Northeast Florida Conservatory Theatre Review: Newsies – The Broadway Musical

A DUAL CITICS REVIEW

Jacksonville’s Northeast Florida Conservatory, in cooperation with the Haskell Company, opened Disney’s delightful “Newsies – The Broadway Musical” on July 20, 2018. The production will run through July 29 at 11363 San Jose Boulevard, Building 200. For reservations, call 904-374-8639 or visit nfconservatory.org.

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Under Richard Dickson, Founder and Executive Director, the Conservatory opened its doors in 2010, offering private music lessons and a community orchestra. Dickson rapidly expanded programming and began to produce musicals in a neighborhood with little in the way of theatre. Disney’s “Newsies” is the thirteenth musical production staged, each with great success and many sold out performances. The organization is a non-profit.

“Newsies” is an interesting musical, as patrons experience both a Tony Award Winner (Best Score, Best Choreography) filled with high energy dancing and an on-stage history lesson

The musical is based on a 1992 film about the newsboys’ strike of 1899. Didn’t know there was one? In the days before radio and television, many newspapers published a morning edition for home delivery, followed by an afternoon edition hawked on the streets by young boys. The newsboys paid 50 cents for a bundle of 100 copies, which they sold for 1 cent each, a paltry half-cent profit for each copy sold; the exploitive owners did not buy back unsold papers. When the owners raised their sales price to 60 cents for 100 copies, the boys rebelled and organized a strike. Joseph Pulitzer (expertly played in this production by Andy Moritz) was a major figure in publishing at the time.

When the price of the papers goes up, newsboy Jack Kelly (played by Luke Gilboy, Fletcher High Junior) aided by Davey (Alexander Lawless) and his younger brother Les (Ari Walz) organizes a protest. The group is assisted by Katherine (Meghan Kocher, UNF Student), a young attractive reporter. (The role is double cast, you may be seeing Kailey Haddock on stage when you go). New York Governor Teddy Roosevelt, realistically portrayed by Gavin Turner, also supports the reforms demanded by the boys.

Although there are a number of adults in the show, the action belongs to the boys (and the young ladies dressed as boys with hair tucked under caps). The production is filled with more dancing than we expected; dancing that includes breath-taking leaps while the cast belts out rousing songs that include “Carrying the Banner,” “Seize the Day,” and “King of New York.” The audience was surprised and delighted by the repeated back flips of Race (Andrew Keck) who sported an unlit cigar as an accompaniment to his acrobatic skills. The choreography by Savery Morgan and Garrett Bennett was superb. Mr. Bennett also portrayed Jack Kelly’s disabled friend Crutchie. Kudos go to all the dancers for their mastery of the many routines and songs.

Most of the action took place on an open stage, with a few pieces of furniture added for the publisher’s office, and the distribution site for the newsboys’ daily purchases. Andrew Ocean was the stage manager, who kept everthing moving along.

Costumer Juanelle Marshall must have searched far and wide to find the drab clothing worn by most of the cast; these kids were poor and colorful clothing would not have been found in their wardrobes. In contrast, colorful garments were worn by nightclub singer Medda Larkin (Ella Kemna) and Adele Lawless and Savannah Lawless, her two assistants.

Musical Director Richard Dickson led the fine orchestra featuring Brenna Rodriquez (Piano), Beth Shorstein and Leah Kosiek (Violins), Ginger Dodd (Cello), Jill Morgan (Flute), Monica Mathews (Clarinet), Robbie Zukaukas (Saxophones), Bill Watson (Trumpet), Will Robinson (Trombone), Frank Coraggio (Bass), and Steve Birthisel (Drums).

Actress Izzy Hague, who played Miss Hannigan in NFC’s 2017 production of “Annie,” directed this challenging show, which was her NFC directorial debut. We are looking forward to seeing more of her in this role in the future.

Others in this large cast included Aaron Gibson (Mush) Abby Douglas (Elmer/Darcy), Ava Billings (Spot Conlon),Bianca Montello (JoJo), Brennan Moritz (Tommy Boy), Caragh Zeigler (Finch),Christian Douglas (Albert), Evan Billings (Morris Delancey), Grace Rodriquez (Specs), Camille Ziegler (Newsie), Brynna McCarthy (Daughter/Goon), Gregory Schuknecht (Splasher), Jane Rodriquez (Ike), Joseph Howard (Seitz/Bill), Liam Lavery (Buttons/Goon), Madaline Krawchuk (Bunsen),Troy Kocher (Romeo), Will Kemna (Henry), Alexandra Wellington (Newsie)William Hague (Mike),’Harrison Montz (Oscar Delancey), Chase Lawless (Snyder), Andrew Ocean ( Jacobi/ Mayor/ Nunzio), Matt Kocher (Police/Guard/Photographer).

We appreciate the excellent program that featured a color photo and brief bio of the performers and production staff.

“Newsies” debuted on Broadway in 2012 and played for more than a thousand performances.  Both kids and adults will love this show; we certainly enjoyed watching the talented performers.

Coming up next at the Northeast Florida Conservatory is “Anything Goes,” an all time favorite with songs and lyrics by Cole Porter, on stage during November 9 –18, 2018. Auditions are scheduled for August 11, 2018.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.

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