By John Baggett
The 71st season for Tyler Civic Theatre is just around the corner, but before it can begin, we have an epic musical to close out the summer. Following up on the hit production of “Mamma Mia!,” TCT has assembled a small army of incredibly talented individuals to bring to life a production of the acclaimed Disney musical, “Newsies.”
Inspired by real events, “Newsies” tells the story a group of young men, some of whom were literally children, who struggled to support themselves or their families by selling newspapers. When the publishers of the New York newspapers raise the prices of the papers on them in an effort to make more money, the paperboys form a union and go on strike to fight for the rights to work and be treated fairly.
“Newsies” began as a live action Disney film, and one that was a critical and box office failure, only to find its audience on home video. It became a smash hit when it debuted on Broadway in 2012, thanks to music from the legendary Alan Menkin (“The Little Mermaid” and “Little Shop of “Horrors”). The book was written by actor/playwright Harvey Fierstein, best known for his gravelly-voiced performances in “Hairspray” and “Mrs. Doubtfire,” as well writing the acclaimed “Torch Song Trilogy” and the book to the musical adaptation of “Kinky Boots.”
The Tyler Civic Theatre production is directed by Stephen Rainwater, his fourth following “Footloose,” “Hairspray,” and “The Little Mermaid.” Rainwater is absolutely in his element here – putting together a big, flashy production and filling every inch of the stage with talent. Teaming back up with TCT veteran and longtime collaborator Shelby Moy as choreographer, along with music directors John and Kim Hodges and assistant director, Sara England, they brought to life the biggest production to date with a cast of 44 incredibly gifted performers.
This huge (in fact, too huge to name every single member) cast really brings this show to life. They have ten times the energy, passion, and joy than any cast member in the original movie. Plus, Rainwater and his production team had some incredibly inspired casting ideas. My favorite being (and this is not a spoiler if you read the program) the decision in a show that basically only had a couple of roles for women, to cast women as the Brooklyn newsies and, if you know the show, you know the importance of Brooklyn.
The cast is phenomenal, from the leads to chorus members. As leader of the newsies, Jack Kelly, Collin Skelton gives a powerhouse performance in his debut at TCT. He has natural leading man skills, and I predict he has a big future on the stage. Lizzy Tucker plays Katherine Plumber, the headstrong reporter who sees the strike as not just a big story, but the catalyst to change child labor laws. Tucker returns to the Civic stage after playing Little Inez in “Hairspray” and she is fantastic. She has sharp comedic skills and an incredible voice that I hope to hear in many shows to come.
The show has many truly brilliant performances including the incredible Sherry Berry as Medda Larkin, Jack Ragland as Joseph Pulitzer, Fritz Hager as Davey (who helps Jack organize the strike even if it means he can’t support his family), and Robbie Wilt as the tragic, yet optimistic, Crutchie, who is one of the big emotional cores to the show. I also have to say that, without a doubt, in a production filled with immensely talented actors, the show is truly stolen by Mr. Chylar Whorton as Davey’s brother, Les. If his performance doesn’t capture your heart with combination of skill and charm, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you. This kid is amazing.
“Newsies” is yet another show that reminds me why summer musical season is the best part of the year, in my opinion. These truly prove how much talent is in East Texas, and this show is no exception. In terms of which Rainwater directed production is my favorite, that’s hard to say. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for “Hairspray.” If “Newsies” doesn’t tie it, it comes really close. There are twelve opportunities to see this show, and you owe it yourself to “seize the day” and see this group in action.
Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Drive. For more information or to purchase tickets call 903-592-0561 or go to http://tylercivictheatre.com/production/2018-2019/newsies.