Newsies, Ghost, Evita, and Once musicals on Broadway (Review)

Ah — Winter/Spring in NYC — 75 degrees in mid-march, and some hot shows heating up the Great White Way as well…Let me preface this by saying that only ONCE has officially opened — NEWSIES (opening next week), GHOST, and EVITA are still in previews. That being said, these shows aren’t going to change significantly between now and opening, so they are reviewed herein.

Let’s start with my favorite show in years: Disney’s NEWSIES. Jumping, leaping, dancing, and exploding across the stage of the Nederlander Theater, Newsies is sure to settle in for a long open-ended run (currently booking through August 19th). To put it quite simply, I haven’t been this thoroughly entertained by a musical theater piece since I can remember.

Jeremy Jordan (Bonnie & Clyde, Joyful Noise) leads an energetic and superb singing/dancing ensemble of newsboys in a musical crusade against Pulitzer and his plot to increase income by charging the newsies more per paper, leading to a strike. Throw in equal parts reporter as love interest (Kara Lindsay – as superb here as she was in the tour of Little House on the Prairie), badguy (John Dossett as Pulitzer who sings the one song that should be cut before opening) and showgirl (Capathia Jenkins)…have them all stirred up on Tobin Ost’s excellent tri-tower moving set; and you have the makings of a cocktail that goes down easily, and leaves you wanting to see the show again. Which is most likely exactly what Disney is aiming for here.

Jordan turns in a great performance as Jack Kelly. Andrew Keenan-Bolger turns in a warm performance as injured Crutchie; and the entire boys ensemble just shines. You’ll also find mixed into the lot previous So You Think You Can Dance finalists Evan Kasprzak and Thayne Jasperson; and up and rising dancer Ryan Steele.

But the real star of the show is Christopher Gattelli’s choreography which is classically Broadway and electrically athletic at the same time, without ever losing its classic ballet and modern dance core. It’s simply spectacular — and by the time the boys have exploded in duets, trios, and perfectly in-sync combinations midway through “Seize the Day”, your heart will completely be won over by this marvelous musical. By all means get your tickets now.

ONCE the musical which opened this past weekend, is a smart, cute, and charming show at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. It has opened to almost unanimous positive reviews, so who am I to say that I was less than enthralled by the entire thing? It’s a well-done drama with music, based on the off-beat indie film from a few years ago. Steve Kazee ( Guy) and Cristin Milioti (Girl) are marvelous in their roles which explore the subtle nature of love, healing, and re-connection.

The ensemble cast plays all of the other roles, and also play the musical instruments for the show (Who knew Andy Taylor could play Viola?). They are excellent. The musical numbers are about as “heavenly” as you can get and still keep your feet on the ground.

But therein lies my quip. This is more of a play with music than it is a fully-realized musical theater piece. At times, there are long stretches of dialogue and character development with na’ary a song to be heard for long stretches at a time. And when that story can’t hold your interest, it’s a struggle between the excellent musical numbers, and the long-drawn-out storytelling. I’ll be the first to admit that I really have no interest in small love stories, so right from the getgo I was in trouble here. Despite the rave reviews from the media, the audience reaction was somewhat more subdued. It got its obligatory standing ovation, but plenty of buzz by people heading out of the theater that it was less than fulfilling. Get there early, and you can enjoy a cocktail on stage and mingle with the band, who play Irish songs and set the tone for the show.

That’s not to say Once is not high quality. it is. But it shows its downtown off-Broadway roots throughout — and in a large proscenium theater the enitre affair seemed a bit distancing. Notwithstanding my own opinion, it is the clear frontrunner for Best Musical this season.

EVITA returns in a glamorous production at the Marquis Theatre. The star here is Elena Roger, Argentinian actress recreating her role from the West End (2006). But the obvious ticket-selling draw is Ricky Martin, judging by the audience reaction and age.

