BROADWAY BOUND NIKITA BURSHTEYN ‘SEIZES THE DAY’ AS HIS NEWSIES MAKE HEADLINES AND BRING
“THE KING OF NEW YORK” TO OAKLAND
The Oakland hills are fully energized this summer as Woodminster Summer Musicals opens their 53rd season with DISNEY’S NEWSIES. Winner of two 2012 Tonys for best score and choreography, this jumping romp is quite impressive. The 1992 film is not the most memorable Disney movie, but is highlighted with a cast of guys kicking and jumping. The film, starring Christian Bale, Robert Duvall and Ann-Margret, did poorly at the box office, but has become more of a cult hit. The 2011 Broadway musical and cast emphasized the electrified dancing that helped the show sell well.
I have always speculated that a show with a huge focus on ballet dance would not do well on Regional stages, but I was immediately proven wrong while watching this excellent production at Woodminster with Jody Jaron’s choreography. Jaron is based out of New Jersey and is the executive director of the Garden Stage Ballet School. This is Jaron’s 21st show as a choreography for Woodminster. Her cast has nothing but praise for her and the intense summer workouts she gave to the terrific company. This musical is designed to make the dance ensemble the stars of the show. Jaron’s choreography did just that by showcasing the young dancer with a multitude of dance disciplines and acrobatics.
Most of the show's big numbers are a banner of defiance. Alan Menken’s music and Jack Feldman’s lyrics create instant classics like "King of New York" and "Seize the Day." Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the book to the musical, made this a non stop power house dance event while including important history lessons that are applicable to many modern day activist movements.
The story is roughly based on the actual “Newsboy Strike of 1899,” a two-week work stoppage against venal Joseph Pulitzer, played by local favorite Chris Vettel. The boys go on strike when Pulitzer unfairly raises the price of "papes.” They must battle scabs, crooked officials, business types and fearsome strike breakers carrying weapons in an attempt to get their fair prices back. The newsies’ problem is not resolved until Teddy Roosevelt, played by the dapper Joe Saam, steps up to the “malefactors of great wealth” and offers a “square deal.”
This cast is impressive! The marvelous Nikita Burshteyn is home from New York to play the role of Jack Kelly, the leader of the Newsies. He immediately shows off his dynamite voice by opening the story with “Santa Fe,” where he shares his dreams of escaping the big city with his endearing, handicapped companion Crutchie, played by the polished Dominic Dagadagan. Alongside Burshteyn and Dagdagan is the cast of newsboys who bring a powerful energy as they are “Carrying the Banner.”
The ensemble of Newsies are headed by the full throttle Oscar Tsukayama, who plays the cigar smoking Race, and opens the second act with “King of New York,” the show’s tap number anthem. The high flying and wildly entertains Newsies include Rune Lauridsen, Patrick Maravilla, Blake Hennessy-York, Austin Harper, Danila Burshteyn, Demetri Freeman, Drew Hope, Joshua Lau, Isaiah Suniga, Jordan Chall, Taylor Daniel, Joseph Dean, Sophie de Morelos, Natalie Fong, Cai Freeman, Adam Green, Elie Kupperman, Alyssa Villareal, and Rod Voltaire Edora.
Burshteyn as the 17 year old Jack Kelly, establishes himself as a likable, sensitive leader. At one of the rousing meetings Jack makes it clear that "All we ask for is a square deal.” He continues, "For the sake of all the kids in every sweatshop, factory and slaughterhouse in this town, I beg you, throw down your papes and join the strike." The handsome Burshteyn is a good romantic match for the superb Amanda Sylvia who plays the reporter Katherine with stunning class. Sylvia’s solo “Watch What Happens” is pitch perfect and sets up the love interest with the two bubbling leads.
Danny Cancel, is likable as Davey, the new boy in town who helps Jack with the strike. Cancel is upstaged by the youngest member of the cast Gideon Klapow who plays Davey’s 10 year old brother Les. Klapow is seen dancing as keen as the older boys and stops the show with his many one liners, such as “buy a pape from a poor orphan boy”. Cancel’s confidence as Davey continues to grow in “The World Will Know,” but the young Klapow continues to charm everyone he meets.
Phaedra Tillery sang her heart out as Medda Larkin the vaudeville star, owner of the theater and who helps Jack when he is on the run from the feds. Tillery’s solo “That's Rich” features her sexy Bowery Beauties; Natalie Fong, Cai Freeman, Elie Kupperman, who catch everyone’s eyes in “Don’t Come a Knocking”.
Dagdagan as Crutchie steals the show in the first act with his clever, resourceful dancing and body language for the broken youth. Despite being on a crutch the entire show, he never skipped a beat. Dagdagan has an emotional solo “Letter from the Refuge,” a new song that was added specifically for the national tour version of the musical.
