Disney's Newsies at Near West Theatre is Headline Worthy

Community Theatre

Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Jack Feldman
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Based on the Disney film written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White

Set in turn-of-the-century New York City, Newsies is the rousing tale of Jack Kelly (Felix Albino), a charismatic newsboy and leader of a band of teenaged "newsies." When titans of publishing raise distribution prices at the newsboys’ expense, Jack rallies newsies from across the city to "Seize the Day" and strike for what's right! Timely and fresh, Newsies addresses age-old themes of social injustice, exploitative labor practices, and David-versus-Goliath struggles as these youth learn to harness their power against a corrupt establishment. Inspired by a true story and based on the popular Disney film, Newsies features a Tony Award-winning score by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, and book by Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein.

If you were wondering if the future of our country has the resolve and purpose to fight and change the world, then look no further than the current production of Newsies at Near West Theatre. In the words of Director Kelcie Nicole Duggar ", they are a fierce group of the most WOKE young people that inspire me beyond words". I think the audience would agree based on the roaring applause throughout the musical performance. The show itself tends to hang its hat on being a dance show, with the "Newsies" dancing so athletically that it resembles an Olympic Gymnastics tryout.  Well, this production features a group of 9 to 15-year-olds, who attack this piece of theatre like carpenter ants on a freshly cut redwood.

There are some powerful observations regarding this production, and some of them are true testaments to the mission of Near West Theatre and the growth and inspiration that empowers young people to grow and become empassioned adults.

First is the Director, Kelcie Nicole Duggar. She has put together a tremendous show, and in particular, her gift of working with the age group of 9 to 15-year-olds in the city is unparalleled. Duggar is able to connect with this group being honest, treating them with respect, and most importantly LISTENING! She has overseen a beautiful and fun production and staged engaging scene work and characterizations that are alive and complete with dead-on accents. Duggar has grown up at Near West Theatre. Starting as a shy kid, she has risen to Associate Artistic Director. Her accomplishments are a tremendous inspiration to the kids that she is directing. Incredibly relatable, and incredibly WOKE.

Secondly, the Music Director Scott Pyle. Here is another homegrown artist who has risen through the conclave of Near West Theatre. First hitting the boards as a young kid filled with energy, talent, and a smile that generated ticket sales more than a BOGO offer. He slowly developed his stage skills, and in addition, honed his skills as a musician, which has evolved enough that he is now Music Director for the 9 to 15 shows. He also has served as Music Director, and Assistant Music Director on the Young Adult, and Intergenerational shows. He is down to earth, nurturing, and his talents contribute heavily to guide and provide growth to the cast members that grace the stage.

Both Duggar and Pyle have come to full actualization of their talents, The institution, and the actors, and stage crews that work on the shows are in talented and protective hands.

Thirdly, the choreography provided by Josh Larkin. You have to remind yourself after each raucous number that brings the audience to a screaming helix of happiness, that these actors are 9 to 15. Newsies is a show known for the dance sequences and launching the career of Jeremy Jordan, Broadway Heart Throb. Well, the heartthrob in this production is the inventive, powerful, creative, fantastic, jaw-dropping moments of dance in this show. I attended this production with another Near West Theatre success story, Trinidad Snider, and she turned to me and stated what I had already concluded, that "this is the best dance I have ever seen at Near West Theatre, ever." It's true, Larkin has outdone himself. It is pure joy!

Next is the crew. The backstage heroes who prefer the shade as opposed to the light. Or the occasional actor who wants to give back by working backstage to help out the actors on stage and a point of balance in the universe. Supervised by Production Stage Manager/Assistant Production Manager Ryan Wolf. The crew led by Stage Manager Katie Landoll, Assistant Stage Manager Allan Stubbs, and a fierce crew that even included the Duggar.

Now we come to this incredible cast.

Leading the way is another Near West Theatre success story. Felix Albino as Jack Kelly. He has literally grown up at Near West Theatre. Watching him grow into such an accomplished performer has been a very proud story to watch. In fact, Albino was nominated for a Dazzle Award last year for his work on AIDA at Near West Theatre. His story no longer exists here, but now is being recognized beyond in the city. Albino give Kelly a rich and layered performance. Acted with a natural presence, that is greatly enhanced by a beautiful and powerful singing voice. He leads the show with a humble command and eschews every scene with relevance and adept acting. At the end of Act One, Albino delivers a heart-pounding reprise of "Santa Fe". His sidekick, Crutchie, is gloriously performed by Dashiell Tidrick. This kid is a scream. He flies around the stage, crutch in hand, like a water spider on spring break. His character is excellent, dances with athletic sharpness and his solo "Letter from the Bridge" is heartbreaking due to his expressive voice, and finding truth in every moment.

