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

Every time I think the talented cast of players and directors performing at Marriott Theatre’s intimate theatre in the round have done the very best they can, they top themselves again.

This production of the deliciously classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about a spunky, intelligent teacher who is recruited from England to teach the children of an arrogant but struggling King of Siam directed with precision and compassion by Nick Bowles was hands down the finest, most soaring yet intimate production of “The King and I” that I have seen in years.

Heidi Kettenring as the show’s star in Anna has more than a fine singing voice for the piece. Kettenring infuses the character with humor, strength, compassion and a feminist fury which reaches its peak of expression in the hilarious and still modern song, “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?”

“All 
to remind you of your royalty,
I find a most disgusting exhibition.
I wouldn't ask a Siamese cat
to demonstrate his loyalty
by taking this ridiculous position
how would you like it if you were a man
playing the part of a toad.
Crawling around on your elbows and knees.
Eating the dust of the road!...”

king-and-iNew York actor Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte, does a wonderful, sexy and layered performance as the King, never falling into predictable caricature.  Guillarte is a little bit younger than the King is normally played and it makes perfect sense that his character is both falling in love with the educated and mature teacher Anna and also confused by his growing sense of bewilderment at her grasp of political situations that improve the destiny of his own family and finally, his entire Kingdom.

The romantic and sexual chemistry between Kettenring and Guillarte is absolutely dynamite and had the entire audience breathlessly watching each explosive scene between this talented pair.

There is a very funny, yet revealing scene where the King is insisting that Anna’s head never be higher than his own. The King asks Anna to take dictation for an important letter to a visiting dignitary and sits down on the floor. When Anna finally sits down on the floor, the King moves to recline on one elbow and so forth till they are both completely reclining on the floor. Although, it is really a nonsensical demonstration of his manly power, Kettenring and Guillarte manage to make it a funny and sexy “shades of gray” type dance between two people who are each unaware they are falling in love with the other.

I am happy to see that almost all of the roles for the children and wives and concubines of Siam were filled by actors with a variety of different ethnicities. The children in this production are completely delightful to watch from beginning to end. Matthew Uzarraga, who plays the boy who would be King, does a fantastic job bringing his little tyrannical boy to life and when at the end of the show he pronounces that “excessive bowing to the King like a toad” is now forbidden, you really believe this child has learned something major from his now beloved teacher and friend Anna.

Kristen Choi as Lady Thiang knocks it out of the park with her stunning rendition of “Something Wonderful” and Joseph Anthony Foranda is a wise, organic presence. Shirtless like the King, he pulls off the role with quiet sensuality and power as the aging prime minister to the King Kralahome.


Nancy Missimi went all out with the costumes in this piece and I most enjoyed her costumes on the wives, children and concubines of the King. Their dance numbers were wonderfully choreographed by Tommy Rapley and together with Ms. Missimi’s costumes and Tom Ryan's royally glowing set design, the dance numbers reminded me of barefoot dancing flowers, like multicolored orchids and floating water lilies come to life onstage.

I get totally spoiled when seeing a well performed Rodgers and Hammerstein musical because the lyrics for every song are so unique and memorable. “We Kiss in a Shadow” was beautifully sung by Megan Masako Haley as the King’s unwilling young captive, Tuptim, who is in love with another.


“To kiss in the sunlight
and say to the sky:
"Behold and believe what you see!
Behold how my lover loves me!"

And Devin Law as Lun Tha , Tuptim’s secret lover, also performed the classic “I Have Dreamed” to perfection.

“I have dreamed that your arms are lovely
I have dreamed what a joy you'll be
I have dreamed every word you whisper

When you're close, close to me
how you look in the glow of evening
I have dreamed and enjoyed the view

In these dreams, I've loved you so
That by now I think, I know
what it's like to be loved by you
I will love being loved by you”

I can’t speak highly enough about how all of the elements in this production came together to create such an educational, yet romantic,  touching and funny evening of pure  theatrical delight, including the  fantastic, organic choreography by Tommy Rapley and Ryan T. Nelson’s exquisitely detailed musical direction.

Take your children and your grandparents, or even your first date to ‘The King and I” at The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire with confidence that you will all equally enjoy a magical night of classic entertainment performed at peak quality for modern times.

For more show information, visit www.marriotttheatre.com.

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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