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REVIEW: It’s the Time for Newsies (Chanhassen Dinner Theatres)

Aleks Knezevich (center) leads a ragtag group of newspaper boys (and one girl) in sticking it to the man in Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ production of Newsies. Photo by Rich Ryan Photography.

There is a moment in Newsies when Aleks Knezevich (as lead newsboy Jack Kelly) gives a speech about standing together. “All across this city,” he says. “There are boys and girls who should be out playin’, or goin’ to school – but instead they are slavin’ to support themselves and their folks…for the sake of all the kids in every sweatshop, factory, and slaughterhouse in this town, I beg you. Throw down your papers and join the strike!” It’s a rousing call to arms, and something to think about today as thousands of high school students stage mass walkouts to protest gun violence.

There are a lot of great things in Newsies (now playing at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres), but it’s resonant moments like this speech that make seeing this musical right now seem so very right. The authoritarian crackdown that follows is literally and figuratively crushing, especially since we instinctively root for the underdog fighting for what’s right. As for the rest of the plot, well, spoiler: it’s based on a real-life story, and as a Disney musical things ends with things neatly tied with a bow. This show isn’t about the end, but about the journey – which is pretty compelling.

Crutchie (Lucas Wells) in one of the show’s more nuanced moments. Photo by Rich Ryan Photography.

CDT’s new production of Newsies – a regional premiere – brims with musical and dramatic power. The score by Alan Menken includes some stand-out anthems like “The World Will Know” and “Seize the Day”, and the script by Harvey Fierstein has many very quotable bits. Jack Feldman’s lyrics are more functional than sparkling, but they do their job. The dancing, on the other hand does sparkle very much. The cast are light on their feet as they leap, bounce, and flip their ways across the stage to choreography by Tamara Kangas Erickson, including a spoon-clicking number that just puts a smile on your face.

The story opens with a host of newsboys, chiefly Jack Kelly (Knezevich), Crutchie (Lucas Wells), Davey (Alan Bach), and Les (alternately played by Tanner Zahn Hagen and Jon-Erik Chamberlain). After Joseph Pulitzer (a scene-chewing Thomas Schumacher) jacks up the newsboys’ per-paper fee, Jack gets jacked up and starts a protest. Things take a turn for the serious and our newsboys (and one newsgirl, Renee Guittar) find their narratives intertwined with Katherine (Ruthanne Heyward) and Medda Larkin (Kersten Rodau).

Knezevich has played many a heartthrob on the Chanhassen stage; Newsies places him in a different direction, showcasing his range as an actor. His emotionally laden reprise of “Santa Fe” at the end of Act I wonderfully captures a man at the end of his rope, when the night is darkest before the dawn.

Katherine (Ruthanne Heyward) ponders what to type for her latest feature. Photo by Rich Ryan Photography.

Ruthanne Heyward plays the mysteriously last name-less Katherine. Her rendition of “Watch What Happens” is a powerful introduction to the Act I finale sequence, and Heyward and Knezevich share a beautiful duet in “Something to Believe In”. Lucas Wells sneaks in the other most memorable solo song with “Letter from the Refuge”, a performance alternately touching and humorous.

This is a high-octane show, and Michael Brindisi’s direction carefully balances opening the throttle in the big numbers with taking time for nuance and reverses. Nayna Ramey’s set is minimalist in execution, keeping that focus on the newsies, although the moving printing press is sure to have the kids staring. After you’ve heard “Santa Fe” in the Act I cliffhanger, you’re going to wish you ordered the chocolate for dessert.

Recommended Dinner Options

  • Meat Lovers: Chicken Chanhassen with a glass of Luccio Moscato D’Asti or Bonterra. Towering Chocolate Cake for Two for dessert.
  • Pescatarian: Baked Sweet Chili-Lime Red Snapper with a glass of Coeur Clémentine Rosé. Triple Berry Tart for dessert.
  • Vegan: Ask your server for the daily options. Dairy-Free Chocolate Cake for dessert.

Newsies plays through September 29 at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres in Chanhassen, MN.

Basil Considine