The big annual winter musical at Oak Park and River Forest High School rarely disappoints. This year’s offering is a lively, solid production of Newsies, thoroughly uplifting and thrilling. Directed by Michelle DePasquale Bayer, this large-scale effort features scores of onstage performers and an equal number of behind-the-scenes tech and orchestra students who bring this delightful show to its feet. Over 150 young people are involved in this musical.
As wonderful evenings go, this one is so affordably priced; if you’ve never been to one of OPRF’s productions or have not been in a while, this is a perfect one for you to enjoy.
This musical grew out of a 1992 Disney film that was considered a box office bomb. There’s an invigorating score by Alan Menken with lyrics by Jack Feldman. Harvey Fierstein wrote the book.
Strong characterization is vital for Newsies and the large cast does not disappoint. The actors also appear excited about what they’re doing. The big numbers are especially acrobatic. The physicality and skill of the dancers is remarkable. Connor Cornelius is the choreographer.
The plot focuses on the New York newsboy strike of 1899 that blossomed into a thousands-strong movement. These scrappy, streetwise boys, plus a few girls, were essentially homeless kids, children of immigrants and often orphans. But ruthless, greedy newspaper baron Joseph Pulitzer (Max Halle-Podell) of the New York World, began squeezing them for extra pennies by raising the price the newsies had to pay for their papers.
Though this musical portrays conflicts from 120 years ago, many current issues come to mind while watching the exploitation of the poor and homeless and their struggle to overcome diversity.
Ty Schirmer gives a very charismatic performance as Jack Kelly, outspoken ringleader of the newsies. Schirmer seems a natural star. His performance of “Santa Fe” is a true triumph.
Jack’s disabled best buddy, Crutchie (Declan Collins), is kind and fragile. He melts our hearts with his solo “Letter from the Refuge.”
Valerie Martire is strong as Jack’s love interest, a proto-feminist and budding journalist in search of a story that will get her off the society page. She does a piece on the strike. But she is also not a pushover for Jack’s insistent charms. Martire and Schirmer have a sweet and lovely duet, “Something to Believe In.” Martire also has a fine solo number, “Watch What Happens.”
Taylor Morris is one of Jack’s adult friends. Medda Larkin is a glamorous chanteuse who owns a vaudeville house. Caz Badynere plays Governor Teddy Roosevelt. Jack Zylstra is scrappy Romeo. Jack Berleman-Paul and Leo Gonzalez play brothers new to the movement.
The 22-piece orchestra is, per usual, outstanding as well. Nicholas Hymson, who plays the flute, is the student pit director. Patrick Pearson is the Instrumental Musical Director and Meredith McGuire is the Vocal Music Director. Vocally this is a difficult show, but the singing is really one of the production’s many strengths.
The lighting, designed by Christopher Moore, features lovely color tones. The impressive multi-level set is by Christopher Scholten. Delia Ford is the Fight Choreographer.
Jeffrey G. Kelly’s costumes are great fun. Patricia A. Cheney designed the hair and make-up. Pulitzer’s beard is especially well-done.
The musical is full of hope and defiance. Like all Disney efforts, this show leaves no hero unsung and no bad guy unpunished.
Two more performances of “Newsies” remain: this Friday and Saturday, March 6 and 7, 7 to 9:30 p.m. in the OPRF Auditorium, 201 N. Scoville, Oak Park. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors. Tickets/more: oprfhs.ticketleap.com/disneys-newsies.