Edmond Chibeau looks at performance and theatre from the avant-garde communication perspective

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Location: Mansfield, Connecticut, United States

Saturday, July 08, 2017

NEWSIES - Extra! Extra! Get it while you can!

CRT Cast of Newsies
Jorgensen Auditorium
Connecticut Repertory Theatre
July 7, 2017
Music- Alan Menken
Lyrics- Jack Feldman
Adapted from the Disney film by-
Harvey Fierstein
Director Choreographer-
Christopher d'Amboise

 “Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.” 

Joseph Pulitzer was talking about newspapers when he said this, but Christopher d'Amboise puts that advice into action on the stage of the Jorgensen.

     Joseph Pulitzer founder of the New York World and the St. Louis Post Dispatch was a Hungarian immigrant, who dedicated his life to the principles of independent journalism and sometimes to crushing union activity.

     In a time when journalism is under attack, and "fake news" receives more attention than well researched reporting, this production puts into stark relief the principles laid out by the ideals of the Pulitzer Prize and his own abandonment of those ideals when it affected his bottom line.

     Set in New York City at the turn of the century, when child labor was relatively unregulated; we are given a stylized story of the “Newsboy Strike of 1899”. This was a time, not unlike our own, when unions were under attack, workers were exploited, and Journalism was struggling to find its social conscience.

     Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst ruled the world of newspaper publishing with an iron fist and tried to raise the price newsboys had to pay of a bundle of papers.  

     Underlying the feel good story, catchy music and inspired choreography is an investigation of social injustice and exploitive labor. 

     Lyrics, dialog and situations that may have seemed innocuous when the movie and musical were first produced carry an extra layer of meaning in 2017. It is interesting that this year CRT at UConn produced both Waiting For Lefty (about a taxi strike) and Newsies (about a newsboy strike).

Newsboy Legion in Superman

     The newsboys became superheros in DC comics in the 1940s and again in the 80s and 90s. Then they were movie stars in1992, and Broadway gypsies in 2012. There was also "out of town" work at the paper Mill Playhouse in NJ in 2011. Now they have arrived in Storrs and they are tearing down the house.

     The trick to directing a musical is to get the different aspects of theatre, as well as the different actors, to perform as a unit.

     A communication round-robin reveals itself at the Jorgensen under the direction of Christopher d'Amboise. The music, the dance, the words, and the mise en scene, create a manege wherein meaning is performed. The forward energy of the story is at one moment carried by one of those elements and then passed on to another. The different parts of the musical are not a series of solos that happen at the same time but are an integrated whole. 

     Dance videographer Amy Reusch first introduced me to Christopher d’Amboise’s work with his New York company Off Center Ballet in the late 1980s. He has an innate sense of theatrical presentation that is manifest in his choreography and directing of this production.  Both the choreography and the dancing are charged with energy, and that energy comes across to the audience and draws us into the action. 

The cast stars Jim Schubin  as Jack Kelly, the leader of the newsies. As well as being an excellent singer Schubin has a great physical presence. 

Paige Smith, as Katherine Plumber, the female lead, gets stronger as the night goes on. 

Tina Fabrique has only one number as Medda Larkin but she slays it.

Richard R. Henry (Joseph Pulitzer) has a wonderful voice and an ability to hold the stage.

Tyler Jones as Crutchie has a key role. It is interesting that boy on a crutch instigates the first dance.

 Kalob Martinez brings a puppeteer’s focus to the part of Snyder. He is concentrated and intense.

Atticus L. Burrello, who will be entering the 8th grade in the Fall, has a stage presence that draws our attention, and a sense of timing that will serve him in good stead for what I believe will be a long and successful career. This is someone to watch in the very near future. 

The Savings Institute Bank can be proud of their season sponsorship of the Connecticut Repertory Theatre.

Terrence Mann, who we know most recently as Mr. Whispers in the Netflix original series Sense8, has given had a highly successful first season as Artistic Director of the CRT.           You’d better watch out, because next year…HE’LL BE BACK.

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