Chagrin Valley Little Theatre ‘Newsies’ has some front page worthy moments
In July of 1899 child labor laws were nearly non-existent in large cities such as New York City. Young children were forced to work in sweat shops, factories and slaughter houses as well as selling newspapers on the street no matter what the weather conditions all for low pay and in most part dangerous working conditions. Change was soon in the offing and it began as a business decision by the owner of The New York World newspaper.
The strike that ensued as a result became known as “The Newspaper Strike of 1899 in New York City” Which eventually inspired the 1992 Disney film “Newsies” and later the Broadway musical of the same name that featured music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and book by Harvey Fierstein. The show started off-Broadway at the Paper Mill Playhouse in 2011 and after a major reworking was moved to Broadway in 2012 where it ran for 1,004 performances. The show is now on perpetual tour as well as a community theater favorite.
A group of orphaned and homeless “Newsies” or newsboys share a lodging house with their informal leader, Jack Kelly (Tony Heffner) and his best friend Crutchie (Micah Saunders). Jack dreams of somehow leaving the filth and poverty of New York City for a better life out West. As dawn breaks the newsies awaken and after a charity meal supplied by the local nuns make their way to Newsie’s Square to pick up the day’s edition paying 50 cents for 100 copies which they sell for one cent each.
At the circulation gate Jack meets newcomer Davey (Jack Kleve) and his nine year old brother Les (Vivien Morrison). Unlike the rest of the rag tag crew, these boys are not orphans but have given up school in order to support the family while their father recovers from an on the job accident. Jack sees the young Les as a goldmine to sell more papers and offers to partner with them.
As the boys finish selling their last papers of the day they are set upon by Warden Snyder (Tobias Morrison) of the Refuge (a type of juvenile detention home) who spots Jack and recognizes him as an escapee from the Refuge and gives chase. Jack, Davey and Les find shelter at a burlesque house owned by Jack’s friend Medda Larkin (Theresa Benyo-Marzullo) where Jack makes extra money by painting canvas backdrops. It is here that Jack meets Katherine Plumber (Emily Sedmak) who does fluff reviews for a rival paper. Jack is smitten and Katherine is standoffish but soon warms to him when he gives her a sketch he made of her.
The next day, New York World owner Joseph Pulitzer (Rob Albrecht) unhappy with his paper’s declining circulation due to the Spanish American War drawing to a close comes up with a scheme. He decides to recoup his losses by raising newsboy’s price of the paper from fifty cents per 100 to sixty cents per 100. This so angers the boys that they decide to go out on strike. Seventeen year old Jack Kelly becomes the face of the strike. Word soon spreads across the city to the various boroughs but nobody will join the strike until Spot Conlon who is the leader of the Brooklyn group decides to help. Seeing this as an opportunity to advance her reporting career, Katherine decides to publicize the strike with a front page article and photo thus giving it legitimacy.
The strike soon turns violent as scabs are hired to get the paper out with goons and corrupt police attacking the strikers in an effort to break the union. During such a confrontation Warden Snyder captures Crutchie and after having the goons give him a beating takes him back to the home where he is held prisoner. Jack escapes to the burlesque theater and blames himself for the turn of events.
While not a bad performance by any means this production is fraught with some problems. It begins with an opening off key trumpet solo. The show is slow in building up momentum and the actors do not really get their feet up from under them until near the end of the first act. After that point the show sails forth. The choreography while energetic lacks a degree of professionalism and the acting itself is subdued through half of the show. The only person consistently hitting all their marks is Vivien Morrison as Les who is an adorable little ham complete with facial expressions. With all of that aside one must remember that this is community theater and thus cannot be judged that harshly. It was an entertaining couple of hours and the audience was highly enthusiastic.
It never ceases to amaze when Chagrin Valley Little Theatre takes on a major production that fills their tiny stage. “Newsies” uses every single square inch of space and somehow does it without the actors bumping into each other. This show has its moments that make it worth the price of the ticket.
“Newsies” will be on stage at the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre through Saturday, August 13, 2022. For more information and tickets go to https://cvlt.org/events/newsies/ or call (440) 247-8955 12-4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday or two hours before curtain.