their boss, publisher Joseph Pulitzer, forces them to pay more for the very newspapers that they sell, the teens decide to strike. Of course, it's a David vs Goliath-like conflict as the poor, seemingly powerless boys battle the behemoth publisher.
But never underestimate young people with a strong purpose. Combine it with powerful resistance, and the result is riveting drama. Certainly, that is part of what librettist Harvey Fierstein, lyricist Jack Feldman, and composer Alan Menken offer us through the stage musical adaptation of "Newsies." In addition, Menken ("Beauty and the Beast," "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin") has composed unforgettable songs that, together with Feldman's smart lyrics, deepen emotions.
Perhaps you've seen the film. While it failed at the box office and critics panned the movie, it created a cult following among youngsters. These "Newsies" lovers dubbed themselves "Fansies." Fortunately, they are just as likely to adore the stage musical.
The live adaptation experienced its world premiere production at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse in 2011. And a year later, it made its Broadway debut, ultimately running for more than 1,000 performances before touring.
Without preaching, "Newsies" highlights the role of unions, and the Newsies essentially form one. Their leader is Jack Kelly, a young man torn between remaining in New York with his fellow Newsies and moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The notion of moving out west appeals to Kelly so much that he sings an anthem-like song about his desire. Samuel Cadieux injects Kelly with a cool charisma and a bravery that endears us to the character.
Indeed, a face to face meeting with Pulitzer (Matthew Korinko) doesn't seem in the least intimidating to Kelly. Cadieux also invests Kelly with dreaminess and determination, particularly during the song, "Santa Fe."
And he is sweetly sensitive during his interactions with Katherine, played by Lea Marinelli. Katherine, wants to be a star reporter. However, many apparently believed at the time that female journalists should only write for the society pages or cover ballet. But Katherine, an underdog, like the Newsies, is living in turn-of-the-century America, change is happening, and she is not about to let her gender keep her from her dream. She has a strong goal, an ambitious streak, and covering the Newsies' strike could prove to be her key to achieving journalistic stardom.
Katherine is outspoken but never arrogant. And Marinelli endows the reporter with fearlessness, ambition, independence, and charm is a winning combination. Speaking of Katherine, a surprising revelation toward the end locks her in an inner conflict between loyalty and betrayal.
During her scenes with Cadieux as Kelly, the duo display strong chemistry.
Certainly, Kelly is a loyal character and his desire to move out west does not make us question his loyalty. Rather, we can understand his reasons for wanting to move away from the rough and tumble streets of New York to a more quiet, open area.
In the stage musical, Kelly effects change more so than in the movie. In particular, in the live show, Kelly, in addition to selling papers, is an artist. Through art, he makes others see the injustices happening before him.
As Davey, Mickey White lends the character believable earnestness and unwavering loyalty to his younger brother, Les. Les is the only child character in the stage adaptation. Child actor Nate Colton charms and commands the stage in the role, making the boy assertive and inquisitive, not merely cute.
The other Newsies are in their late teens, although actors who are slightly older usually portray them. Like Kelly, Davey exhibits leadership ability and White believably conveys this quality.
Another likable character is the appropriately-named Crutchie — a disabled boy who walks with crutches. He may be hindered, but you cannot easily stymie his spirit. In the role, Joel Hunt imbues Crutchie with an optimistic resilience that endears us to him. Chances are, a feeling of triumph washes over us at the end, when authorities allow Crutchie to handcuff the corrupt Synder, the warden of a filthy and horrible orphanage.
An imposing Michael Cartwright ably portrays Snyder. Snyder is one of a handful of villains in "Newsies." Obviously, another is Pulitzer. Korinko commandingly portrays the publisher with a no-nonsense, stern demeanor. His Pulitzer is despicable, as he should be.
Other standout performances include one by Kareema Khouri. She plays vaudeville performer Medda Larkin with warmth and elegance. The character supports the Newsies and offers them shelter.
The large cast wears costume designer Rick Pena's period, character-befitting clothing. And lighting designer Clifford Spulock illuminates the actors. Spulock's lighting focuses the performers and also intensifies the action with harsh, diagonal lighting.
Appropriately, the lighting is bright during upbeat scenes and dimmer during darker, more introspective moments.
Generally, the performers possess clear and expressive singing voices. Pre-recorded tracks ably accompany them as they sing Menken and Feldman's unforgettable score. It includes numbers such as the show-stopping "King of New York," the forceful, attention-grabbing "The World Will Know," "Seize the Day, which carries an air of strong purpose, and the yearning "Santa Fe."
The stage show also includes new numbers which, along with Feldman's lyrics, define character and set mood.
Marinelli impressively sings one number that sounds like a tongue-twisting, patter song.
Under Fitzwater's astute direction, the production unfolds seamlessly and the pace is just right. Also, an attention to detail exists.
Overall, the quality of this production is what we have come to expect from Slow Burn Theatre Company. Its mission is to showcase the best of contemporary musical theater to South Florida audiences by producing high-quality shows.
At times, during the reviewed performance, the sound cut in and out. Hopefully, Fitzwater, who handles the sound and wig design, has fixed that problem.
Scenic designer Kelly Tighe has created a large, sturdy-looking structure as the main set piece. On one side, we see a series of staircases leading to a top level. The different levels allow Fitzwater to highlight performers and they also ensure variety. For instance, at times the actors stand close together, reinforcing strong solidarity between the characters. At other times, some actors stand on one level, while others are higher, providing us with a different stage picture.
In between scenes, the performers, or perhaps stagehands, turn the main set piece around to suggest other locales. They include a theater and Pulitzer's stately office, complete with period details.
Also, as part of the set, Tighe has included three clotheslines sporting white sheets of various sizes. Sometimes they rest on stage. For other scenes, they ascend out of view. The purpose of the clotheslines and sheets is not clear.
The set also includes a board that allows us to, for instance, see the words that Katherine types for her articles (the projection designer is Andre Russell). We also see a slightly discernible skyline of New York City and big headlines coming at us.
While set pieces dot the stage, Tighe leaves plenty of room for the actors to move and execute the physical choreography. It is more focused than in the film. For example, the dances include a defiant one during which the Newsies stomp on newspapers, tear them with their feet, and toss them. Of course, this symbolizes their protest.
Sound elements include a drumbeat suggesting a march or a war. Make no mistake: These Newsies are fighting a battle, with the odds heavily stacked against them.
While this season has ended, you can look forward to more first-rate live theater starting in the fall. The 2023-24 lineup includes "Into the Woods," "The Little Mermaid," "Sister Act," "The Prom," and "The Spongebob Musical."
Slow Burn Theatre Company's production of "Newsies" runs through Sunday, June 25 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts' Amaturo Theater, 201 S.W. 5th Ave. in Ft. Lauderdale. Tickets start at $49. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, as well as 6:30 p.m. June 18. For more information, go to www.slowburntheatre.org. Call (954) 462-0222 .