By Dale King
Newsies takes a high-energy, somersault-flipping, song-filled dip into a generally factual, historic event — a work stoppage involving newspaper delivery boys, called “newsies” — at the end of the 19th century.
The show, a thought-provoking, entertaining and entrancing tale about industrious street kids with a genuine interest in righting wrongs — particularly when they are the ones being taken advantage of — is the final production of the 2022-2023 season at Lake Worth Playhouse. As at least one character in the performance notes, “it’s a doozy.”
The show — based on a book by Harvey Fierstein (Kinky Boots), with delightful music by Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Sister Act) and lyrics by Jack Feldman — is inspired by the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 that emboldened a rag-tag group of street kids into a force for justice.
It’s a bit difficult to fathom how a stage play about a labor strike can offer up a bright side. But this one does, with lots of rousing songs, dynamic dance numbers created by a veteran choreographer, an appealing cast and a story that’s pleasurable and only touched by hints of sadness.
The musical premiered at the Paper Mill Playhouse in 2011 and made its Broadway debut in 2012, where it played for more than 1,000 performances before going on tour.
Newsies is set on the mean streets of New York City, where a group of newsboys live in a dingy Lower Manhattan lodging house known as the Refuge with their informal leader, street-smart 17-year-old Jack Kelly (Chris Ombres), a rebellious, but highly artistic teen with dreams of leaving New York for a better life out West (“Santa Fe (Prologue)”).
Thoughts of traveling to New Mexico repeat frequently throughout the show. But before that hope comes to pass, their boss, the nasty, hard-hearted publisher of the New York World, Joseph Pulitzer, decides to jack up his own finances by increasing the cost of the papers purchased by the newsies. Outraged, Jack declares he and his colleagues to be a union and organizes a protest (“The World Will Know”).
Journalist Katherine Plumber (Lara Williams), a sharp-witted, brainy scribe, decides to cover the strike, seeing it as an opportunity to be taken more seriously as a reporter (“Watch What Happens”).
As one might expect, the halt in newspaper sales has many chaotic ups and downs. Scabs (non-union workers) arrive to take on the newsies but end up joining forces with them. Pulitzer’s stooge squad comes on board, fights break out and the police intervene, seriously injuring Crutchie (Grayson Quinn Master) and causing Jack to flee, but he returns for a touching Act I finale.
The plot takes various twists and turns as the striking newsies consider whether to continue the job action or call it off.
In addition to putting labor relations on the front burner, Newsies’ tuneful score contains uncompromising, fist-in-the-air production numbers, such as the sensational, tap-dancing spectacle “King of New York” and the show’s signature song, “Seize the Day,” a fitting ongoing tune and finale piece.
The show features a notable performance by Ombres — a frequent Lake Worth Playhouse performer adept at singing and acting — as the newsies’ charismatic leader. Williams plays the scrappy Katherine, Jack’s eventual love interest, with aplomb. Her spotlight moment, “Watch What Happens,” sets up a stage-filling dance number that brings out virtually all 43 performers in the show.
Alex Martinez portrays Davey, the tall and wise newsie, and Scott Segall is bold, brassy and nasty as Pulitzer’s menacing, paper-shilling mug, Wiesel — who acts true to his name.
Director Dan Eilola, the Playhouse’s artistic director, has rounded up a stellar cast that also includes tiny 10-year-old Zachary Lieberman as the feisty little newsie, Les. Steven Toffler is particularly tough, cruel and unfeeling as Pulitzer.
Plaudits are definitely in order for choreographer Kassie Mieler, whose dancing direction is top-notch. In fact, the show’s foot-stomping fare that mixes brilliantly with acrobatic moves and gymnastic flips virtually steals the show.
Newsies: The Musical, plays through April 30 at the Lake Worth Playhouse, 713 Lake Ave., downtown Lake Worth Beach. Tickets for the last performance of its 70 th season can be purchased by calling 561-586-6410 or by visiting www.lakeworthplayhouse.org.