It's impossible not to cheer for the boys in Newsies as they war against press barons Pulitzer and Hearst. The Broadway musical is based on the Disney movie, which was based on a real-life event: the 1899 newsboy strike.
It began when Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst charged the newsboys six cents for every 10 papers they sold -- a one-cent increase. Enraged, these determined kids formed a rag-tag union and took on the titans whose power intimidated everyone else.
Now at the Nederlander, the musical, which borrows its balletic style from West Side Story and the towered sets of Ragtime, turns melodrama into a high-energy message. The strike is led by Jack Kelly (a dynamic Jeremy Jordan in a star turn). Alongside Crutchie (Andrew Keenan-Bolger), brainy Davey (Ben Fankhauser) and his adorable kid brother Les (Matthew J. Schechter), the troupe exposes the horrors of child labor, while sustaining the show's appeal.
The newsboys eventually win some concessions, but not before Joseph Pulitzer (John Dossett) sends the police and thuggish strikebreakers to beat up the kids.
The boys' bravery is laudable, while the justifications uttered by Pulitzer sound like a Mitt Romney stump speech. Ironically, Pulitzer was known for crusading against big business and corruption, often exposing government scandals and trumpeting the rights of workers. The newsboys were another story.
Granted, there are disconnects -- 20-somethings playing kids and a love interest (Kara Lindsay) to add a sweet, but unlikely romantic element -- but who cares? Perhaps we need a theatrical root-for-the-underdog musical to make the argument for unions and social justice. Alan Menken's rousing score and Christopher Gattelli's electric dance numbers are terrific, crowd-pleasing entertainment.
This round, Disney has transformed a panned movie into a feel-good musical, with one of the hardest working casts on Broadway. The dancing is extraordinary. Who can resist the newsies sticking it to the man!
A man of a different stripe, Bob Dylan, is showcased in Man in the Long Black Coat through April 28 at the elegant Metropolitan Room, courtesy of Barb Jungr. The soulful British cabaret singer deconstructs Bob Dylan's genius, aligning his songwriting sensibilities with, in her words, "the new American songbook." The savvy Jungr delivers an hypnotic, dynamic rendition of Dylan.
While admitting his lyrics are "deeply opaque and rather depressing," she uncovers the poetry and rueful lament that defines his singularity. Her arrangements and phrasing reveal new-found subtleties and layers in his work.
Jungr skillfully journeys from early Dylan songs to his later, much-maligned "gospel" era, when he went a bit "bonkers." Yet whatever his personal demons, crazy travails or broken love affairs, she mines his lyrics and melodies for meaning, celebrating his insights even as she delivers each song, be it "The Times They are A-Changin," "Blind Willie McTell" or "Forever Young" with a distinct topspin.
Funny, talented and able to command audiences with the drop of a note or a sly sideways glance, Jungr pays tribute to one of America's greatest songwriters. Even if you are familiar with Dylan, Jungr refreshes the canon you thought you knew.