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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Forceful version of ‘Newsies’ vigorously unleashed in De Pere

Critic At Large

St. Norbert College Music Theatre - Next Stage

Scene from “Newsies” presented by St. Norbert College Music Theatre – Next Stage. (St. Norbert College)

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV)

Physical, energetic, in your face.

That’s the St. Norbert College Music Theatre – Next Stage (youth company) approach to Disney’s “Newsies.”

That is to be expected of a musical about a knot of downtrodden youth workers who are fired up enough to try to unionize.

Anger is present.

Theirs is a heated quest for fairness against stacked odds.

“Newsies” is based on a real story of 120 years ago in New York City. This is a showbiz take on that slice of history. Way, way showbiz.

New York City never saw kids who sold newspapers on the street erupt into song and dance. Tap dance even. Cartwheel even. Front and back flip even.

This is a Grade A production in many ways – the set, the costumes, the live orchestra, the lighting effects, sound system and the expertise among the creative collaborators with Teresa Schmidt at the fore as director/vocal director. All the cast members from 20 area schools and home schools have to do is show their stuff. And they do give their all.

Dominant in this production is Matthew Wautier as Jack Kelly, a tough-talkin’, 17-year-old street kid with no family who aches to get out, with Santa Fe being his nirvana. Matthew Wautier absorbs the gritty talk of the shabby street, the chip-on-the-shoulder stance of the street wise and the testosterone of his character’s persona, and he sings and acts as such.

More such matured performances abound. This cast has been drilled and drilled, rehearsed and rehearsed. Opening night Thursday was a series of rushes as player after player delivered featured scenes, with the ensemble often bursting into explosive action.

The set: Two stories of sturdy walkways and entrances of a dingy, dirty, hazy, depressing yet vital metropolis.

The story: Street urchins in New York City hawk newspapers using any method they can to get a sale – a bum leg, a sad face, an overblown headline. The newspapers are those of such historic moguls as Joseph Pulitzer (as in the Prize) and William Randolph Hearst (as in fake news). The moguls make their money off the hides of their workers, and now they want to raise the costs to the newsies (the street urchins) and make the tough, tough life of the newsies even tougher. Jack Kelly represents leadership in the pushback.

Prime (and well-portrayed) characters surrounding Jack are his buddy Crutchie (Luke Pisani), budding newspaper reporter (and his love at first sight) Katherine Plumber (Georgia Mobley, the admired (for having family and smarts) Davey and Les (Benjamin P. Danen and Charlie Rickards, respectively) and mentor of sorts dancehall owner Medda Larkin (Ellie Mungo), with Joseph Pulitzer (Jacob Van Asten) around to wear the bad hat.

The show stops for some big solos delivered expressively:

Jack/Matthew Wautier in “Santa Fe,” steeped in the ache of reaching for a golden ring.

Katherine/Georgia Mobley in “Watch What Happens,” full of determination and desperation all at once as the newspaper writer sits at a typewriter (great amplification effect) knowing full well she holds the fate of others’ lives at her fingertips.

Medda/Ellie Mungo in “That’s Rich,” full of ironies about money and people, laced with wry/sad humor.

Delivering big time is the corps of singer/dancers – sometimes including practically the whole company. Hours and hours of rehearsal – of players reaching for new heights – is obvious in the dynamism and pretty darn good precision in the athletic dances. Scan the faces of the performers as they dance and sing, and one after another is letting rip.

Walter Theatre was full on opening night Thursday. The place was a-live on stage, in the pit, in the audience, in the hallways.

***

Creative: Based on the Disney film written by Bob Tzudiker and Nonj White: book – Harvey Fierstein; music – Alan Menken; lyrics – Jack Feldman; producer – Music Theatre Management Team of Paul Mashl, Kent Paulsen, Michael Rosewall, Stephen Rupsch; director/vocal director – Teresa Schmidt; pit orchestra director – Philip Klickman; assistant director/choreographer – Andrea Hearden; scenic designer – Jeff Entwistle; light designer – Andrew Schmitz; costume designer – Erica Peters; hair and make-up designer – Stacey Nellen-Kolze; sound engineers – Chris Gabryszek, Paul Mashl; props designer – Hayden Barlass; technical director – Corey Allen Pinchart; stage manager – Katie DeRuyter

Cast:

