Posted in Arts

Newsies is a revolutionary new musical; Beauty and the Beast and West Side Story bring a summer of love to Malkin Bowl

These recent shows at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and TUTS prove that musical theatre is a powerful medium

The smaller sized stage wasn’t a hindrance for the cast and crew of West Side Story
The smaller sized stage wasn’t a hindrance for the cast and crew of West Side Story

Newsies – Broadway Across Canada

July 5–10, Queen Elizabeth Theatre

When publisher Mr. Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard) raises the cost of papers overnight, Jack Kelly delivers an inspiring speech to his fellow newspaper boys: they won’t be working until Mr. Pulitzer lowers the price back to 50 cents per 100 papers. Their nascent union grows as newsies all over New York City hear about the strike.

The 1992 Disney film of the same name translated very well to the stage, and the production featured stunning staircase structures and incredible dance numbers. With newsboy caps and canvas newspaper bags slung over their shoulders, this cast leaped, soared, and flipped high above the stage in their quest for justice. The choreography incorporated their hats and bags well, and also had them run on the spot and seemingly travel great distances while only moving a few inches.

The multi-level platforms representing the fire escapes that the newsies climb to sleep on the rooftops served as a good frame for each newsie in their own section, as well as providing ample distance for a couple of chase scenes.

The plot didn’t pull me into this story right away. Infamous newsie Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro) has a seemingly arbitrary dream of moving to Santa Fe, and he opens the show professing this. Once the strike starts and the newsies are in action though, it becomes much more exciting.   

There is of course a love story here as well: Kelly falls for aspiring journalist Katherine (Morgan Keene), though little does he know she is Pulitzer’s daughter. A bit of a cliché romance, but it was a nice addition nevertheless. Katherine’s character also provided a refreshing break from all the male energy in the show.  

For any writer, it doesn’t get much better than a musical about journalism and labour rights. By the end of it you’ll be wanting to rise up, “Seize the Day,” and create your own union wherever you work.

Beauty and the Beast – Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS)

July 6August 20, Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park

The cumbersome group dance that opened the show didn’t fill me with confidence in what was to come, and if you’re going to include ballet in a musical — especially if it’s going to be en pointe — it had better be good. Unfortunately, the couple of times the pointe shoes showed up, they didn’t add much and seemed out of place with the musical theatre style choreography.

After seeing the Broadway Across Canada version of Beauty and the Beast, it’s hard not be underwhelmed by this less opulent production. The “Be Our Guest” scene, although well done, just didn’t have the same level of pizzazz and bravado that the larger production did. Nonetheless, TUTS did include some pyrotechnic effects which were unexpected and met with great approval from the audience, even if they were a bit out of place on the otherwise lacklustre stage. Once the stage was a bit busier with more plates and cutlery dancing around, the scene looked a lot better and somewhat redeemed itself.

Lower production values aside, a few of the characters really held the show together with their comedic talents. Lumiere (Victor Hunter) and Cogsworth (Steven Greenfield) made the perfect pair with their hilarious banter and silly puns. Belle (Jaime Piercy) and the Beast (Peter Monaghan) had decent chemistry, but there could have been more of a spark between them. Gaston (Dane Szohner) was appropriately self-absorbed and seemed to be an audience favourite.

In the end, if you are a fan of this Disney classic, you’ll enjoy the show. If you’re looking for an amazing night of musical theatre, I would recommend the other show in the TUTS lineup this summer.

West Side Story – Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS)

July 6August 20, Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park

Vibrant choreography by local contemporary dance giant Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, a simple yet effective set, and a Maria with a voice of gold make this show a must-see. Theatre Under the Stars’ “Summer of Love” is in full display as this tragic Romeo and Juliet story unfolds.

While this story of rival New York City street gangs is a bit exaggerated, its themes are eternally relevant. I loved the way director Sarah Rodgers used an innocent little girl to highlight the importance of love and acceptance. The girl appears to open the show with a short song, returns during the tragic fight scene, and is back at the end to spray-paint the word “Love” on the back wall.

Adding to the poignancy, the finale included a beautiful solo rendition of “Somewhere” as the entire cast stood almost in reverence. A flashy encore would have been out of place after this melancholic ending, and I was glad they left it at that. 

Though Maria (Jennifer Gillis) and Tony (Matt Montgomery) were mismatched in terms of their vocal talents — Gillis upstaged Montgomery in each of their duets — their chemistry was much more impressive, and both had the acting chops necessary to sustain their roles. The rival gangs provided plenty of exciting scenes with acrobatic dance numbers that cleverly utilized the set while moving the plot along. 

While this production wasn’t quite as impressive as the larger Broadway version, that didn’t matter. Rodgers was able to translate the show to a smaller, more intimate stage, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is a show well worth your time.