By Jade Goodes
Open the gates and seize the day with McKeesport Little Theater in their latest production of Disney’s Newsies. Based on the 1992 film of the same name, the stage adaptation brings the memorable scenes from the movie to life while adding a few new characters and songs to set it apart from its predecessor. While MLT’s production doesn’t capture the energy and heart that makes Newsies great, they make up for it with performances from brilliant cast members.
Loosely based on the true story of the Newsboys strike of 1899, Newsies takes place in New York City, following closely after the end of The Spanish-American War. The newspaper industry has taken a hit with no big news stories to cover, thus hurting their profits and circulation. To make up for their loss in profits, Joseph Pulitzer, head of The New York World, decides to charge the Newsies more for their papers. Outraged, the Newsies go on strike while fighting for their rights and raising awareness of the working and living conditions of the children of New York City.
Newsies is traditionally a large-scale production typically seen on a big stage with a large ensemble. McKeesport Little Theater is at a slight disadvantage because they have a small space to work with, which means they are limited with their cast size. So going into the performance, I was a bit skeptical of how they would make this production work for this space.
While the show features great performers, I felt it didn’t have the energy or love that Newsies usually evokes from me. Perhaps it’s because the show has been scaled down from the ensemble, choreography, sets, etc. Or ot could be that the story felt like there were no stakes and nothing at risk. What Newsies is at its core is about children fighting to be heard and seen by the powers that be. As fun as the show is, there’s a serious message at its core that resonates with audiences, especially young people. I’ve always admired this story because it’s astounding to think a bunch of kids went up against some of the most powerful people of their time. At no point during this production did I feel those high stakes. It never felt like the Newsies were ever really fighting for anything or working towards something. If you don’t have that message leading you along and being at the show’s center, all you have left are some fun, catchy numbers. That said, the cast is obviously having a blast being a part of this production.
Joey Estok delivers a wonderful performance as Crutchie. He does a brilliant job in bringing a sweet, genuineness to the character. Crutchie is usually not my favorite, but his performance endeared me to the character. Camryn Hall plays Katherine Plummer with grace, smarts, and quick-wit. Katherine felt like the most fleshed-out character to me, and I felt Hall embodied the character quite well. Kyli Stoner, while not a leading player, deserves to be commended for the several roles she took on during the show. Stoner brought so much physicality, humor, and charm to every character she took on. I was thrilled anytime she was on stage because I knew she was bound to entertain and steal the spotlight.
While the show didn’t hit the mark for me, you could feel the cast’s love for this show. The number that struck me the most was “The World Will Know,” in which the Newsies decide they will go on strike. There was a moment when the cast just stood and sang, which I found very powerful, and they let the lyrics speak for themselves. Numbers like “King of New York” and “Seize The Day” are always crowd pleasers. I felt these were fun, enjoyable numbers to watch, and I appreciated the skill of the dancing cast.
As a Newsies fan, I wanted to love this performance. Unfortunately, Newsies is a show that requires a big-scale production, and that’s tough for a community theater to deliver. It’s not a show you can get away with doing on such a small scale because you risk messing with what makes it great in the first place. I have seen many great productions at McKeesport Little Theater. While this one may not have been one of my favorites, it’s definitely a theater I recommend supporting and checking out if you’re in the area.
Newsies plays at McKeesport Little Theater through Sept 25. Tickets can be purchased at: https://mckeesportlittletheater.com