NEWSIES Reigns ‘King of New York’ at the John W. Engeman Theater At Northport
July 27, 2018
By Jaime Zahl
The second act of Disney’s “Newsies” opens with a show-stopping number titled “King of New York,” in which the Newsies celebrate their newfound celebrity in the press. The cast and production team of the John W. Engeman Theater’s stunning production have equal reason to celebrate. Bringing to life a spectacle of pure entertainment, they earn the title of “King of New York” – or Long Island, rather.
The musical began as a venture at The Papermill Playhouse, featuring emerging talents such as Jeremy Jordan, Ben Fankhauser and Kara Lindsay. When the Broadway run was announced, Mr. Fankhauser – who originated the role of Davey- recalled in an interview that it was meant to be a limited run of approximately 100 performances. No one anticipated the cult following that would emerge, with self-proclaimed “Fansies” making their pilgrimage to New York City to see the musical adaptation of the live-action Disney musical film that captured their imaginations in 1992 and the years to follow.
It’s fitting that the musical has now become a regional theatre favorite, giving those “Fansies” the opportunity to see the show in their own towns. Engeman’s production may be the first of “Newsies” on Long Island, but it certainly won’t be the last.
The remarkable magic of Engeman’s production is that it cleverly combines the lively expanded and revised score and new book of the Broadway production with the delightful campiness of the 1992 film while also tossing in a few original strokes of creativity.
Set in 1899, the musical – based on actual events – tells the story of Manhattan newsboys facing off against newspaper giant Joseph Pulitzer after he raises the cost of selling “papes.”
Leading the charge is Dan Tracy as the charismatic Jack Kelly. While many fans will find it hard to put Jeremy Jordan‘s tour de force in the Broadway incarnation out of their minds, Mr. Tracy shapes his own interpretation of the character with a balance of wise cracking charm and fighting spirit. Although it is clear his talents as an actor outshine his vocal abilities, Mr. Tracy still gives each number his all – especially in the conclusion of Act II with the powerful “Santa Fe.”
Mike Cefalo plays Davey with true vitality and provides some of the strongest vocals in the show, highlighted in the crowd pleasing “Seize the Day.”
While Mr. Podair’s Les certainly has pep and shows his promise as a performer, the character is written with such an overindulgence of cute that his presence becomes more of a hindrance than an asset.
Meanwhile, Mr. Martinez comes close to stealing the show with his palpable vulnerability and wide-eyed hopefulness. His song “Letter From the Refuge,” written for the national tour and cemented in regional and community productions, is truly heartwrenching.
Fans of the film may not remember the character of Katherine Plumber, the plucky reporter covering the strike for The New York Sun. A hybrid of reporter Bill Pullman and Davey’s sister from the film, she provides a voice for the newsies in the headlines while also serving as a love interest for Jack. Whitney Winfield is perfectly suited for the role, shining brightly in “Watch What Happens,” a reporter’s anthem for writer’s block.
Rounding out the cast is none other than Mr. Joseph Pulitzer himself, played menacingly by Tom Lucca in a brilliant, timely display of power thirsting authority. The musical also features the impressive Allyson Kaye Daniel as vaudeville songstress turned motherly mentor for the newsies.
However, audiences will likely remember the production for the sheer athleticism and skill exhibited by the chorus of newsboys. Although one could argue there are one too many choreographed reprises of the opening song “Carrying the Banner,” each and every leap, turn and backflip is awe-inspiring.
This is especially true in “King of New York.” Although originally presented as a tap number, choreographer Sandalio Alvarez breathes new life into the scene with dance breaks featuring Stomp-like moves with spoons and pots and pans.
The entire creative team is top-notch with both beautiful and movement-friendly period costumes by Kurt Alger and the impressive technical execution of Zach Blane‘s lighting design and Laura Shubert‘s sound design.
Additionally, scenic designer DT Willis has created a jungle-gym of rooftops and fire escapes to bring turn-of-the-century Manhattan to life on stage, bringing Igor Goldin‘s vision to life and complimenting his staging.
While Newsies may not be a profound experience for the high-brow set looking for the next “The Band’s Visit,” it is certainly a romping good time. Engeman’s production will surely ignite a repeat of opening night’s thunderous standing ovation for its entire run.