Monday, November 11, 2019

"Newsies" at Arena Stage

Content warning: Cartoon level on stage violence including police brutality, historically accurate ableist terminology 

I confess I had never seen "Newsies" all the way through before. I know. Not even the Jeremy Jordan version. It was a gap in my pop culture knowledge.
For those with similar gaps, "Newsies" is based on the strike of the newsboys in 1899 a price raise of the cost charged the the newsboys who sold the papers. De facto leader of the newsboys Jack takes new kid Davey and his cute brother under his wing as they take up newselling after their dad is injured at work. When the paper raises the price, the newsboys, who are making pennies as it is, decide to strike. They are encouraged by a reporter one can only describe as plucky who has been writing soft news, and wants real stuff.
This story was originally a Disney movie directed by Kenny Ortega, then turned into a stage production with a book by Harvey Fierstein, and it shows. What I mean is these are deep issues about child labor, the power of million and billionaires over their employees, and it is mostly an excuse for singing and dancing. I am not complaining, a night of Alan Menken songs is not a bad night.
The cast was wonderful, Arena regulars will recognize many of the adult characters. The newsies include female newsies, and there is an actual small child (pleyed by Josiah Smothers the night I saw it) and an actual high school senior which did the work of making those two look younger. 
The choerographer and director made excellent use of the full theater. Action moves into the aisles and even the seats at one point. You know it's a DC crowd when leaflets drop from the ceiling and one audience member in the front row visibly pauses to read it.
There is a tap number and some references to Santa Fe that had me checking who decided Santa Fe first Newsies or "Rent". All in all, a fun night of song and dance.