'Newsies': Cheerful Disney on Broadway

A scene from the show "Newsies," the tale

A scene from the show "Newsies," the tale of newsboy Jack Kelly, played by Jeremy Jordan, center, who dreams of a better life far from the hardship of the streets. (March 14, 2012) (Credit: Ari Mintz)

Newspapers and unions haven't had much to sing and dance about for a long time. And families with tweens haven't had a worthwhile Broadway destination for, well, not quite as long. But here comes "Newsies," the old-fashioned, by-the-numbers yet enjoyable Disney musical about the real 1899 newsboy strike that helped spark the cry for child labor laws.

The upbeat musical is based on a 1992 flop movie that became a cult sensation on the Internet. The show is also unofficially based on Our Gang comedies, "Annie," "Billy Elliot," "Citizen Kane" and anything by Charles Dickens -- especially if there's a crippled boy in it.

What the show, directed with rousing two-dimensional enthusiasm by Jeff Calhoun, lacks in originality is disguised -- if not quite hidden -- by a big, talented cast of actors (and several actresses). There is also ingenious erector-set scenery by Tobin Ost and, especially, lots of exuberant, soft-bounce high-precision tap, balletic and acrobatic invention by choreographer Christopher Gattelli.

Jeremy Jordan, who made his first impression this season in the short-lived "Bonnie and Clyde," is the heart -- even the heartthrob -- of the action as Jack Kelly, leader of the homeless urchins. With his big jaw and his bad-boy glint, Jordan suggests the seriously comic appeal of Donald Duck's handsome nephew.

When the greedy Joseph Pulitzer (John Dossett, all cartoon evil) raises the price the boys have to pay for papers, Jack rallies the gang, including the vulnerable Crutchie (Andrew Keenan-Bolger), the brothers with unemployed "muddahs and faddahs" (Ben Fankhauser and, at the preview I saw, the irrepressible young Matthew Schechter). Thugs and the corrupt child-catcher from the awful orphanage descend.

Kara Lindsay, as the pioneering girl reporter and Pulitzer heir, has the plucky lyricism of a Disney princess -- which turns out to be her role in Harvey Fierstein's genial, if occasionally wink-heavy book. Disney-veteran Alan Menken delivers reliably melodic, functional music, while Jack Feldman's lyrics do the anthemic, seize-the-day heavy-lifting with graceful restraint.

Capathia Jenkins has some fun as the owner of the vaudeville theater, though nobody can rise above the tiresome Broadway cliche of the large black woman with the big wail. Where "Annie" had her FDR, the boys have their Teddy Roosevelt (Kevin Carolan). There's not much news in "Newsies," but its most appealing headlines are selling hunks and hope.


WHAT "Newsies"

WHERE Nederlander Theatre, 208 W. 41st St.

INFO $93-$137; 877-250-2929; newsiesthemusical.com

BOTTOM LINE By-the-numbers but enjoyable family show

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