>>>Review: Newsies

NEWSIES by Alan Menken, Jack Feldman and Harvey Fierstein (Disney/Mirvish). Runs to August 30. $35-$130. Ed Mirvish (244 Victoria). 416-872-1212,.

NEWSIES by Alan Menken, Jack Feldman and Harvey Fierstein (Disney/Mirvish). Runs to August 30. $35-$130. Ed Mirvish (244 Victoria). 416-872-1212, mirvish.com. See listing. Rating: NNNN

Most musicals require a suspension of disbelief. But Disneys Newsies, the charming and exuberant musical about a group of ragtag kids scraping by in 1899 New York City, asks us to remember a time when people actually got all their information from newspapers. The hard-copy kind.

Its based on the 1992 movie, which in turn is based on an actual event when a group of paperboys went on strike after media tycoons Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst decided to pay them less to increase their own profits. The incident shed a disturbing light on the exploitation of child workers.

This being a family show, realistic depictions of their terrible working conditions are kept to a minimum, and the street urchins are about as roughed-up as the chimney sweeps in Mary Poppins or the orphans in Annie. Still, the theme of the disparity between rich and poor is as relevant today as it was a century ago.

Wisecracking delivery boy and aspiring artist Jack Kelly (Dan DeLuca) dreams of moving to Santa Fe, but hes being pursued by the cops and hes stuck in his Lower East Side tenement with his pal Crutchie (Zachary Sayle) and other orphans who barely get by selling papes.

When Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard) jacks up the price they must pay for their newspapers, Jack tries to consolidate the paperboys from the surrounding areas while avoiding the bosses henchmen. He gets support from Katherine (Stephanie Styles), a young journalist, and Medda Larkin (Angela Grovey), a Sophie Tucker-type vaudevillian.

The underdog and romance plot lines are pure hokum, but book writer Harvey Fierstein makes you believe in them. The songs, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman, are full of catchy musical hooks, soaring melodies and old-fashioned lyrics.

The highlight of the show is the deliriously inventive choreography of Christopher Gattelli, who turns the archetypal image of the newspaper boy waving his paper into something gravity-defying, balletic yet street-smart.

I saw the original Broadway production, and this touring version is just as effective, Tobin Osts sets suggesting everything from rundown slums to a penthouse office.

DeLuca is believably scrappy and full of New Yawk bravado, and his scenes with Styles feel genuine. The ensemble, many of them alums of the TV reality show So You Think You Can Dance?, are up for every jaw-dropping kick, cartwheel and jump.

The only thing the shows missing is an opening number that sets up what the shows about. I guess you cant have everything.

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