The Playgoer: Talent Machine’s Newsies

      Back when everybody read newspapers, early morning hours brought the newsboys out, each huffing and puffing with a fresh, hot paper in their hand. Talent Machine’s teens reprise those days in the company’s newest production, Newsies, a musical that delivers.

            This 1992 Disney revival leaps through some fiery hoops but lands squarely on its feet. The cast, energetic and pumped, is riddled with tan- and grey-clothed newsboys, spry young women and penny-pinching business tycoons. The colorful characters and touching performances tug the dull out of a routine song-and-dance story.

            The story is rather simple. Set in the mid-1800s when media newspaper empires were growing by the day, it follows protagonist Jack Kelly (Michael Stafford), an older newsboy and secret painter who wants to move out of New York City and go to Santa Fe. The character struggle is tied up a little too neatly. But his love affair with young reporter Katherine Plumber (Lucy O’Brien) brings a strong emotional depth to his character, especially as the two actors seem to sway and bend in the wind together.

            Newsies picks up when Joseph Pulitzer, the owner of the New York World and other prominent city papers, raises the price of newspapers to 60 cents, forcing Kelly and his band to mount a protest, with the help of journalist Plumber.

            “Do we roll over and let them pick our pockets or do we strike,” the newsboys shout in defiance.

            Their resistance is made believable by the numbers of newsboys whose slogging fight for change is the heart beat of the musical.

            For $15 — a bit more than a movie theater ticket — you get a nearly two-and-half hour performance with an impressive speaker system and booming beats to augment the stellar scenes.

            These darkened, dimly-lit scenes are rolled and propped up by cast and crew in quick tandem, each following a score of musical delight and leaping choreography. The background sets paint a picture of dreary yet realistic city life, with wooden structures rearing ugly heads and black rooms taking on a haunting quality.

            The true magic is the young actors, who bring energy and devotion to the bland uniforms and street-style of slick-city newsboys. The boys have a solid strength in numbers, often resembling a thick cast of city ruffians. None is better than Crutchie (Danny Kandra) whose performance as Kelly’s best friend is rewarding as it is touching.

             The boys parade, dance and sing in unison. Even if they are a little off the beaten track at times, scores such as Seize the Day are upbeat and almost cinematic. It’s impressive watching 20 or more kids twirl and flit around each other.

            Kelly and Plumber are heartwarming with a few neat surprises. Stafford plays the perfect rough-worn city ruffian, with Plumber his antithesis, a well-off, bright and almost jazzy reporter. The contrast between their worlds give the play its human drama. “I know girls like you don’t end up with guys like me,” Kelly tells her.

            The kids who play the menacing and grandeur adults such as Joseph Pulitzer and Gov. Theodore Roosevelt, take on a life of their own. They largely have gripping and believable performances, though Roosevelt’s character is somewhat less mature.

            The singing is sonorous while demanding, taking up much of the play’s time. But it’s a welcome addition to replace the comedy that is not as hot off the press.

            Stafford, O’Brien and Kandra are as realistic in dialogue as they are in song. Their voices will carry with you off the stage with somber, solo ballads.

            Disney’s tale wraps up as you might expect, but by its end, Newsies will leave you a little nostalgic for those days.

ThFSa 7:30pm, Su 2pm, thru Aug. 18: Talent Machine, Key Auditorium, St. John’s College, Annapolis, $15, rsvp: