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Newsies The Musical at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre

This show works for the space that it’s in, totally inhabiting all of the extended stage space plus the gangways and aisles – be extra careful should you need to leave the theatre mid-performance and there hasn’t been a show stop: there’s a risk of colliding with some ‘newsies’ – that is, newspaper sellers, or more accurately, newspaper strikers. A sizeable cast of thirty-six bring a story based on the New York newsboys’ strike of 1899 to life, and it’s worth noting that on press night, the sparkling choreography resulted in two standing ovations before the interval.

Michael Ahomka-Lindsay as Jack Kelly in Disney's NEWSIES, credit Johan Persson.
Michael Ahomka-Lindsay as Jack Kelly in Disney’s NEWSIES, credit Johan Persson.

The big ensemble numbers, then, are inspiring and impressive, whether in the characters’ early enthusiasm to find whatever happiness they can despite (to quote a different musical) a hard knock life, or in a demonstrative commitment to not only double down on their industrial action but to spread the word to newsies in other areas of New York – and quickly. The enormous stage does look ridiculously big in smaller scenes, such as one involving journalist Katherine Plumber (Bronté Barbé) on her desk typing away in a room with no other company, or scenes in the office of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer (Cameron Blakely). But that is a negligible complaint given the high production values overall.

There are some women in the story: aside from Plumber, Medda Larkin (Moya Angela) heads up a theatre which ends up being the venue for a large rally attended by newsies – the show really is far better at big scenes than it is at more intimate ones – and the key figures from Brooklyn, apparently by far the largest and most influential area in terms of newsies, are all women, which allows them their own moment to demonstrate some beautifully vigorous dancing of their own. But I take the point that it’s well into Act Two before the news girls turn up, and it isn’t long at all before the lads reassert their dominance.

Michael Ahomka-Lindsay’s Jack Kelly has a smooth singing voice and a likeable personality, equally convincing in his moments of boldness and in moments of vulnerability. The leader, by fellow newsies’ consent, of their strike, he is mindful of something union leaders taking strike action for real at the time of writing are: how much loss of income can be realistically sustained by strike participants? There are many other elements of the narrative that are also relatable to industrial action in this day and age – from attempts to employ non-union workers to sell papers to interventions from political leaders.

The orchestra, ably conducted by Nigel Lilley, goes big on brass, and the costumes (Natalie Pryce) are convincingly indicative of the living standards the various characters are able, or not, to maintain.

Action takes place on multiple levels, with the first half’s finale song sung from a balcony that takes two flights of stairs to reach. Thankfully, Mark Henderson’s lighting design makes it easy to figure out where to look on a set that is vast with a capital V, whether it’s Jack’s solo or one of the song and dance moments with star jumps, somersaults and pirouettes (and more). One or two of the more intimate scenes would be better seen on a National Theatre Live broadcast – facial expressions, at least from my vantage point, were quite impossible to work out, and this wasn’t a venue that had binoculars available for patrons.

Act One could end slightly earlier than it does, at the end of the hugely energetic ‘Seize the Day’ rather than continuing on to a particularly grim bit of the evening’s proceedings and then another showtune. That song, ‘Santa Fe’, which closes the first act, could be moved to an earlier point in the show, given that it is effectively Jack’s ‘I wish’ number. The magnificent and high-octane dancing in this show is both exhausting and exhilarating to watch – it’s worth seeing just for that.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Based on a true story, Newsies is set in New York City at the turn of the 19th century. It’s the rousing tale of a ragged band of teenage newspaper sellers, who dream of a better life far from the hardship of the streets.

After newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer hikes up the prices for his papers charged to the newsies, Jack Kelly rallies his fellow newsboys in an attempt to protest the change, falling in love with young reporter Katherine along the way. These young newsies from across the city come together and rise up against the exploitation of wealthy publishing tycoons and fight for justice using the only power they have – solidarity.

29 November 2022 – 19 February 2023
Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre
Running Time
2 hours 30 min including an interval

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