Jack Kelly – Matt Wautier

Crutchie – Luke Pisani

Race – Dylan Schang

Albert – Andrew Moumblow

Henry – Dre Benson

Specs – Aidan Averbeck

Finch – Hannah Freund

Buttons – Anna Roth

Mush – Anna Zimmermann

Jojo – Lizzy Cantwell

Romeo – Kani Johnson

Tom – Brett Dutkowski

Elmer – Leonardo Malavet

Max – Max Timmer

Kristen – Kristen Green

Tommy Boy – Jack Terlap

Splasher – Violet Smale

Katherine Plumber – Georgia Mobley

Darcy/Mike – Anthony Naze

Nuns – Emma Doran, Hannah Dornfeld, Elizabeth Hoeppner, Alina Kiedinger, Madeline Miner, Eliza Moran, Mackenzie Staidl, Emma Utrie

Oscar Delancey – Logan Enger

Morris Delancey – Trent Paider

Wiesel – Jack McCurdy

Davey – Benjamin P. Danen

Les – Charlie Rickards

Seitz – Emma Utrie

Hannah – Elizabeth Hoeppner

Bunsen – Mackenzie Staidl

Nunzio – Elian Mejias

Joseph Pulitzer – Jacob Van Asten

Snyder – Will Smith

Policeman – Elian Mejias

Medda Larkin – Ellie Mungo

Stage Manager – Logan Enger

Bowery Beauties – Hannah Dornfeld, Elizabeth Hoeppner, Madeline Miner, Daphne Johnson, Reese Keyser

Guard – Elian Mejias

Mrs. Jacobi – Daphne Johnson

Scabs – Emma Doran, Reese Keyser, Madeline Miner

Goons – John Dorschner, Jacob Van Asten

Mayor – Jack McCurdy

Spot Conlon – Nick Kramer

Borough Newsies – Emma Doran, Daphne Johnson, Reese Keyser, Alina Kiedinger, Elian Mejias, Madeline Miner, Eliza Moran

Bill – Jack Terlap

Governor Teddy Roosevelt – John Dorschner

Orchestra: Conductor – Philip Klickman; flute – Sage Voyles; clarinet/saxophone – Mason Shefchik; trumpet – Maliq Mendez-McGillivray; trombone – David Utrie; percussion – Brynn Holzwarth, Luke Mobley; violin – Camryn Derozier; cello – Mckenna Johnson; keyboard 1 – Emily Sculliuffo; keyboard 2 – Katie Larson; guitar – McGregor Farah; electric bass – Ben Jensen

Running time: Two hours, 37 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 9; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 10; 2 p.m. Aug. 11

Info: snc.edu/tickets

***

Musical selections

Act I

“Overture” – Orchestra

“Santa Fe” (Prologue) – Jack and Crutchie

“Carrying the Banner” – Jack, Newsies, Nuns

“Carrying the Banner” (Tag)” – Newsies

“The Bottom Line” – Pulitzer, Seitz, Bunsen, Hannah

“Carrying the Banner” (Reprise) – Newsies

“That’s Rich” – Medda

“I Never Planned on You/Don’t Come-a-Knocking” – Jack, Bowery Beauties

“The World Will Know” – Jack, Davey, Les, Crutchie, Newsies

“The World Will Know” (Reprise) – Jack, Davey, Les, Newsies

“Watch What Happens” – Katherine

“Seize the Day” – Davey, Jack, Les, Newsies

“Seize the Day” (Tag) – Newsies

“The Fight”

“Santa Fe” – Jack

Act II

“King of New York” – Davey, Katherine, Les, Newsies

“Letter from The Refuge” – Crutchie

“Watch What Happens” (Reprise) – Davey, Jack, Katherine, Les

“The Bottom Line” (Reprise) – Pulitzer, Seitz, Bunsen

“Brooklyn’s Here” – Spot, Newsies

“Something to Believe In” – Katherine, Jack

“Seize the Day” (Reprise) – Newsies

“Once and for All” – Jack, Davey, Katherine, Newsies

“Seize the Day” (Reprise 2) – Newsies

“Finale” – Company

***

THE VENUE: The 725-seat Byron L. Walter Theatre features a proscenium stage (flat front). Its walls are textured concrete blocks laid in a wave pattern. The ceiling includes white acoustical clouds. Seat material and carpeting are the traditional theater red. The theater is located in Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts at St. Norbert College in De Pere. It is the larger of two theaters in the building, the core of which was built in 1955. In 1989, the Walter Theatre was renovated to improve the lobby and interior aesthetic, adding seating and improving the acoustics.

THE PERSON: Byron L. Walter (1877-1954) was a businessman. He operated Green Bay Hardware, Inc. until his retirement in 1953. Walter was co-founder of Paper Converting Machine Co. and for a time served as president. After his death, the Byron L. Walter Family Trust was established, and it made possible the theater. The trust continues to make widespread contributions to community projects and institutions.

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