HT Preview: Musical portrays real-life carrier strike of 1899
Joel Peirson | December 8, 2019
Cardinal Stage has a fun new musical for the whole family debuting this week, but let’s face it — the title is a little silly: “Newsies.”
If every musical followed this title, we’d be getting tickets for “Catsies,” “Les Miserablesies,” “Hamiltonsies” and “The Book of Mormonsies.” But no, we are fortunate that Disney alone has cornered the -sies market with this musical stage presentation based on their 1992 film. Besides, if you’re comfortable with the name, you’re probably all set to order the Rooty-Tooty Fresh and Fruity pancakes at the new IHOP.
The story is inspired by a major real-life newsboy strike that took place in 1899, and the musical features some prominent real people of that time. In the story, New York publishing giants Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst are looking to squeeze more and more revenue out of their print empires. One method of increasing their profits is by taking advantage of their newsboys or “newsies,” as they were called.
Unwilling to take such guff, our hero, Jack Kelly, organizes a band of newsboys to go on strike. Many of them are homeless orphans, while others come from strained home lives. We get a look into their lives and struggles, beyond standing on corners and shouting “Extra! Extra!” They have hopes and loves and fears, like the rest of us.
Once the strike goes into effect, things get more serious, as the publisher employs strikebreakers to restore order. Commotion ensues, and some newsies fare better than others. In the second act, deliberations continue, with new surprises and complications unfolding.
This show has a lot going for it. There’s a large youth cast, so young audience members will have characters to relate to. There’s a historical element, so it offers some education along with the entertainment. Cardinal is using the Buskirk-Chumley Theater for this production, so there’s plenty of room for the sprawling story to sprawl. It’s also one of those family shows that doesn’t forget the adults in the room. There’s a powerful story here about remembering the human element of business, one that’s just as true and relevant in 2019 as it was in 1899.
And let’s not overlook the show’s popularity. Disney’s movie was a hit, and the 2012 Broadway run netted six Tony Award nominations and another two wins. The quality is there, and while the show may not have the name recognition of some recent blockbusters, it definitely has what it takes to make the family happy on a winter’s day.