“NEWSIES,” through Oct. 18, Tuacahn Amphitheatre, 1100 Tuacahn Drive, Ivins (435-652-3300 or tuacahn.org); running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)
In one word, Tuacahn’s production of Disney’s “Newsies” is immersive.
It’s obvious from the beginning, when the newsies arrive on stage from places among the audience, that the play’s director wants the audience to feel involved in the performance. The fourth wall isn’t quite so solid in Tuacahn’s newest Disney selection, and the theater company seems to be going for a sort of collaboration between the actors and the audience.
And it works incredibly well. The musical follows young dreamer Jack Kelly as he leads his fellow newsboys in a strike after New York City's newspaper publishers raise distribution rates, and the story is engaging without being tiresome in the least. The cast and crew have a definite talent for making the newsboys’ strike of 1899 much more than just a historical event. In director Jeffry Denman’s hands, history feels real and historical characters are sympathetic and admirable.
A lot of that may be due to Brad Shelton’s set design. It’s nearly impossible to discuss Tuacahn without mentioning its one-of-a-kind stage, which enables the company to create effects and visual depth that would be impossible in an indoor theater. The amphitheater’s ample space makes it an ideal place to re-create late-19th-century Manhattan. The set is enormous, and Denman uses it to his advantage to make the play’s setting feel tangible.
Denman doesn’t shy away from incorporating the theater’s natural outdoor setting in the show, either. During “Santa Fe” right before intermission, Jack Kelly (played by Ryan Farnsworth) turns around to face the red rock canyon, which is lit up in red. It’s a cool moment, and it seems to speak to the idea that the importance of the 1899 strike isn’t limited to New York City.
The dancing, which is similarly impressive, is also worth a mention. Denman, acting as both director and choreographer, has a wonderful cast of dancers to work with. The choreography, particularly in the large ensemble numbers, walks a compelling line between being neatly synchronized and interestingly organic — in “Carrying the Banner,” for instance, the dancers all perform different movements before coming together for the final chorus. It’s a maneuver that could easily flounder with less capable dancers, but the “Newsies” cast pulls it off.
It’s difficult to pick out any standout actors, solely because every cast member was extraordinary and everyone added something valuable to the production. The musical is well-led by Farnsworth as Jack Kelly, Whitney Winfield as Katherine Plumber and Daniel Scott Walton as Davey, but the ensemble members are no less commendable.
Tuacahn’s “Newsies” is truly unique, and it’s worth the mileage for northern Utahns who want to see the musical in a new setting. It may not be best for young children, who might have less appreciation for the plotline, but it’s sure to be a hit with adults and older children who can understand and enjoy the historical story.
Content advisory: “Newsies” contains some mild language, brief violence and some mild sexual innuendo.