Then we come to Davey (Alex Schwartz) and Les (Corlyn Stauffer), the sidekicks of the year. Both of these actors are a blast, dead on, and work every moment to the utmost effectiveness. Both are charming as heck. Schwartz has a beautiful voice, that is highlighted at the beginning of "Seize the Day". I am surprised there isn't a collection plate flying around the audience. He is charming, dances his tuchas off, sings powerfully, and his character is a pure delight. Speaking of powerful, whether she knows it or not, Stauffer playing the little boy Les practically steals the show, and every scene she is in. She is a dynamo. but it is not all charm, she is smart, she can sing, she can dance, she has a great character, and she knows how to share the stage with others. I am surprised they aren't selling "Les" Bobble Heads at the concession stand. 

Balancing the strong characters that I have mentioned, you need a strong counterbalance to even the playing field. Well, luckily Alexis Nelan checks every box as Katherine Pulitzer. She carries herself with a mature presence, deft acting skills, and a strong character voice. She handles "What Happens" with professional ease and makes that quite a difficult song, seem like an effortless expression of dialogue. She also contributes strongly to the dance. Slapping on some tap shoes at the opening of Act Two, she traverses the set with the rest of the cast, like Danny Kaye on holiday. If I just showed my age, I apologize, but simply put, she is fierce!

Then we come to the office of Joseph Pulitzer (Trinity Ann Ritchie), the head of the Publishing Company. Ritchie is a scream. Her character is bold, brassy, and completely honed. She is the perfect villain and doesn't waste any moment on stage to shine, or to bully (in character) other characters around her. Excellent fun. Joining as Pulitzer's associates are Seitz (Joshua Mink), Bunsen (Carlo Polisena), Hannah (Ellie Ritterbusch), and barber Nunzio (enjoyable Willie Rose).  Mink, Polisena, Ritterbusch, are perfect as the staff. Each one of them is spot on, with accents which make the scenes all the better and are confident beyond their years. Bravo.

There are some highlighted turns. Raina Hubbard as Medda Larkin completely smokes the stage with sassiness and an Audra McDonald realness and knows how to egg on the audience. Rylie Elswick as the Newsie Race brings it to the stage with adept character and a buoyant presence. Jacob Glendenning has a great bit as Romeo which is well played. Nathaniel Brinkhoff as Wiesel is a mop-haired bully that is a blast to watch. Colin Guildoo makes for a mean-spirited Snyder and is effective in making us not like him. Win.  Abdullah Madera as Spot brings his roughhouse realness into play. Fonzie in the Bronx. And as a return engagement, Rose appears as Governor Teddy Roosevelt and makes a strong case that his mustache deserves a curtain call all on its own. Great Stuff.

This company is fearless. They are the ones who contributed to making this one, if not, the best dance show ever at Near West Theatre. A crowning achievement. Every person on stage pushed themselves to the limit. And out of the midst of choreographic heaven, several of the cast would bust out of a move in the shape and color of Agnes DeMille, and the crowd would react with stunned visual overload. 

The Production Team was on fire.

Hedderson pulled all the technical elements together with professional aplomb. Michalak's design was restrained and focused and worked beautifully in the space. West created great lighting moments, and let the story unravel without tricks and whistles. Walker's costume design was spot on and entertaining as heck. Greatly enhancing the storyline

Director: Kelcie Nicole Duggar
Asst: Amanda Bender
Music Director: Scott Pyle
Choreographer: Josh Landis
Asst: Katie Jerome Taylor
Asst: Antonio DeJesus
Production Manager: Michael Stein
Production Stage Manager/Asst. Production Manager: Ryan Wolf
Stage Manager: Katie Landoll
Asst: Allan Stubbs
Deck Chief: Katarina Radujkovic
Technical Director/Video Designer: Perren Hedderson
Set Designer: Cameron Michalak
Charge Scenic Artist:  Jenny Hitmar Shankland
Lighting Designer: Tom West
Light Board Operator: Katie Landoll
Costume Designer: Melody Walker
Wardrobe Supervisor: Lady Jen Ryan
Sound Designer/Operator: Matthew Torok
Sound Technician: Emilee Skutt
Properties Master: Kate Atherton
Scenic Carpenters: Emily Hehnen
Child Supervisor: Michelle Bender

Musicians on Fire:
Keyboard 1/ Conductor: Scott Pyle
Trumpet: Brian Gutkoski
Reeds: Kim Taylor
Violin: Leah Frank
Bass: Jason Stebelton
Drums/Percussion: Rick Taylor

Congratulations to the cast and crew! You have created something wonderful!
I hope the next Headline is "Near West Theatre receives a record number of donations!"


Ticket Information
and Promotional Materials

Closes this Weekend!

7:30pm Saturday
3pm Sunday

$8-$10, $25 Reserved Seating

(216) 961-6391
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Near West Theatre
6702 Detroit Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44102