REVIEW: Disney’s NEWSIES Surprises By Changing The Game

What made this musical particularly special is the immense talent that the Filipino artist can show.
Orly Agawin

If only I could give Globe Live and 9 Works Theatrical’s production of NEWSIES more than 5 stars, I would. First, because more than 98% of its cast and crew are Filipinos. Second, in terms of performance, I feel that this one has set the bar for our local theater. If you don’t believe me, you can ask any member of the audience who was at their feet at the end of the show last weekend.

Disney’s NEWSIES is thought to be one of the most difficult show to produce to date. But this local production of NEWSIES did more than just delivered. To put it simply, Globe Live! and 9 Works Theatricals went even further: they went beyond stepping up to the challenge by changing the game.

NEWSIES tells the story of a charismatic Newsie Jack Kelly who rallies the rest of his gang of fellow paper boys to protest against the hike of distribution rates mandated by publishing tycoons Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, thus igniting the iconic Newsboys Strike of 1899.

This musical narrates a similar issue that is still highly relevant in today’s world – the fight for social justice and better working conditions for laborers across various industries. Through the direction of Robbie Guevara for the Globe Iconic stage, the story written by Harvey Fierstein gets told more seamlessly and thoroughly heartfelt. Here, Guevara seems to have mastered the Globe Amphitheater space, even extending just the right accessibility for his audiences through elevated platforms, making the experience closer to a total theatrical event.

A few eyebrows were raised when the production announced that Gian Magdangal will play the role of Jack Kelly. Jack’s age and versatility may pose as a challenge for Magdangal. But he shuts critics up with an engaging performance as the head Newsie, Jack. Magdangal’s powerful vocals never seem to falter despite tiring blocks and demanding sequences. Noticeable, too, is his undeniable chemistry with the entire cast – particularly with Danielle Chopin who’s an equal spectacle as the young journalist Katherine Plumber.

Jef Flores who comes in as Davey Jacobs presents an entirely different actor from what we remember of him in TICK, TICK, BOOM! and GODSPELL. As the empowering brain behind the iconic 1899 strike, Flores surprises, even further, with stunning versatility and inevitable presence. And he dances! Greg Dulcie as Joseph Pulitzer brings to the stage a foreboding villain, one would wish that he gets beaten into a pulp. In him, we see the jaundiced system of employment and the cruel network of power and greed. Ms. Pinky Marquez as the vibrant Medda Larkin, adds more to the color of the ensemble. Her Larkin offers the lovably queer side of the rebellion, painting a colorful matriarch to a group of young orphaned young men.

But it is this production’s ensemble that proves to be its central treasure. Every time they enter the stage, you hear excited whispers from the crowds. For two hours and a half, one cannot help to be at the edge of their seats – with mouth partly open – watching 21 young Filipino actors show what a triple threat should be.

PJ Rebullida choreographs with insatiable gusto, as he sprinkles his own take on Christopher Gattelli’s original Broadway choreography. Here, Rebullida adds a few more levels and challenges, including Yek Barlongay’s sensation tap sequence. Yes – the tap! Now, that is something you should look forward to!

As always, Daniel Bartolome’s orchestration is as engaging as ever. His musical direction offers us just the right Broadway sound and that rare nostalgia we feel when we hear old showtune melody.

But there’s an even brighter picture that this production of NEWSIES offers. What made this musical particularly special is the immense talent that the Filipino artist can show. This production pops the lid of our common limitations, breaking new grounds in dance, music and staging, allowing us to further explore greater heights for our local arts. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these days, Globe Live! and 9 Works Theatrical’s NEWSIES will soon be our benchmark in triple threat development – using them as reference whenever mediocrity knocks on the door. Hopefully soon, we’ll be able to say, “if they can do it, why can’t we?”

After all, with the NEWSIES’ Training Ground and the continuing passion to develop and transform, this is considerably a new start that changes the game. And if the only way is up, then the younger generation in our own theater scene has their work cut out for them.

And that’s a very good thing.


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