Newsies is Breaking New Ground: Theatre Sheridan Review

Newsies is Breaking New Ground: Theatre Sheridan Review
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Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is the Oakville News publishing assistant and arts reporter. He started with the news in 2016 and now specializes in current and live events, film, theatre and entertainment. He comes from Campbellton, NB and has lived in Oakville more than 20 years. Proud Sheridan grad of Journalism and Performing Arts. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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New ground is being shown off at Theatre Sheridan with their emotionally charged production of Newsies opening the college’s season. And by new ground, I mean the floor has literally been changed from the usual stage to what looks like a high school gym.

Surprising? Not as much as seeing Macdonald-Heaslip Hall’s famous cabaret tables replaced by bleachers. Disney titles like this one aren’t usually go-to choices for radical new interpretations like this one. But after a few minutes, this one works unexpectedly well.

Instead of staging the text in its scripted 1899 Manhattan setting, director Brian Hill (once resident director of The Lion King on Broadway) has changed the premise to be us, the audience, watching the play as a performance of Newsies by high school students in the gymnasium of an unspecified Canadian town.

But this new concept transforms the musical into something more appropriate for a Theatre Sheridan audience. Instead of Newsies being theatre by adults for families, it’s now theatre by adults for adults.

That’s not to say the show is suddenly inappropriate for children. The story is the same as both the 1991 film and popular 2012 Broadway staging. But like Sheridan’s 2016 production of Shrek the Musical, this show cares about distancing themselves from both movies and what people expect from a title.

It’s a complete reinvention from top to bottom

Newsies’ primary plot is a history of the real newsboys strike in 1899 told through a fictitious band of newsies. Their leader is the charismatic Jack Kelly (Izaha Cochran) as they stand up to paper tycoon Joseph Pulitzer (Luke Wiggins.)

Last year’s jaw-dropping Phantom of the Opera set the standard of what an immersive show at Sheridan could be. And it’s still uncommon seeing it on the main stage – productions like this are more often in the Studio Theatre.

While most of the staging has been reimagined, the theoretical elements that make Newsies famous have been amplified. Jeff Dimitriou and Bethany Kovarik’s choreography is infused with furious energy that doesn’t subside.

Kinetic is maybe the best way to describe the show. The deceptively simple set made of things that might be found in a high school classroom demand ferocious energy. Anyone close will see no shortage of sweat on the ensemble’s faces.

Photo: Oakville News

Photo: Oakville News

What really defines the night is the heavy comparisons to modern politics, ranging from Canada to America and the world. Most of them are depicted visually by a projector screen on a whiteboard, but most of them stay outside scenes “in the past.”

This emphasis on the show’s clear advocacy of socialism, while admirable, does suck most of the book’s lightheartedness dry. The show is humorous in many ways, but it’s not very funny (except for Ben Page’s scene-stealing Spot Conlon.)

The only unclear aspect of the staging is the heavily expanded character of the Stage Manager, played by Taylor Garwood. From a one-scene part to a literal stage manager of the high school’s show, her part quizzically changes often. Is she a teacher? Is she God? Or is she just the literal stage manager? Her different tasks make whether this is a literal protest unclear.

The Sheridan cast are dynamite performers

It probably goes without saying, but the talent level of the Sheridan students on stage is terrific. Their voices are great to listen to. Their dance moves are sharp and exciting. Everyone’s training is clearly exemplified and the 18-person cast is unquestionably a talented group.

Lastly, note there wasn’t a single audience member under the age of 18 at my performance. But just because it’s a more adult staging (like Medda Larkin now being the emcee of a drag bar), no aspect of the show inhibits families from enjoying it.

The Disney zeitgeist and craving for its properties are relentless. Unconvinced? It’s released three hugely successful musical films this year, including Frozen II currently dominating the box office.

But Sheridan College, Hill and the entire producing team clearly aren’t interested in what these kinds of scripts have been. Instead, they are focused on what they can become. And this Newsies has become a political force both uncomfortable and wildly entertaining.

3 1/2 out of 4 Stars

Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Jack Feldman. Book by Harvey Fierstein.
Ages 10 and Up. 2hrs 30mins. Musical History.
Directed by Brian Hill.

Starring Izaha Cochran, Devin Cecchetto, Josh Alcantara, Alex Batycki, Aaron Ryder and Luke Wiggins.

Also starring Devin Alexander, Daniel Allain, Jesse Drwiega, Taylor Garwood, Dylan Hausdorf, Taran Kim, Ben Page, Matthew Reid, Ben Skipper, Keenan Smits, Alex Wierzbicki and Alten Wilmot.

Now Playing at Trafalgar’s Macdonald-Heaslip Hall, 1430 Trafalgar Road, Oakville, ON. Runs until December 8th, 2019. Tickets range from $20-30, available online here or by calling 905-815-4049.


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