A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW
The FSCJ Artist Series and the Nathan Wilson Center for the Arts are presenting the 14th annual High School Summer Musical Theatre Experience (SMTE) with the staging of Disney’s Newsies during July 19 – 28, 2019. This wonderful summer program was created by Beth Harvey, Director of the Wilson Center and Managing Producer of the Summer Musical. The center is located at 11901 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida.
Newsies began as a musical film in 1992, was adapted for the stage in 2011, and debuted on Broadway in 2012, winning Tonys for Best Original Score and Best Choreography. The extravaganza is filled with energetic singing and dancing combined with history.
The story is based on a strike in New York by newsboys in 1899. Before radio and television, newspapers were published in two runs: a morning edition for home delivery and an afternoon edition sold on the streets by young boys and girls. They paid 50 cents for a stack of 100 copies. Customers paid 1 cent for each copy, so the kids received a half-cent for each copy sold. The publishers did not buy back unsold papers. Joseph Pulitzer (Johnny Flannagan), a major figure in publishing, decided to increase sales by raising the price to 60 cents for 100 copies, reasoning this would force their workers to sell additional copies. He miscalculated; they rebelled and organized a strike instead.
The protest is organized by newsboy Jack Kelly (Gray Prozzi), assisted by buddies Davey (Jeremy Ferri) and Les (Samuel Nelson). The group is supported in different ways by Katherine Plumber (Kaylee Hendry), a young reporter, and Teddy Roosevelt (Brevan Heaton), who was New York’s governor at the time.
The dancing is marvelously choreographed by the talented Curtis Williams and Assistant Choreographer Olivia Phillips; the Dance Captains were Liberty Frederickson and Ryleigh Taylor. Christian Nyman, the Musical Director, has individuals and groups belting out rousing songs that include “Carrying the Banner,”” Seize the Day,” and “King of New York.” Kudos as well go to Auggie Pulliam, who sang a stirring solo in his appearance as the disabled Crutchie; he is not disabled in real life but was convincing on stage. We were also impressed by the colorful nightclub scene featuring “That’s Rich,” an outstanding solo by Jade Livingston as Medda Larkin.
The show was directed by Michael Lipp, who has previously directed two other SMTE productions: Peter Pan and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The man is tireless when it comes to theatre – since arriving in Jacksonville some years ago, he has directed eighty or so shows, and he has also appeared in a number of stage roles. He is very much in demand; look for his name as director at several other theatres during the next few months.
The set portraying New York during the era is fantastic, with two towering moveable buildings depicting the skyline; they were built under the direction of Johnny Pettegrew, Technical Director and Lighting Designers. The large construction crew led by Chris McKinney (Set Designer) included Sam Parker (Technical Director) and Robert Rupp (Scene Shop Supervisor).
The Costume Crew once again came up with the many costumes needed to portray the characters, which included many drab outfits and hats for the newsies, as well as attention-getting dresses for the nightclub scene and tailored attire for the upper-class gentlemen.
One of the surprises for the audience is a different approach to the program: after entering the lobby, you will find newsboys offering a newspaper which provides 16 pages of information about the history of SMTE, and the cast and crew.
We usually attempt to list all cast members and support staff in our reviews, but in this case there are too many to include: the program lists 87 high school cast and crew participants!
This musical is about newspapers; in this digital age, some readers may wonder where they are. During 2004 – 2013, 1,800 newspapers ceased printing. In the US, 2,000 counties don’t have a newspaper, no one sells papers on the streets these days, and newspaper boxes and racks have largely disappeared. And while “Newsies” has an upbeat ending, it can also lead us to question if newspapers will remain available for us to read during the foreseeable future.