In Concert

Newsies, the Disney film from 1992 by Alan Menken (whose run around the same time of Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin I’d put up against the work of any songwriter, on tape, on film, or on stage), was one I saw back when it hit VHS. But I don’t remember it too well. At least not the story. So, having not yet seen the Broadway adaptation of Newsies, I was curious to see if the Marriott Theatre’s production made more of an impression. And boy, did it ever.

The story’s still nothing that’ll make the “papes” (that’s what newsies call those inky, stinky things that used to provide the daily headlines), but I quickly realized we weren’t there for story. We were there for spectacle. And boy, did this production deliver.

In the round, the set is dominated by three steel girders that move to change the feel and figure depending on the needed background, but mostly harken back to turn-of-the-century NYC (partying like it’s 1899, not 1999), a city that’s growing and figuring it all out. So, too, are the newsies of the title, a pack of newspaper delivery boys of all shapes and shades and sizes, but who’ve got one thing in common – servitude to the media titans of the day. The story – one of standing up to the wealthy bullies who run things – is inspiring and as apt today as it was over a century ago, even if it doesn’t hold up to the spectacle. So let’s get to that spectacle!

Patrick Rooney as principal paperboy Jack Kelly works well as the lead. He’s got old-timey leading man looks and allure – “pizazz” they probably would’ve called it back in ‘99. And he’s got pipes, too, really letting loose on Menken’s “Santa Fe” to close the first act.

Jack’s fellow newsies have pizazz from the Bronx to Brooklyn, too. Athletes, all, they leap and bound, frolic and flip all across the square stage, charming the audience on all sides with spot-on choreography. Nick Graffagna as Davey looks and talks the part of a lad of that era, and Garrett Lutz’s bushy-haired Irishman does, too. Laura Savage and Adrienne Storrs as two newsgirls provide even more spunk and theater talent to the gang. And when the newsies storm the simple stage for ensemble numbers like “Seize the Day” and “King of New York” they make Lincolnshire’s modest forum seem simply metropolitan.

But from the get-go, the newsie who stands the tallest is young Matthew Uzarraga. As Crutchie, a disabled orphan armed with his namesake walking stick, Uzarraga first shows his skills when he joins Jack in harmony on an early take of “Santa Fe” – I’m a sucker for spot-on harmonizing, one of the things that’s hardest to do as a vocalist and when done right gives the listener goosebumps – giving me the chills. And throughout the show, Uzarraga’s crippled but plucky street urchin steals the stage whenever he’s on it, hobbling along happily and even bubbly and bright when consigned to a poorhouse bed.

My teen daughter, who accompanied me to the Marriott and who did catch the traveling cast of Newsies at the downtown Cadillac Theater a couple years back, said she enjoyed this production even more – delighted at seeing the footwork and old-timey fashions up close. So, too, did the rest of the audience – old and young, alike. So if it’s a story you’re looking for, I’ll tell you right now, Newsies is pretty much Annie, but with Worlds and Suns and Tribs instead of mops and buckets and baldheaded tycoons. But if it’s a show, a spectacle, you wanna see, then head to Lincolnshire for the Marriott’s production of Newsies, and pony up for the pomps and papes they’re sellin’!

For more show information visit www.marriotttheatre.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

I have to admit Aladdin is one of my all-time favorite Disney films so I was very optimistic upon entering Cadillac Palace to see the stage version. Turned into a live musical in 2011, Disney’s Aladdin has landed in Chicago for a five-month run with over three million people having already experienced the production worldwide. My hopes were high. I wanted so much to enjoy it. I entered the musical knowing the characters and creative team had a lot to deliver in order to please me - and deliver they did! Bringing to life the classic tale of Aladdin, Princess Jasmine, Genie and the villainous Jafar, I am happy to say the stage adaptation of the popular musical is a full-on magical adventure that exceeds expectations.

 

Adam Jacobs in the lead role of Aladdin has a wonderful voice, excellent dance skills and a charming, bright white smile that reaches all the way to the audience members in the back balcony much to their delight. Jacobs has some real star quality developing, which is a pleasure to see. Adam Jacobs as the poor thief trying to win Princess Jasmine’s heart with three wishes from a genie, really resembles a young Matt Dillon for those who remember the handsome, spirited hustler in the popular film "The Flamingo Kid."

 

Perfectly paired with Jacobs, Isabelle McCalla plays Princess Jasmine with a sassy, feminist air that was both endearing and inspiring to young girls without seeming cloying or coy. McCalla also has a lovely, yet strong stage presence and a wonderful singing voice. Yet the key to a successful production of Aladdin depends on the strength of the wish-giving imp and in this case Anthony Murphy nails the role of Genie. Murphy is deliciously saucy and upbeat in his interpretation of Genie and has great physical comedy timing and brings with him some impressive dance instincts. 

 

The fabulous tunes of Aladdin penned by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice are brought to life by this talented ensemble directed by Devanand Janki with an abundance of energy and infectious joy! 

 

The magic flying carpet scene is every bit as enchanting as in the film when Aladdin posing as a prince offers to free Jasmine from her castle tower where she has been isolated from seeing the daily life of the real world. Aladdin finally shows her “A Whole NEW World" with a stunning backdrop of night stars, which create an effective and truly romantic flying carpet special effect that makes both adult couples and children alike say, “Wow, that's beautiful!" 

 

I loved the way the book has been altered to include the idea that an arranged marriage is politically incorrect even if it is an arranged marriage to a prince. This is a very serious problem in other countries and I was very pleased that the writers made it clear to the young women watching the show that in the end even Jasmines' father, The King, was forced to change the law in order to make sure his daughter was married to someone she loved, regardless of his social standing - that it was her choice, not his. 

 

Brian Sidney Bembridge (sets), Jesse Klug (lighting) and Debbie Baer (costumes) each deserve their own round of applause for their amazing accomplishment in creating the truly golden treasure room and flying carpet effects along with the colorful, rich designs that captured and dazzled the eye in every scene.

 

I highly recommend this show for adults who’d like to go on a romantic date as it dreamy and fun while reminding us of the innocence of love. Aladdin is, of course, also a great production for young ones to see because, unlike in some children's theater, the characters are fully rounded and the entire spirited cast really delivers on their opening number, “Arabian Nights”, successfully projecting the feelings associated with the magic and destiny of Love that is caused by such wonder and delight! 

 

Disney’s Aladdin is running at Cadillac Palace through September 10th. For tickets and show information visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com

 

Published in Theatre in Review

 

 

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