Review: Tuacahn’s ‘Newsies’ leaps into town

L-R: Ryan Farnsworth as Jack Kelly, Whitney Winfield as Katherine and Daniel Scott Walton as Davey in Tuacahn's production of "Disney's Newsies," Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Tuacahn Center for the Arts, St. George News

REVIEW — Extra! Extra! Everything you’re hearing about Tuacahn’s version of Disney’s stage musical “Newsies” is true. The musical, based on the 1992 film that helped launch the career of then 18-year-old Christian Bale is a sprightly adaptation of the commercially disappointing but cult favorite movie –offering solid new songs (by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman), dazzling dance numbers and a more compelling script (by Harvey Firestein).

Tuacahn’s production of “Disney’s Newsies” takes center stage in Ivins, Utah, date not sepcified | Photo courtesy of Tuacahn Center for the Arts, St. George News

Based on the New York City newsboy strike of 1899, the us-versus-them simple formula nevertheless showcases the productions’ real coup de grâce: The 25-30 young male (and a few female) dancers who execute director/choreographer Jeffry Denham’s vision with vim and relentless vigor.

The hardest role to cast, associate artistic producer Ryan Norton said, was the primary lead character Jack Kelly (Ryan Farnsworth) who rallies his fellow hardscrabble newsies when publisher Joseph Pulitzer (Matthew Tyler) raises the prices of the “papes,” cutting into the boys’ profit.

In Farnsworth, Tuacahn has found a true gem – a skilled actor and dancer who plays just the right combination of toughness and vulnerability. In Farnsworth’s hands, “Santa Fe” soars, opening and closing Act 1 with impressive confidence – especially this early in the run.

But “Newsies” is by no means a one-man – or one-woman – show. While the show is at its best when the boys are singing and dancing (fresh takes on “Carrying the Banner” and “The World Will Know” crackle with energy), character songs by vaudeville theater owner Medda (Jennifer Leigh Warren, “That’s Rich”) and especially spunky news reporter Katherine (Whitney Winfield, “Watch What Happens”) offer strong, and appropriately brief, moments on their own.

The main event in “Newsies” are the young boys – and Tuacahn’s cast looks younger and therefore more credible than its Broadway counterparts. They are a real joy to watch. Playing orphans, homeless cast-offs and underdogs, each performer has a well-defined personality with characters such as Jack’s bestie “Crutchie” (Jordan Aragon) brothers Davey (Daniel Scott Walton) and Les (Will Haley) and the other supporting cast members bursting with camaraderie – a key element in this show.

The cool industrialized-look set design is a combination of towering tenement structures with elaborate fire escapes and beautiful hand-painted scenery. Watch for the creative use of rolling set pieces that add to Denham’s excellent use of the expansive and sometimes challenging-to-fill stage.

In a strange way, a group of young whippersnappers sticking it to the media magnates of their day feels somehow in vogue even if unions these days appear to be fading. “Newsies” isn’t trying to tackle global concerns or reinvent the modern musical. But Tuacahn’s version overpowers you with charm and the boundless energy of its hardworking cast. For now, they are the kings of this city.

Tuacahn’s performances of Disney’s “Newsies” run throughout the week through Oct. 18 in the Tuacahn Amphitheatre at Tuacahn Center for the Arts, 1100 Tuacahn Drive, Ivins. For tickets go to www.tuacahn.org or call the box office at telephone 800-746-9882 or 435-652-3300.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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