What’s New(sies) at the Incline?

This is one of the best productions I have seen at the Incline

Review by Doug Iden

It’s Good News for Cincinnati theatergoers as Disney’s Newsies explodes onto the stage at the Incline Theater.  Based upon the 1992 movie of the same name and loosely inspired by the Newsboy’s Strike of 1899, we see the plight of mostly orphaned or runaway teen boys in New York City who work by selling newspapers on the streets to the public. They keep whatever profit they make after purchasing the papers from the publishers.

As the sun rises on another hard-scrabble day, the erstwhile leader of the lower Manhattan newsies, Jack Kelly (Peter Neureuther) sings longingly of a heavenly place called “Santa Fe” to his buddy Crutchie (Evan Blust).  Kelly envisions a better life and has the imagination to picture it while never having actually seen it.  

They wake the other newsies in their poverty-ridden flophouse and march down to buy their newspapers.  While in line, Jack meets two new boys (Davey Jacobs played by Andrew Burke and his younger brother Les played by understudy Jack Treinen).  Unlike the other boys, the Jacob brothers have a family but their father is unemployed so they need to earn an income.   Jack immediately recognizes the intelligence of Davey and the charisma of Les so he decides to team up with them.

Meanwhile, actual historical character Joseph Pulitzer (played cunningly by Rodger Pille) is concerned that the New York World paper is losing money and circulation to the Hearst enterprise so decides to raise the price of the newspaper sold to the newsies.   Despite counterarguments from the staff that the increase would unfairly burden the children, Pulitzer justifies his decision by adding to “The Bottom Line”.  

Unbeknownst to the others, Jack is making some side money by painting backgrounds for a vaudeville theater run by Medda Larkin (Kyndra Dyanne Jeffries).  His talent is recognized by Larkin who later allows the newsies to have a crucial meeting to determine their destinies.

Infuriated by the price increase, Jack, Davie and Les spearhead a rebellion and establish a union to fight the rapacious capitalists running the city.  Their cause is joined by a young journalist, Katherine Plummer (Grace Marie Rusnica) trying to escape the Society Pages and move onto “hard news”.  Her article hits the front page (above the fold) and the newsies strike is now legitimate.  Suddenly, however, Jack and Katherine share a mutual attraction (“I Never Planned on You”).  However, Pulitzer and his minions strike back with violent attacks on the boys.  They respond with big production numbers “The World Will Know” and the union theme “Seize the Day”.

This is one of the best productions I have seen at the Incline with excellent and very exuberant choreography by Director Eric Byrd and uniformly good singing by the entire cast.  The Newsies (Ethan Kuchta, Henry Howland, Anderson Rothwell, Christian Arias, Nick Gundrum, Arianna Catalalano, Gabriel, Kanai Nakata and Kate Stark) bring an enormous energy and intensity to the stage through their singing and dancing.  Some even attempt a New York accent.  Two dance numbers in particular stand out.   In their defiance of the price increase, the newsies tear up some papers and dance on the shredded copy (reminiscent of a Gene Kelly routine in a 1940’s movie) and then do a number of gymnastics routines using chairs in the “King of New York” scene.  The entire cast of 25 people also participate in the singing and dancing.

Peter Neureuther is very compelling as Jack Kelly who can sing wistfully of Santa Fe, perform a lovely duet with Katherine (“Something to Believe in”), allow his pragmatism to show in negotiations with Pulitzer and participate in most of the rest of the songs and dances.  Rusnica is delightful as Katherine who also sings a solo (“Watch What Happens”) and does a good tap dance in another.  She too is a good singer.

Evan Blust as Crutchie is impressive with his ability to consistantly show a crippled foot while walking, dancing and singing with a crutch. His solo “Letter from the Refuge” is poignant after his capture by the strikebreakers.  

The static set designed by Brett Bowling is effective with an elevated catwalk including a silhouette of the city.  Numerous props including desks, a printing press (crucial to the story) and the newspapers add to the effect.  One prop of note are several surrealistic paintings and a political cartoon lampooning Pulitzer done by Alex Ross, Jeff Contrello and Alexis Facemyre.

The show had a brief run on Broadway and earned a Tony for best score by Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Aladdin, etc.) and lyricist Jack Feldman.  So, grab your glasses and read all the New(sies) that’s fit to print at the Incline Theater through June 26.  Get tickets for Disney’s Newsies HERE or call the Box Office at 513-241-6550.

Their next production will be a review of Jerry Herman music called Jerry’s Girls running from July 6 through July 31.

Doug Iden is an avid, lifelong theater fan with an extensive collection of original cast albums. He also teaches classes on musical theater at OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute).

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