The piece is slightly reworked from it’s original run, and includes some additional dance music, and the song “You Must Love Me’, written for the movie, and now incorporated into most productions of the show. What is more than significantly changed is the set design — here, fully realized mansions, courtyards, interiors and exteriors with windows that open and shut, large portions of which glide forward, backward, and side to side. At some point you actually start wondering where it all fits. Thanks to a friend working on the show, I got a backstage tour after my matinee performance, and it’s quite astounding what goes on behind the scenes at this show.

Elena Roger is excellent in the role of Eva Peron, and from her first appearance its clear to see why she won every award there was to win for the West End production. Be careful when ordering tickets as her alternate Christina DeCicco performs at Wed evening and Sat mat performances. I am sure she is good, but the theatrical draw here is Ms Roger.

The ticket-selling draw is obviously Ricky Martin as Che, who turns in a very good performance in line with the Antonio Banderas interpretation of the part: gone are the sneers and angry snide remarks from the original production — instead, Che here is an everyman-observer. It works very well, although the impact of “Waltz for Eva and Che” is lessened in Act II as the two have no adversarial relationship, nor have they interacted directly in any previous scene. All is well in musical land though, as just a few moments later, her “You Must Love Me” brings down the house.

Overall, this is a very good production, and most likely the Best Revival winner in the coming season’s Tony awards.

Finally, the more problematic, but jawdroppingly entertaining musical GHOST has taken possession of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre right across the street from Ms. Peron. This show is clearly in preview mode, and some of the bells and whistles still need to be worked out, but it was a clear audience pleaser.

The cast is excellent, starting with clear-voiced Richard Fleeshman (Sam) and Caissee Levy (Molly) as our star-crossed lovers who suffer loss and find love after death. Bryce Pinkham plays smarmy friend Carl.You’ve seen the movie; you know the story; and its pretty much intact here with some very minor changes.

But what makes this show tick is Rob Howell’s brilliant design; Jon Driscoll’s eye-popping video projection design; and Paul Kieve’s jaw-dropping magical illusions that create miraculous things like Sam walking through doors; levitation; bodies dying on stage and instantly appearing on the other side of the stage watching it all happen; and in the most dazzling effect of all, Sam appearing and dissolving into nowhere in the show’s final sequence. ¬†Frankly, the book, music, and lyrics are all secondary to the special effects and stage design in this show — and it is honestly the first production I would recommend merely for the stage design alone making it worth the price of attendance.

Some parts of the show still need some work: it’s a time-proven piece that has been running in the West End for two years — but it still has a bit of West End edge to it that needs to be better Americanized in some areas (slapstick doesn’t work in some of the sequences for American audiences, where it works well in London). There is at least once song that needs to go. But overall, it’s a show that lingers quite pleasantly afterwards.

Ghost is a much much better show than it has any right to be. With some work, it can turn into one of the surprise hits of the season. I was enormously entertained, even while feeling a dissonance that I shouldn’t be enjoying the show as much as I was — and yet I did, and I do recommend it.

So there you have it — this spring’s rundown of musicals. Not reviewed: Leap of Faith, and Nice Work if you can Get It, which do not begin previews until April.

5 thoughts on “Newsies, Ghost, Evita, and Once musicals on Broadway (Review)

  1. Two little spelling errors need to be corrected: Elena ROGER, not ROGERS, and Antonio BANDERAS. Great job.

  2. Wow huge post! Great reviews – agree with all your points!
    It will be very interesting to see how all these shows fare in the Tonys – such a strong field this year!
    In terms of the two shows you missed – Leap of Faith is awful IMHO but Nice Work If You Can Get It is pure old fashioned musical comedy fun. I also really loved the singing in Jesus Christ Superstar.

  3. Thanks Simon! I am looking forward to seeing Leap of Faith and Nice Work at the end of the month during a trip to NYC….As to Superstar, I hear the singing is awesome — but I directed that show a while back and, really, I have had enough of JCS to last a lifetime….Thanks for you note!

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