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REVIEW: 'Newsies' leaps onto Theatre C.R. stage

Young cast picks up speed shouldering heavy story load

New York City’s newsboys go on strike in 1899 after the price they pay for papers jumps 10 cents per hundred. Their angst plays out through July 21 in the musical “Newsies,” onstage at Theatre Cedar Rapids. (Studio Reserved photo)
New York City’s newsboys go on strike in 1899 after the price they pay for papers jumps 10 cents per hundred. Their angst plays out through July 21 in the musical “Newsies,” onstage at Theatre Cedar Rapids. (Studio Reserved photo)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Alvon Reed’s choreography will grab the headlines in “Newsies,” onstage at Theatre Cedar Rapids through July 21.

Of course, he needed singer/dancer/actors who could pull off all the athletic flips, leaps and bounds he programed into this musical — and he found them in the youthful cast that shoulders the show.

Unlike “Annie” and “Oliver,” which also feature bands of young people in key roles, this tale based on the 1899 New York City newsboys strike doesn’t surround the youths with adults to share the heavy lifting. The newsies are front and center in all but a couple of scenes where the adults bluster among themselves about how to handle this hostile uprising among the kids tasked with selling the city’s daily papers.

The adults have caused the problems, by enacting a 10-cent jump in the price the kids pay per bundle of 100 papers they sell on street corners for a penny apiece. The strike is grinding sales — and profits — to a halt, vexing the money-grubbing adults as they try to play hardball to keep the presses running. Their eyes are fixed on restoring sales among an already faltering readership, regardless of the cost to the child labor turning the wheels throughout myriad industries across the city.

Because so much of this show relies on young actors, their inexperience was showing during Thursday’s final dress rehearsal, where invited family and friends were whooping their every move. The actors broke character a couple of times, with smiles and giggles. But they eventually found their groove, and as the dance fired up, so did they.

By the end of the show, their energy had earned the immediate standing ovation and resounding cheers ringing throughout the auditorium. As the show’s run goes on, their confidence is sure to soar.

Dawson Gosch portrays Jack Kelly, the leader who incites the newsies to action with a passion and furor that grows with each scene. The musical score rises to the same heights, but Gosch’s vocal pitch didn’t always scale the solo summits. He wasn’t far off — the peak was in sight — and when he sang on duets, his voice rose to the occasion every time.

Aria Jensen is all sugar and spice as Katherine, the budding journalist determined to spread the word of the injustices wrought upon the city’s youths. She owns the stage on “Watch What Happens,” with her angelic, crystal-clear soprano and gutsy determination as Katherine writes her first big story. Her words land on the front page, and her heart lands on Jack Kelly. Their rooftop duet, “Something to Believe In,” sizzles in Act 2.

Mic Evans, who dazzled TCR audiences in the title role of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” brings even more heart to the story as Crutchie, the newsie with a bum foot, who just wants to be noticed and do his part to fight for the kids’ rights. Austin Wicke stokes the strike as Davey, continuing the children’s crusade as Jack begins to falter.

All this action plays out on rented scenery that builds multiple levels on trusses and spinning gates and cages in steel gray, straddling the worlds of gritty city and posh offices. That same color scheme, with pops of red in the costumes and scenery, gives new rise to the old print adages, “black and white and red/read all over.”

A special round of applause goes to director Amy Osatinski, lighting designer Scott Olinger, costume designer Joni Sackett and musical director Janelle Lauer and her orchestra for creating an electric environment that allows the actors to seize the day — and the stage.

• Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

IF YOU GO

• What: “Newsies”

• Where: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids

• When: To July 21; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday

• Tickets: $22 to $50; TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or Theatrecr.org

• Extras: July 13 is an ASL interpreted performance; contact the Box Office to reserve seats with best view of the interpreters

• Details: Theatrecr.org/event/newsies/2019-06-28/

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