By: Paul Zeissler
The Manatee Performing Arts Center kicked off its 2018-19 musical theatre season on the weekend of August 9th.
“Newsies”, this year’s first musical, was met on the evening of the 10th by an enthusiastic group of 210 members of the Manatee/Sarasota arts community who were coordinate t0 attend the performance by Don411.com. A pre-show evening of elegant hors d’oeuvres and drinks was praised by all who partook of the food and insightful conversations about the theatre and arts in the area.
The main event–the Disney musical “Newsies”, which will be performed at Stone Hall until August 26–opened to a very expectant crowd that was not disappointed by the high caliber of performances. The large cast, made up of very talented young actors and a smattering of Manatee Players veterans, and was locally directed and choreographed by the gifted Rick Kerby.
The 1992 Disney film-turned-stage musical, written by Harvey Fierstein, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman, is a story loosely based on the 1899 New York City Newsboy Strike. When newspaper sellers, young men and boys who are mainly orphans or homeless, are exploited beyond reason by their bosses, in league with Joseph Pulitzer, they set out to form a union and enact change to improve how they and other child laborers of the era were treated. The new union boys are met by the thugs and police in the pay of Pulitzer and his rich cronies of “big business”. But, through perseverance and a lot of wonderful singing and very entertaining dancing they prevail and change the American business world.
The Manatee cast, led by the outstanding performances of Austin Greshem, Savannah Sinclair, and Javisha Strong, is made up of a host of incredibly talented dancers, acrobats, and amazingly strong singers who carry the 21 Menken/Feldman songs without a hitch and right into the rough 1899 New York City streets. Cory Woomert gives the villainous Pulitzer a slimy heart of rock that fits right in with his money-hungry soul that clinks greedily on its way to the bank.
The chorus of boys was huge in number, and this musically talented crowd was just perfect in their tap-dancing, twisting and tumbling. The cast was so large it makes me sad I can’t mention them all by name, but they were all just terrific.
Julianne Teague is an energetic little acrobat and shines in a cast of great grade school and high school boys.
The set, designed by Donna Buckalter, is constantly moving with the fast action of the play. The scene changes run by Kristin Ribble, added to the production and its vibrancy.
The lighting design of Joseph P. Oshry with his use of un-gelled, white stage instruments lighted the stage with the 1899 photographic look Kerby was after in all of his visual choices, including props and costumes designed by Matt Myers.
I recommend you see “Newsies” at Stone Hall and be ready to hear great singing, watch great dancing and begin another great season at Manatee Performing Arts Center.