I’m not going to say that theater-lovers are more knowledgable about history than non-theater lovers. That would be a conceit that I could not prove. But, I will state with a fair amount of certainty that theater-lovers know more about the newsboy strike of 1899 than non-theater lovers. That’s because of “Newsies.” The movie and the Broadway play that followed it nine years later shines a bright (if not entirely historically accurate) light on the goings-on in New York City during a time when the one-percenters held all the power and the workers grew tired of being bullied. (Hmmmmm…) Paradise Theatre (late of Gig Harbor, and now mostly in Port Orchard) opened “Newsies” this weekend at their new home at the Dragonfly. The show is a microcosm of Paradise’s own journey, but more on that in a bit. It is more importantly an entertaining night of community theater.
Community theater lover that you are , the newsboy strike is familiar territory. In Paradise’s show, Jack Kelly, the ostensible leader of the strike is played by Michael Drake. That’s a very good thing. Mr. Drake is the on-stage face of Paradise Theatre and they are extraordinarily lucky to have him on board. He was nominated for a South Sound Stage Excellence award a couple of years ago, and his passion for the stage shines in everything he does. His Jack Kelly is no exception.
Jack is assisted in his labor union efforts by a number of cohorts, not the least is “Davey,” played by high-school junior Joe Stephens. Paradise Theatre co-head-honcho Vicki Richards choreographed the show, and Mr. Stephens took to the choreography like a fish to water. His dance skills and solo singing prowess are impressive. However, when singing in ensemble, he chased the lyrics, coming in late several times. We believe he will clear that up as the show ages, and his diligence will match the considerable skill that Mr. Stephens possesses. He has a lot of stage potential.
Wild applause and kudos to Leah Harlander, who plays “Crutchie.” Also a high-schooler, Ms. Harlander makes her theater debut in this show. Well, where have you been young lady? Her athletic ability (track and field for the Gig Harbor Tides) is on full display, and her acting ability matches her dexterity. If she was a seasoned performer she would have caught the eye of Drama in the Hood. We shake our heads in amazement at the job she did as a stage newbie.
Historically speaking, Joseph Pulitzer get a bad rap in “Newsies,” as his role as the bad guy wasn’t as defined as it is in the play. But, every show needs a villain, and Eric Emans’ performance was superb. An elocutionist par excellence, Mr. Emans projects to the back of the room, down the stairs and around the corner. His Pulitzer was well-drawn and one of the better ones we have seen.
Lesley Niemi plays Medda Larkin, the theater-owner with a heart of gold. A dual-threat singer and actor, Ms. Niemi is a valuable pony in Paradise Theatre’s stable of talent. Her performance in this show is more than a solid one, and the audience responds very well to her work.
Fifth-grader Hayden Degarimore plays Les in this show, and he describes it as a “dream come true.” One hopes that this young man will continue on in his theater work, because he is a fine young performer that can someday open shows as a lead actor. His playful interactions with Lesley Niemi are particularly fun.
Madelyn Bjorn plays journalist Kathryn Plummer in this show, and is one of the true high points in the production. She has the best singing voice in the cast, and is growing in leaps and bounds as a performer. One of the highlights in “Newsies” is when she struggles to come up with the words for the article that she wants to write. Ms. Bjorn plays that scene to absolute perfection and is deserving of the ovation she received at the end of the show. It is a pleasure to watch her work and see her career take flight. Nicely done, Ms. Bjorn!
The ensemble cast is large for this show, and their performance in a small space is a tribute to Director Jeff Richards, as well as to Mrs. Richards’ choreography skills. As a group, the ensemble performs very well. One member who stood out is the talented Dante True. His dual roles as Race and Romeo are very well-played and Dante True’s limber body is put to good use. Mr. True is another former SOSSE award nominee and is always a pleasure to watch work.
We said at the beginning that Newsies is a microcosm of Paradise Theatre. Newsies is about a group of people who, against the odds thrown up when power is held accountable for bad behavior, ultimately succeeds and life is better as a result. Paradise Theatre has fought against civic power brokers, community lethargy, and implacable opposition for as long as Drama in the Hood has known it. Now, it is prepared to dance into its future as a successful venture, winning against the odds. Drama in the Hood believes Paradise’s future is brighter than its past, and that the City of Port Orchard just became eminently more livable. Rock on, Paradise! Your struggle is Everyman and your victory is inspiring!
So, make plans to see “Newsies.” On the one hand it is a great show that you will enjoy seeing. On the other hand, it is your Holy quest as a supporter of a theatre worth backing. Either way, a worthy night out. Buy a ticket today!
“Newsies,” by Harvey Fierstein, Paradise Theatre at Dragonfly Cinema, 822 Bay Street, Port Orchard, 98366. Fri-Sat 7:30, Sat 2 pm through July 6. Tickets: paradisetheatre.thundertix.com/events/150669 Info: www.paradisetheatre.org