There’s enough mediocrity on stage at the Nederlander Theatre to fill two overproduced Broadway musicals never mind the lone, lame Newsies which currently finds itself in the headline grabbing position of raking in the money faster than the Disney Mouse can count. What baffles me still – and mind you, I saw this show before it opened – is the near-hysterical response with which it is being greeted by the audience. Every sloppy step of not-quite-synchronized choreography, every rousingly bland anthem of the ragamuffin 99%, every familiar moment from the charming hey-kids-let’s-put-on-a-show film of the same name is met with, at various times, full-throttle screaming and/or spontaneous standing ovations. I’m not being dramatic when I say it reminds me of when George W. Bush was elected (then re-elected) and huge swaths of the country seemed to suddenly start reveling in the righteous glory of their own ignorance – it’s like watching the blind lead the blinded all the way to the gift shop. The only thing missing from this show is a call and response chant of “USA! USA! USA!” Old fashioned book musicals with what was once referred to as pluck are rare these days. And say what you will about Newsies, it’s stock in trade is pure pluck. What it doesn’t have, however, is a director with enough panache to pull it off. Jeff Calhoun certainly has the blood of a first-rate showman running through his veins, but he’s deficient as a storyteller, unable to tease the subtle charms from Harvey Fierstien’s book or push Alan Menken’s score in a direction beyond bombast. Big sets and even bigger dance steps are his default. Mind you, as noted, that doesn’t seem to phase the crowd which is as drunk with a familiarity for the story as those Bush supporters were of their old time religion. Who needs annoying details pointed out when you already have a general idea as to the gist of things? Now hold your flag high and sing out,
Louise boys! Not since Wicked has there been a family friendly show that got so much so wrong. About the only thing that does work on stage is leading man Jeremy Jordan (not the gay porn star, if you’re wondering) who brings effortless charm to the role of a dreamer who reluctantly organizes the titular newsies against the union-busting media magnate Joseph Pulitzer and in the process, gets the girl, too. If only the show that constrains him had half his charm it’d be something worth singing, if not shouting, about.