OGDEN, Utah, Feb. 27, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — You have never seen “Newsies” the way Ogden’s Ziegfeld Theater delivers the Disney stage musical.
This production, deftly directed by theater co-owner Caleb Perry, is more intense, more vital and more engaging than the average productions you may have seen in Northern Utah. And it’s more inclusive.
The show is signed for deaf and hearing-impaired people who understand American Sign Language, but it’s not just ASL signed by someone seated in a chair at the side of the stage.
The dancers playing newspaper sellers sign as they leap through the air. The actor playing an angry boss signs as his orders are barked at underlings. Tender lyrics about blossoming love are signed as characters explore new feelings.
And — here’s the biggest gift — the integrated signing adds depth and intensity to portrayals even for audience members who do not understand ASL.
Characters have their whole bodies,not just their voices, invested in the story and the moment. Impassioned dancers interpret the story with their entire physical selves, not just their legs.
“Newsies,” of course, is the stage musical based on the 1992 musical film of the same name, which, in turn, was inspired by the newsboy strike in 1899 New York City.
The stage show, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and book by Harvey Fierstein, made its Broadway debut in 2012, and has been popular with regional theaters since rights were made available.
Which is how a regional theater critic, say, maybe one located in northern Utah, could end up critiquing four companies’ productions of the show within the period of a few years, and could, perhaps, find the prospect of reviewing a fifth production somewhat uninspiring.
The Zig’s production is the cure for that.
The decision to incorporate ASL, and to cast three lead actors who are deaf or hearing-impaired and are shadowed by other actors who speak the lines but also interact with others on stage, breathes new life into the show.
Lead character Davey, who finds himself selling papers after his father loses a job, is played by 14-year-old Boston Gunther. Working alongside Davey is Les, a girl in this production, which also features females as newsies. Les is played by Callie Gunther, Boston’s 11-year-old sister. Both are deaf, as is actor Bret Cummens, who portrays gruff Weisel, who sells the newsies papers to resell.
All three sign as actors nearby, wearing costumes related by design or color, speak the lines being signed, usually while casually displaying similar emotions and stage movements.
Lead actors Dylan Brinkman, who plays newsies leader Jack Kelly, and Kenzie Stinger, who plays feisty journalist Katherine, who discover a mutual affection as they fight for social justice, are both talented singers and actors.
Brinkman, especially, delivers a portrayal that allows the audience to see directly into Jack’s heart.
Kevin Ireland, who plays newspaper owner Joseph Pulitzer, is a forceful presence. He does not sign, and when nearby actors are not signing Pulitzer’s lines, his key lines are projected on the wall for easy reading.
Max Carter plays Crutchie, a character who embodies the emotional vulnerability of all the show’s underdogs.
As always, the constraints of the Zig’s small stage offers challenges to choreographers, but also concentrates the storytelling in a limited space.
Choreographer Bryan Andrews, also the show’s assistant director, guides lead and ensemble dancers through precise, dazzling and layered dance moves that make the most of the space.
If you understand ASL, see this show. If you don’t understand ASL, see this show. If you love musical theater, see this show. If you already love “Newsies” and want to see a fresh version, see this show.