Dings soitanly was rough for da boys who hadda sell papes on da streets o' New Yawk in 1899 to earn a pidaful livin'. No wonda dey wennon strike when da big publishas raised da cost da newsies had to pay for dem papes. Yudda done da same.
If you need a translation of those lines, just head to the Hippodrome for a refresher on New York-ese and a slice of newspaper history, both delivered heartily in the musical "Newsies."
The show, based on the 1992 Disney movie, closed on Broadway in August after a profitable couple of years and headed out on the road last month for a North American tour. The Baltimore leg of that tour opened Tuesday night before an audience that let out some of the most enthusiastic roars I've heard in that theater.
Those afflicted with chronic cynicism may resist the pull of "Newsies," which hawks its charms as aggressively as a caffeinated street-corner vendor. But it's easy to give in and go with the upbeat flow of this story about kids banding together and standing up to the Man, singing and dancing their hearts out every step of the way.
Although more restraint and lower volume would be welcome every now and then, the relentless pace of "Newsies" fits with a plot set in the days of cutthroat newspaper competition, when there was always an extra edition being typeset.
The strike called against Joseph Pulitzer and other moguls exposed sordid business practices and bleak working conditions for the newsies. A pyrrhic element clouded the deal the boys ended up with, but it was a step (the opening night crowd at the Hippodrome applauded the moment when the compromise agreement was reached).
To make this slice of American history entertaining, the producers of "Newsies" brought in the formidable talents of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman, who generated a good number of solid pop songs. A more late-19th-century sound to the score might have been fun, but Tobin Ost's formidable set and Jess Goldstein's finely detailed costumes supply abundant period atmosphere.
The book for the musical was crafted by Harvey Fierstein, who retained the movie's essence and imaginatively expanded on it with some surprises and a decent quotient of wit. (Still room for editing, though. One example: When a newsie asks, "Why do old people talk?" the well-timed line gets a laugh. That should be that. But another newsie pipes up with an unnecessary, unfunny response.)
Although the storyline gets nicely personalized through the experiences of strike leader Jack Kelly and those closest to him, the emphasis returns repeatedly to the whole gang of table-turning newsies. This is every inch an ensemble show.
That means an awful lot of rousing, stage-filling numbers, fueled with demanding balletic/acrobatic routines choreographed by Christopher Gattelli. The moves start looking similar after a while, but the well-honed tour cast, cleverly directed by Jeff Calhoun, makes just about everything feel fresh and spontaneous.
Dan DeLuca is a natural as the alternately wistful, impudent and crafty Jack; he sings stylishly, too. Stephanie Styles has an effective romp as the sympathetic, pre-feminist reporter Katherine, who, of course, falls for Jack.
Jacob Kemp gets to show a good deal of range as Davey, who emerges from his shell to become Jack's spine-firm lieutenant. Zachary Sayle excels as Jack's buddy Crutchie; his deftly nuanced account of "Letter from the Refuge," the musical's most understated song, is a real charmer.
Steve Blanchard portrays Pulitzer with welcome restraint, letting the villainy seep out subtly. And Angela Grovey does vibrant work as Jack's vaudevillian friend Medda Larkin. The rest of the dynamic cast helps to underline how "Newsies" is good for increasing circulation.