Published July 14, 2019 | By Adrienne Proctor
The Lyric’s Summer at the Civic series is unstoppable! The second of 3 large-scale musicals this season is the galvanizing Disney classic Newsies. Based on the newsboy strike of 1899 in New York City, Newsies follows Jack Kelly and his band of Manhattan-based newspaper peddlers. When the villainous Joseph Pulitzer raises the prices he charges his newsboys and girls (fondly called Girlsies), the paper-pushers unionize and strike. With the help of a young journalist, and their colorful outlook, the Newsies inspire and delight, and leave you rooting for their success.
Sean Watkinson is the reluctant leader Jack Kelly, a role that was canonized by Christian Bale in the 1992 film. Jack Kelly is a frustrating and challenging character. His thick New York City dialect is hard to understand, and the character makes a lot of irritating choices. Watkinson, however, is clear as a bell, and even sings with that strong accent, and not a single word is lost. Watkinson gives Jack Kelly a bit of humanity, which is an important feature. After all, these are scared, starving children, working for destitute wages so they can feed themselves and their families. Watkinson gently reminds us of that in his many tender moments.
Mattie Tucker Joyner is the young journalist Katherine Plumber. She’s a gem of a character, a role model for young girls everywhere. Katherine is a personal favorite character of this writer. Her commitment to speaking the truth, even while terrified, and using the mighty written word as her sword is representation in its finest form. Joyner has a lovely voice and presence on stage. The anthem number “Watch What Happens” is a time for her to shine, and she does so brightly. Joyner’s chemistry with Watkinson is absolutely to die for, and who doesn’t love those Disney kisses. There’s no chance of forgetting that this story of empowerment is also a romance.
W. Jerome Stevenson is Pulitzer, and his velvety voice and booming presence make him the perfect Disney villain. Stevenson makes an imposing figure on the stage, and it’s not without qualms when Jack Kelly stands up to him. Stevenson commands the stage with grace and charm, making him an approachable bad guy.
Jimmy Mavrikes is Davey, who signs up to sell papers (referred to as “papes” by the Newsies) alongside his younger brother Les, played by Callen Stewart. Davey and Les are the only pair who seem to have a steady family, with out-of work parents at home relying on their sons to support them. Mavrikes’s singing voice is perfection, with a flawless range of harmonies. Mavrikes and Stewart make a perfect pair, a real team that prove to be the cool ones under pressure.
M. Denise Lee as Medda Larkin is a powerhouse voice and a true ally for the newsies. The vaudeville theatre owner and entertainer in her own right has the ear and the trust of the most powerful men in the city. Lee is a controlled singer, light on her feet, and quick to come to the aid of Jack and his newsboys. Lee’s solo song “That’s Rich” is a highlight of the show. The only downside to this vibrant character is that we don’t see more scenes with her.
Sam Brinkley is Crutchie, Jack’s best friend and one of the heroes of the underdog story. Brinkley keeps a knowing smirk on his face and never loses his hope and faith in Jack. Brinkley is loveable and captivating as Crutchie, a genuine good guy who’s as pure in heart as he is loyal.
Though each cast member has their stand-out numbers and scenes, the best part about this show is the ensemble dancing. Newsies is perhaps known best for the complicated dance numbers, and this cast does not disappoint. There’s tavern tapping, toe-touches, leaps, synchronized spins, back flips, and of course, newspapers, flying high and fast throughout the duration of the show. You’d think at some point during this constant energy production that the cast would start to show signs of fatigue, but if they feel it they sure don’t show it. Another stand out detail of the choreography, nimbly designed by Amy-Reynolds Reed, is the inclusion of several Girlsies in the dance routines. This subtle yet intentional addition is yet another detail that makes this Lyric production stand out from the crowd.
The large ensemble cast works so hard and never has a minute to breathe. The always excellent direction by Ashley Wells has once again proven that Lyric Theatre is the best around, and makes for the most memorable night out on the town in OKC!