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Newsies at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

Newsboys shut down New York City with song and dance

The cast of Newsies. Photo credit: Kat Dollarhide

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Disney's Newsies at Tacoma Musical Playhouse is a romping, stomping look at the beginnings of the labor movement, based on the true story of a historic strike by newsboys that brought business to a standstill in New York in 1899. Newsies won Tony awards for Best Choreography (Christopher Gattelli) and Best Original Score (Alan Menken and Jack Feldman). Locally, choreographer Megan Hicks adapted the challenging dance numbers to fit on a smaller stage with 35-plus actors running, leaping, spinning and turning flips in a space where it would seem impossible to move without knocking fellow dancers flat on their backs -- quite the choreographic feat, and they pulled it off.

Newsies is an exuberant, high-energy show with a huge cast, but only a handful of lead characters, including the versatile and exciting Jake Atwood as Jack Kelly, leader of the striking news boys; Sam Bennett as his best friend Crutchie; Colin Briskey as Davey; 10-year-old Howy Howard as Les; Ashley Koon as the reporter Katherine, a not-so-surprising love interest; and Lakewood Playhouse Artistic Director John Munn as the autocratic Joseph Pulitzer. It's a stellar cast.

In the past few years it has been my pleasure to review Atwood's work in wide range of musicals from Footloose to Catch Me If You Can, to The Rocky Horror Show, and in each of these, different versions of his talent have been manifest. In theater circles there's a phrase, "chewing the scenery," is a phrase often used in a derogatory manner to express excessive emotion. Atwood not only chews the scenery, he spits it out and makes the audience love it. He plays Jack as a wisecracking, streetwise tough guy with a sensitive core. He's not only tough, he's highly flawed and vulnerable.

Howard might be young, but he's no novice to the stage. He was recently seen in Beauty and the Beast at TMP and has been in 14 of their youth camp shows. He holds his own and shines brightly among the adult actors.

Koon and Bennett each play their parts well and have voices that stand out. Bennett is particularly outstanding on the poignant "Letter from the Refuge" in the beginning of Act Two.

Munn is convincingly autocratic and powerful with terrific acting chops as Joseph Pulitzer, the complex newspaper tycoon who championed labor until it came to his own paper.

Two giants of South Sound stagecraft, Blake York and Bruce Haasl, were responsible for the gorgeous set -- a group of moveable industrial stairs and balconies with a backdrop that combined newspaper pages and graffiti, said backdrop beautifully lighted with changing colors by lighting designer Jacob Viramontes and lighting operator Demmarie McKay.

Few of the cast members are identified by name in the show, so I can't credit all I would like to. I would like to point out Alex Domine as Race and Jessica Furnstahl, recently seen as Elle Woods in Broadway Olympia Productions' Legally Blonde, for her energetic and expressive dancing.

Kudos to the whole cast and crew of Newsies. Special kudos for casting women as a good number of the newsboys.

NEWSIES, 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through Oct. 7, Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, $22-$31, 253.565.6867,

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