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MANILA, Philippines – Newsies – the lavish production of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical from Disney – is every bit worthy of the Disney franchise. It currently performs every weekend night this July at the Globe Iconic Store, Bonifacio High Street Amphitheater, Bonifacio Global City, and it’s a tough act to follow for the other Disney theatrical productions that it heralds into the country.
This production of Newsies can hold its head up high beside even the most glorious production of The Lion King. Executive producer Joe Caliro himself revealed that Disney representatives were impressed by Newsies‘ gala night performance. But the best thing about 9 Works Theatrical’s production of Disney’s Newsies is wholly original, wholly Filipino.
The music is by the legendary composer Alan Menken – famous for Oscar Award-winning animation films The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Pocahontas. The libretto is by acclaimed playwright Harvey Fierstein – best known for Tony Award-winning musicals Hairspray, La Cage aux Folles, and Kinky Boots. But the staging, blocking, costume, make-up, stage design – and most especially the stupendous choreography – are all originally by 9 Works Theatrical, the theater company that also staged the musicals American Idiot and Christmas Carol at the Globe Iconic.
The creative team includes Robbie Guevara as director, PJ Rebullida as choreographer, Yek Barlongay as tap dance choreographer, Daniel Bartolome as musical director, Ed Lacson as set designer, Martin Esteva as lighting designer, GA Fallarme as video and projection designer, Eric Pineda as costume designer, Myrene Santos as hair and makeup designer, Franz Imperial as assistant director, and Dong Calingacion as technical director. Newsies was produced by the partnership of 9 Works Theatrical and Globe Live.
And living up to the demanding choreography and direction, the sculptural set design, and the evocative lighting, costume, and makeup are this production’s select ensemble: Gian Magdangal, Jef Flores, Daniel Drilon, Tory Cortez, Luis Marcelo, Alex Diaz, Danielle Chopin, Greg Dulcie, Pinky Marquez, Raymund Concepcion, Franz Imperial, Ariel Reonal, Joni Galeste, Melissa Bell, Ian Ocampo, Ronelson Yadao, Erick Arenas, Jourdan Bartolome, Mark Anthony Grantos, Jim Ferrer, Chesko Rodriguez, Kendrick Ibasco, Anton Posadas, Stephen Viñas, Clark dela Riva, Jon Abella, MC dela Cruz, Vyen Villanueva, and Jan Mayo.
Truth behind the news
Newsies – which won two Tony Awards including Best Original Score and was nominated for 8 Tonys including Best Musical – is a runaway Broadway success story based on a flopped 1992 movie of the same name starring Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, Ann-Margret, and Robert Duvall.
The musical takes its name from the 19th century American colloquialism for newsboys who peddle the daily papers for a pittance. It fictionalizes a true historical event – the newsboys’ strike of 1899 – when rival tycoons Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of The World, and William Randolph Hearst, publisher of The Journal, raised the cost of a newsboy bundle of 100 newspapers from 50 cents to 60 cents, squeezing the newsboys for greater profit. A charismatic newsboy named Louis Ballet, better known as Kid Blink for being blind in one eye, successfully organized a strike despite violence perpetrated by thugs hired by publishers.
Kid Blink was often quoted by rival newspapers phonetically to convey his idiosyncratic and endearing Brooklyn accent. “This is a time which tries de hearts of men. Dis is de time when we’se got to stick together like glue… We know wot we wants and we’ll git it even if we is blind,” read the New York Tribune in 1899. It is this accent that is essential to this period musical.
The fact that Pulitzer – the real-life villain equally infamous for sensationalist and baseless reportage – would later on reform himself after the strike and establish the world’s first journalism school in Columbia University as well as the Pulitzer Prize for journalistic excellence, speaks of the transformative power of one humble newsboy’s struggle.
The musical mixes historical figures, such as Joseph Pulitzer and Governor Teddy Roosevelt, with fictionalized characters such as: a wise-cracking newspaper boy and promising painter cum labor movement leader named Jack Kelly (played by Gian Magdangal), based on the historical Kid Blink; a newbie newsboy and intellectual Davey (played by Jef Flores); and a feisty reporter with the byline Katherine Plumber (played by Danielle Chopin), who gives press coverage of the newsboys’ plight against her publisher’s vested interests.
Newsies sugarcoats in song, dance, and a love story between a pauper and tycoon’s princess its potent story on labor rights, child exploitation, and capitalism. Newsies is potentially an American equivalent of Les Miserables.
Make no mistake, Newsies, as staged by 9 Works, is a dance extravaganza. And there ain’t nuthin’ prissy ’bout them boys. The athleticism demanded by the vigorous choreography is absolutely breathtaking for audiences – but thankfully not for the cast.
Amazingly, the actors – despite ceaseless leaps, mid-air splits, pirouettes, tap dances, and fist fights that would leave mere mortals out of breath – sing and speak their lines empathically without skipping a beat, fresh off their dance sequences, only to plunge headlong into more leaps, splits, and pirouettes right after.
The dance itself is every bit as essential as the dialogue and the lyrics in telling the story. The choreography is every bit as evocative as the wardrobe, hairstyle, and makeup in revealing the persona of each character: boyish bravado and youthful zeal, roguish charm, and vagabond light-footedness.
The cast, despite coming from a variety of disciplines, execute the extremely demanding choreography that combines elements of ballet, tap dance, jazz, and hints of hip hop as a cohesive troupe.
PJ Rebullida deserves a standing ovation, not only for his choreography, but also his rigorous training of the cast. With sleight of hand, his choreography allows actors to catch their breath and speak their lines effectively, even as other cast members draw attention to their own dancing. The performances of the most gifted dancers bolster those of others as part of an ensemble.
Ed Lacson’s movable set design smartly evokes not only the machinery of the nascent industrial age but also the cast metal typefaces used in manual printing presses. Martin Esteva’s lighting design and GA Fallarme’s video projection further transforms the set and adds depth, dimension, and focus.
Eric Pineda and Myrene Santos create costumes, hair styles, and makeup that both evoke the historical period yet survive the most acrobatic of choreographies. Daniel Bartolome’s music was flawless.
And of course, there was Robbie Guevara’s deft and disciplined direction that allows for performances that are both spectacular yet concise. Nothing is superfluous, however stupendous.
The only room for improvement is the Brooklyn accent that is crucial to the play. Some happy middle ground must be found where authenticity, empathic delivery, and clarity are all achieved in equal measure.
Ultimately, it is the performances of young actors such as Gian Magdangal, Jef Flores, and Danielle Chopin that transform a display of virtuosity into a heartfelt story. Because of them, we care for the plight of young boys two centuries ago, halfway ’round the world. Theirs is the heartbeat that is felt when the music has been hushed, when the dancers have been stilled, and when the lights have been dimmed. – Rappler.com
Newsies runs from Friday to Sunday at 8 p.m. until July 30 at the Globe Iconic Store at the Bonifacio High Street ampitheater in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Tickets are available on Ticketworld.
Writer, graphic designer, and business owner Rome Jorge is passionate about the arts. Formerly the Editor-in-Chief of asianTraveler Magazine, Lifestyle Editor of The Manila Times, and cover story writer for MEGA and Lifestyle Asia Magazines, Rome Jorge has also covered terror attacks, military mutinies, and mass demonstrations as well as reproductive health, gender equality, climate change, HIV/AIDS and other important issues. He is also the proprietor of Strawberry Jams Music Studio.