Maine State Music Theatre

Extra! Extra! You gotta see ‘Newsies’ at MSMT

Posted:  Friday, August 11, 2017 - 9:30am
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If you didn’t have a chance to see Maine State Music Theatre’s (MSMT) first three shows, all of which were great, then really, really try to get to its current and final production of the season, Disney’s “Newsies.” The dancing is a cross between ballet and Cirque du Soleil moves, fearless, graceful and filled with joy and energy. Oh my, and the script, the singing, the acting, the lights, the staging and well, all of it.

At the beginning of the show, MSMT’s Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark singled out “Newsies” choreographer-director Marc Robin, telling him, “It was you. You got this done.” Many other folks deserve kudos as well, but “Newsies” is a hit due in large part to the acting and the choreography.

The story behind “Newsies” has a base in reality. During the Spanish-American War in 1898, the price of newspapers rose due to increased circulation, which also raised the amount of money newsboys had to pay per a 100-newspaper bundle. After the war, the cost of newspapers decreased, with the exception of those belonging to Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.

The newsboys, led by Kid Blink, so named because he was blind in one eye, struck against Pulitzer and Hearst in July 1899, bringing Brooklyn Bridge traffic to a standstill and eventually tying up newspaper distribution for much of New England. More than 5,000 newsboys kept the strike going for two weeks until its conclusion in August. Walt Disney Pictures released a movie about the incident, “Newsies,” in 1992. While the movie wasn’t a box office hit, it drew large audiences when adapted to Broadway and won two Tony Awards. The book is by Harvey Fierstein and the music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, respectively. 

Scenic designer Charles S. Kading’s mobile set, consisting of stacked levels of fire escapes and rooftops, manages to combine art nouveau with steam punk, creating a city scape jungle gym that can be rearranged even as actors enter and exit everywhere on the set.

Ray Fellman’s superb lighting scheme fuses a backdrop of surreal oranges, pinks and purples bright against the shadows of the skyscrapers. Haze creeps across the set from time to time, lending congestion to back alley settings. Shadows crisscross building fronts, and spots picked out principals as if they’d been following them like puppies. Sickly yellow lighting in ‘The Refuge” scene picks out the despair and hopelessness of young boys forced into living there. Lighting against a curtain serving as a backdrop to Medda’s Theater is lipstick red and hot. As a side note, so is Medda Larkin, played by Angela Grovey.

Matt Farcher plays newsboy strike leader Jack Kelly as wiry and intense, fiery and romantic, a reluctant leader who excels in rabble rousing, although he dreams of leaving the city and moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico. His character’s vulnerability is exposed during each song he sings. His voice is superb. 

Kate Fahrner plays the feisty reporter, Katherine, with both toughness and humor. Fahrner can also sing, oh boy can she sing. Also, the chemistry between Farcher and Fahrner is palpable. After the play ended, Fahrner led a hilarious auction. The prize was Farcher’s “Newsies” hat, and Fahrner kept the bidding going up until it reached $1,000! Her antics during the auction were both charming and funny.

Each character, whether principal or ensemble, was played to the hilt. Standouts included everyone on stage, plus Justin Schuman as Davey, Blake Stadnik as Crutchie, Timothy Woodward, Jr. as Les, Mark Aldrich as both Nunzio and Teddy Roosevelt, and Lilly Tobin as Hannah.

Dancing is a character in this show. Modern, ballet, tap, tumbling, you name it, if it was a type of dance, it was in the show. Each time the newsies gathered for a company number, a charge went through the audience like lightning. The production energized me so much it took me two hours to go to sleep. Well played, MSMT. Well played. Unforgettable night. Fabulous season.

Queue up to the box office for next season, by the way. Clark announced that the first play in 2018 will be “Million Dollar Quartet.” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Saturday Night Fever,” and “Singin’ in the Rain” are also on the schedule.

“Newsies” is playing through Aug. 26. Get your tickets now because it will sell out fast. Go to www.msmt.org or call 207 725-8769 for box office information. MSMT is in Pickard Theater, Bowdoin College Campus, 1 Bath Road, Brunswick.