A curious thing happens at the start of Globe Live and 9 Works Theatrical’s production of Disney’s “Newsies” (directed by Robbie Guevara). Executive producer Joe Caliro, introduces every show by saying “the better the audience, the better the show you’ll see”, and teaching the crowd how to stand in ovation— just in case it comes in handy.
It’s not every day audiences are told point-blank they better enjoy the show they’re about to witness, but to be fair, this local production has plenty to boast. The electrifying, tireless ensemble (choreographer PJ Rebuillida has outdone himself), ingenious set design (Ed Lacson Jr.’s moving pieces make for one jaw-dropping transformation), and capable, charismatic lead (Gian Magdangal is back with a vengeance) all lend themselves in making this 9 Works Theatrical’s best show in recent memory.
Based on a 1992 Disney film on the newsboys strike of 1899, “Newsies” (book by Harvey Fierstein, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and music by Alan Menken) is about a group of orphan paperboys in New York—led by Jack Kelly (Magdangal)—who unionize and go on strike after Joseph Pulitzer (Greg Dulcie) raises the cost of ‘papes’ for the newsies. Timely, as we live in an age where unequal pay and corporate distrust are at a high, newspaper circulations are near obsolete, and people are remembering the impact of mobilizing by large numbers to effect real, tangible change.
While none of the cast can pass for teenagers by any stretch of the imagination, the ensemble perform with unrelenting energy akin to young men about a decade or so younger than they are. Their on-stage dynamism is the product of 9 Works Theatrical’s “Training Ground”, a six-week boot camp that aimed to turn their cast into ‘triple threats’.
The clear focus on dance paid off, as the show’s strongest moments involve the whole company. It’s power by the numbers from the early “Carrying the Banner” and 2nd act’s big tap number, “King of New York”, to the show’s Finale where every cast member is given a few beats to pull a stunt to the cheers of an impressed audience.
Rebullida’s choreography put the Globe Iconic stage’s ample real estate (it’s singular advantage) to good use, orchestrating jumps, backflips, pirouettes and synchronized, blazing movement that enthrall and entertain while leaving the show’s quieter scenes to dust. Indeed, any moment where a dozen or so dancers aren’t leaping off the stage drag in comparison, with only Magdangal (especially in act 1’s final number, “Santa Fe”) and Dulcie delivering even performances that commanded attention in every scene they’re in.
“Newsies” is very much a boys club, and it didn’t help that Danielle Chopin (playing one of only two noteworthy female roles in a cast of 20 or so) gave an unvaried performance as Katherine Plumber. Other cast members with featured roles were similarly dwarfed by the production numbers.
The set was more of a highlight. GA Fallarme’s rich and textured projections compliment well with Lacson’s set: three large moving pieces that look like the inside of a turn-of-the-century machinery. They shift from low-rent, bare-bones New York tenements, to the backstage of a theater, and even—in an act 2 highlight—a larger than life printing press complete with turning cogs.
The show’s tech isn’t perfect, as the amphitheater’s sound system drowns out lyrics of the show’s louder, livelier songs. The weather, too, becomes an issue as is the case during the gala night (it was raining hard throughout the show). Even music from nearby establishments can be heard from inside, making it that much more difficult to immerse yourself into the show’s narrative.
Still, Globe Live and 9 Works Theatrical has put together a crowd-pleaser that has undoubtedly set a precedent for locally-produced dance musicals. In case you’re moved to leap off your seat at the end of the show, at least you’ll have learned how.
*Photography by Erica Jacinto