I am still not clear on the reasons why we went on strike in 1980 at the Minneapolis newspapers. I only know we were on the street for 27 days. Union politics can get so confusing.
It was much simpler when New York publishers jacked up the cost of newspapers to the kids who hawked headlines on the street.
“Newsboys sell ‘papes!’ ” shout the offended ragamuffins in “Newsies,” and the youngsters band together to strike a blow for child welfare with a full-throated paean to the best of the labor movement.
A national tour of the dance-happy musical cruised in Tuesday for a weeklong run at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis and it is clear who is right and who is wrong in this black-and-white tussle between street urchins and the magnates who built empires from stacks of newsprint and ink. If Bernie Sanders could do the splits or even a jazz box step, he’d fit right into the chorus line.
Many are quite familiar with the story, having binge-watched the 1992 film starring Christian Bale as Jack Kelly, the young hero. Playwright Harvey Fierstein is more stagey in his script — which exists only to get us to the next song and the acrobatic lads who are the real stars here. It’s easy to see why choreographer Christopher Gattelli won a Tony for the high-flying leaps and slides and flips and tap steps. Alan Menken’s score bears all his anthemic trademarks, and he even makes a wink at Sondheim, thanks to Jack Feldman’s perfectly fitted lyrics.
“Seize the Day” stands as the newsies’ statement of purpose. Joey Barreiro’s Jack Kelly pines for the open country in “Santa Fe” and then “King of New York” stomps with energy and an iconic Gotham chorus.
The production looks great. Tobin Ost’s steel erector set will remind you instantly of the Hollywood Squares, though it slides and flexes into a dozen situations as diverse as the rooftop tenements of New York and the basement of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World.
Speaking of Pulitzer, actor Steve Blanchard renders the publisher with no-nonsense menace. He’s very real — none of that silly cartoonish villain in him.
Barreiro has the accent but not the suave manners of the young Vinny Barbarino; he’s more Fonzie in the tough-guy bluster of Jack Kelly. He’s athletic, handsome but a shade less than charming. More sympathetic is Stephen Michael Langton’s Davey, the brains of the newsies’ protests. Zachary Sayle nicely conjures up all the pathos in “Letter From the Refuge,” his tear-jerker ballad as Crutchie.
For whatever reason, Morgan Keene on Tuesday seemed tentative as Katherine, the young newspaper reporter who chronicles the strike. Is it just the contrast between her grown-up high manners and the frenetic energy of the boys? She sings beautifully in “Watch What Happens,” the Sondheim-ish witty take on writer’s block, but the chemistry between her and Barreiro never melts us.
So if you are one of the fans who fell in love with Bale in the film, check your romantic ardor at the door. Let yourself be taken in by the leaping lads who stood up for a simple, noble purpose. Feel the pluck of kids who said “enough” to exploitation. Slap that banner headline above the fold, at the top of the page: “Newsies dance into our hearts.”