Stop the presses: 'Newsies' a hit

Dean Poling | The Valdosta Daily TimesJack and Crutchie (played by Andrew Poston and Anastas Varinos) dream of 'Santa Fe' in the Peach State Summer Theatre production of 'Newsies' opening this weekend. 

PLAY REVIEW

VALDOSTA, Ga. — Peach State Summer Theatre production of Disney's "Newsies" is a show worth stopping the presses.

Or stopping anything else that's planned.

PSST! makes "Newsies" a bold, heartfelt event for fans of the original movie, the musical and newcomers.

In the late 1800s, newsboys declared a strike from selling New York City newspapers. 

"Newsies" is a dramatized, musicalized telling of the actual events.

And the production tells the story in as bold and as brash a manner as one might imagine a New York newsboy hawking an "Extra" on a street corner. It is sensational.

Jacque Wheeler, show director, and Jason Celaya, show choreographer, ignored the ballet steps of the Broadway show and looked to hip-hop moves to choreograph the PSST! production. Urban steps for youngsters living on city streets.

Hip-hop choreography works. It adds an authenticity of movement to the passion of the young cast's calls to rise up and strike.

Several production dance numbers punctuate the show with exclamation points. There's an especially great number where the cast uses newspapers as part of the dance, from the sound of feet stomping on the newspaper pages to the scrape of paper on stage as the dancers skate and shuffle on the pages.

Celaya's choreography is worth the price of admission.

And that's only part of the show.

Wheeler lets her young cast, aged late teens to early 20s, express an emotive, yet earnest, passion which helps audiences believe the newsies are the character ages of about 15 to 17 years old, and in some cases, even a few years younger.

The choreography, the sincerity of actions, the dynamic fight scenes developed by Christen Orr, even the breathless panting of desperate characters on the run create a show that's steeped in youthful exuberance and passion of purpose.

The projection and scenic designs of Jason Lee Courson and associate scenic designer Ruth A. Brandvik are stunning. Three towers dominate the set, serving as steel bridgeworks, plant gates, etc. The massive towers are also mobile and twist, turn and rotate during chase scenes. The towers are dynamic and become something akin to additional characters in the show.

Zach Cramer and Genny Sutter Muncy's respective sound and lighting designs create an additional texture within the show. Esther L. Iverson's costumes bring the era of the late 19th century to life.

A stellar cast sets the stage, from the cause of the newsies strike, to a young reporter wanting to tell a powerful story, to a young artist creating unforgettable images, to young brothers wanting to care for their invalid parents, to a young couple falling in love.

Standouts with moments to shine include Anastas Varinos as Crutchie, Brandon Chandler and Jake Kessloff as the young brothers Davey and Les, Joe Mason as Joseph Pulitzer, Kirbi Mason as Medda Larkin.

Larren Woodward returns to Sawyer Theatre, playing young reporter Katherine Plummer. The Valdosta State University Theatre & Dance graduate has performed in past PSST! shows and has performed in numerous productions outside of Valdosta, including "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," "West Side Story" and the title role in "Pinocchio." She has several moments to shine on all levels of song, acting and dance. She gives a wonderful performance of "Watch What Happens."

Andrew Poston shines as the hero Jack, the young prince of the newsies. Poston mines Jack deep from youthful optimism to the dreams of a street poet to the heroic legend to a young man facing critical and heavy doubts that he's up for the part of leading a youth rebellion against the most powerful men in the city. Poston soars as Jack.

Throughout the show, David Springfield, musical director, conducts a live orchestra. For the first time, the live orchestra is neither in front of the stage nor behind it. The musicians are located in a room on the second floor, a story away from the first-floor location of Sawyer Theatre. Technology, coordination and talent make the orchestra sound as if it's playing in the theatre. The band never misses a beat.

"Newsies" opened last week to a near full-house audience on opening night. If word of mouth hasn't already reached the general public: Extra! Extra! "Newsies" is a smash. Read all about. Or better yet, go see it.

The review is based on the June 8 opening night performance.

Peach State Summer Theatre production of "Newsies" continues 2 p.m. Saturday, June 16, and 3 p.m. Sunday, June 17, then in rotating repertory for several more performances through mid-July, Sawyer Theatre, VSU Fine Arts Building, corner pf Oak and Brookwood. "Million Dollar Quartet" opened in late May, and continues 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 15, and continues with performances through July 14. "Hello, Dolly!" opens 7:30 p.m., June 22, and continues through July 15. Reservations, more information: Visit valdosta.edu/psst.

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