Director Joel Schlader kept the show moving and creates a strong ‘good and evil’ dynamic that does not deviate for a moment. In fact, Pulitzer, played by the marvelous Chris Vettel, is the perfect villain who stands his ground until he is eventually tamed by Jack with the help of the newsies and Teddy Roosevelt. Historically Pulitzer fought for the rights of children but in this Disney version he is quite the bully.
Each Newsy proves their dance skills in the many solos throughout the show. Jaron’s newsboy choreography also includes Sophie de Morelos, Natalie Fong, Cai Freeman, Elie Kupperman, Taylor Daniel, and Alyssa Villareal who are some powerful, high stepping newsy girls who continuously prove that they deserve to be in this show just as much as any of the male newsies. Their strong presence in this show reminds us that female newsies historically worked just as hard, if not harder, than the male ones. Some of their awesome flips, jumps and ballet marvels are highlighted in the show stopping dance number “Seize the Day” and “Carrying the Banner”. Jaron has a beautiful collage of demanding ballet with bold athletic moves. In “Seize the Day,” she recreates her own rendition of Christopher Gattelli’s original Broadway dance on the newspaper. This trick takes advantage of the paper's inherent slick qualities that had the newsies sliding across the stage.
The adult cast are all splendid in the many roles they played. High praise goes to Benjamin Tripp, Todd Schlader, Abe Soane, Zach Moorhead, J Adan Ruiz, Mark Robinson, Jordan Chall, Tim Holt Jones, John Tichenor, Christine Burke, Randy Burke, Jim Rupp and the frisky Megan Bartlet as Hannah, Pulitzer’s secretary. The elegant MJ Rennels plays the clever Mayor of New York and that Dapper Joe Saam saves the day as Teddy Roosvelt. Music director Mark Dietrich has a full throttle 14 piece orchestra that mixed well with the diverse cast and their strong voices.
The craft team for Woodminster are all pro’s - Lisa Danz costumes were vintage 1890’s as the boys and girls were dressed in their rag dapper look of earth tones and city dirty clothes. The adult cast are all on-point in their three piece vintage look. Jack cleans up well in the first and second act for his visits to Pulitzer’s office. Set designer Chris Wettersten designed a fun, interactive set for the cast, but the turn-of-the-century New York scenery does not completely complement the cast and some of their spectacular dance numbers.
The dance is so upbeat and sizzling that sound designer Ty Wiechhart had to adapt to all the bumps and spins endured by Newsies physical movement. The mix between the pit and cast is thrilling. The wigs on the women are distracting at times. Jon Gourdine’s lighting design set the mood perfectly as he had to capture both levels of this show, much of the show takes place on the upper levels of the rafters. The props by Leoj Daschler included piles of papers, a classic printing press, wagons, and hand made news bags for the guys sewn together by Judy Boraas.
With NEWSIES’ popularity growing, the show will likely now make an easy transition to college and high school auditoriums across the country. Part history lesson, part fable and part love story, this show most recognizable for being an awesome dance show. This is a great show for your family and it is sure to inspire kids to grab a paper, read the news, and maybe even dance with it. Next up at Woodminster is BILLY ELLIOT that opens August 2nd, and INTO THE WOODS opens August 30th to close their 53rd Season. Woodminster Summer Musicals offers some great ticket discounts, kids under 16 are free with a paid adult. 17 - 24 are half price, and if you take a selfie with an actor or Billboard poster and show the snap at the boxoffice anyone can get a half price seat. In the meantime “Seize the Day”and join the strike and make NEWSIES your Summer must see.
Woodminster Summer Musicals Presents
Book by Harvey Fierstein. Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Jack Feldman.
Directed by Joel Schlader
Music Director Mark Dietrich
Choreographed by Jody Joren
Must close July 14th
Joaquin Miller Park
Two hours, 30 minutes.
Photos by Stephan Woo
NICO JAOCHICO AND VMEDIA ARTS VISITS WITH THE CAST
THE CAST Nikita Burshteyn*, Dominic Dagdagan*, Amanda Sylvia*, Oscar Tomosada Tsukayama*, Rune Lauridsen, Patrick Maravilla, Blake Hennessy-York, Austin Harper, Danila Burshteyn, Demetri Freeman, Drew Hope, Joshua Lau*, Isaiah Suniga, Jordan Chall, Taylor Daniel, Joseph Dean, Sophie de Morelos, Adam Green, Zach Moorhead, Alyssa Villareal, Rod Voltaire Edora*
Christine Burke, Sophie de Morelos, Danny Cancel, Gideon Klapow, Benjamin Tripp, Abe Soane, Todd Schlader*, Chris Vettel*, J. Adán Ruiz, Mark Robinson, Megan Bartlet, Phaedra Tillery, Natalie Fong, Cai Freeman, Elie Kupperman, Tim Holt Jones, John Tichenor*, Randy Burke, Jim Rupp, MJ Rennels, and Joe Saam