Encore Michigan

‘Newsies’ makes headlines at The Barn

Review August 11, 2017 Sue Merrell

AUGUSTA, Mich.–Like the plucky newsboys who “stopped the World” in 1899, The Barn Theatre’s energetic young company explodes off the stage and down the aisles to sell Disney’s Newsies: The Musical.

The 2012 Tony Award-winning show is all about in-your-face energy and director Hans Fredrichs doesn’t waste a minute. Young cast members are leaping across the stage during the opening overture. On several numbers, 20 or more dancers pack the stage with choreographer Jamey Grisham’s athletic kicking and jumping. More than once Fredrichs takes advantage of the entire theater as the action surrounds the audience.

All this activity is fueled by Alan Menken’s rousing score with catchy tunes like “Carrying the Banner,” “The World will Know” and “Seize the Day.” The second act opens with a tap dance number, “The King of New York,” with fancy footwork on tabletops and over chairs.

Inspired by historic events, this is the ultimate tale of the little guy against corporate greed. Artistic Jack Kelly (Jonnie Carpathios) leads his newsboy buddies in a strike when publishing giant Joseph Pulitzer (Richard Marlatt) tries to pocket more profit by charging newsboys sixty cents for 100 papers instead of the standard fifty cents. That dime is critical to these homeless young salesmen.

Kelly’s quest is helped when reporter Katherine (Kasady Kwiatkowska) writes a story on the strike, and naturally Kelly and Katherine fall in love. To further pluck the heart strings, there’s a crippled newsboy, Crutchie (Justin M. Roth), the smart brains of the operation, Davey (Nick Barakos), and his wise-cracking little brother Les (double cast with Braedon Davis and Henry Doan).

The story takes place on an all-purpose set of scaffolding that creates the tenement buildings of New York slums as well as a frame for Pulitzer’s office, a box seat in the Medda Theatre, or a handy spot for chasing and hiding and hanging around. Set designer Samantha Snow turns white laundry hanging across the back of the stage into a screen for projecting scene setters from the Brooklyn Bridge to backstage ropes to the headlines of the day.

Music director Matt Shabala and his six-piece orchestra under the stage did a great job with the score but the performance I saw Wednesday was bedeviled with a sound imbalance. All too often the music overwhelmed the singers, especially on solos, and the lyrics were lost. This was especially true for the lead, Jonnie Carpathios, whose voice was never amplified as well as all the others on the stage.

“Newsies” is such a large show that several actors shoulder multiple roles. Director Friedrichs appears in several small roles including a climactic cameo as Teddy Roosevelt. Even Barn Producer Director Brendan Ragotzy has a few walk-ons. Most performances are well done from the youngest newsboys to Marlatt’s bombastic Pulitzer. Carpathios does a good job as Kelly, especially in his flirtation with Katherine, who is quite endearing as played by Kwiatkowska.

The costumes by Michael Wilson Morgan also deserve recognition, from the delightful details on Katherine’s dresses to the simple neck scarves that gave the newsboys a unified look.

“Newsies” is the kind of show that gives every Barn apprentice a chance to shine, and they all do. What a fun evening!

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Week of 8/21/2017

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