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Newsies review – bombastic and balletic, this Broadway hit is a musical must-see

Newsies arrives with a bang!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The cast of Newsies
© Johan Persson

For those wondering where the big, ensemble-heavy original musicals in London's major commercial spaces have been this year, have we got news for you. Longed for for many many years after a sensational Broadway stint, Disney's blockbuster hit Newsies has finally arrived – and done so in fabulous style.

Producers Runaway Entertainment couldn't have picked a better time for the show to make its way to these shores. For those not acquainted with the original version (or the Christian Bale-led ‘90s dud-musical movie it's based on), Newsies recounts the true story of a bunch of plucky NYC news boys battling for fair pay and a sustainable living during the 1890s. It supplies a sanitised but surprisingly nuanced vision of working classes finding solidarity in adversity – imagine Les Mis but with less, well, misery. Given the current backdrop of nationwide industrial action across a plethora of sectors, Newsies feels unexpectedly pertinent – the best musical about strikes since Billy Elliot.

The producers couldn't have picked a better venue, either. Providing a fresh production rather than a re-heated re-hash of the original Broadway show, the team have eschewed a typical West End space in favour of the cavernous and infinitely more versatile Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre in north London.

Michael Ahomka-Lindsay
© Johan Persson

Morgan Large's thrust stage designs, replete with gangways, huge hanging glass windows and more scaffolding than a West Side balcony scene, conjure up a jungle-gym auditorium that is enthralling and immersive – you feel like you could be accosted by a rowdy bunch of scrappy, socially-conscious kids from any angle. Sound quality is, to some extent, sacrificed in favour of spectacle – a trade-off that feels largely worth-while.

No one will ever claim that Newsies is composer Alan Menken's best work (though it is, ironically, the first musical to win him a Tony Award – after the original movie won a Razzie) – its tunes aren't as memorable or as iconic as the likes of Little Shop of Horrors or Beauty and the Beast. But really, what makes this Newsies sparkle is the sheer scale of both set, choreography and overall vision: this is a kinetic, no-expense-spared showstopper that should make headlines across the capital.

The cast of Newsies
© Johan Persson

Credit must also fall to director and choreographer Matt Cole – utilising every inch of Large's set, his cast emerge from hidden entrances across the auditorium, hopping along the aisles and (once or twice) soaring in overhead. Bouncing between boisterous and balletic, Cole oversees a whirligig of visual splendour. Powerhouse moments include well-known number "Seize the Day", generating not one but two pre-interval standing ovations, as well as tap spectacular "King of New York", kicking off act two with a bang.

Kudos must also go to casting directors Lucy Casson and Jo Hawes – providing nearly two-score expertly-honed triple threats: "Seize the Day" basically feels like watching 12 Charlie Stemps take to the stage at the same time. If there's better choreography in a London musical right now, I've yet to see it.

While the Broadway production may have been a star-maker for Jeremy Jordan as gang leader Jack Kelly (think a younger, more charismatic and musical Mick Lynch), here the experience feels like a significantly ensemble-led affair – from early act one number "Carrying the Banner" onwards, you're rooting for this gang of upstarts and their campaign against tyrannic newspaper owner and profit-obsessed Joe Pulitzer.

Of course, that's not to say that leading man Michael Ahomka-Lindsay's Kelly isn't on fine form – given significantly more to do here than his endearing turn in Legally Blonde this summer, he acts as a winning focal point in a production that should settle in for a lengthy and hearty run. You get the unquenchable sense that you're watching the future of British musicals cutting their teeth with aplomb.

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