Skylight Music Theatre’s Electrifying NEWSIES Proves The Power of Youth

The cast of Skylight Music Theatre’s production of Disney’s Newsies-Credit: Mark Frohna

The mark of any great musical is when a cast performs its material with such a high degree of passion and energy that it sweeps you along swiftly, making it impossible not to cheer wholeheartedly for the characters when they score a stunning victory over an indomitable foe.

Such is the case with the Skylight Music Theatre’s powerful and electrifying production of the hit Disney stage musical Newsies that I had the pleasure of seeing one Saturday night recently at the Broadway Theatre Center in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward District. 

The characters are the “newsies” or newsboys in 1899 New York City who band together and go on strike when mega-publisher Joseph Pulitzer and other publishing giants raise newspaper distribution prices at the newsboys’ expense.  The newsboys’ fight for fairness, for what they know and believe in their hearts is right, makes for an inspiring tale that, thanks to the creative forces at the Skylight and a superb young cast, fires up the audience by spreading a not-to-be-forgotten message about the importance of persistence and how it can result in much-needed change – no matter the age of those leading the cause.      

Newsies makes headlines with high-powered dancing and vibrant performances, but perhaps more importantly, achieves greatness in another way.  While the story is based on an actual newsboy strike that occurred 120 years ago, “it doesn’t feel far away,” said Newsies director Molly Rhode.  Newsies doesn’t drip with nostalgia.  Instead, it reminds us that young people today, like those living 120 years ago, are succeeding as “agents of change,” to quote the Skylight’s artistic director, Michael Unger.  The newsboys of turn-of-the-century New York are taking a stand, saying “Listen to Me!” just as the Parkland students and environmental activist Greta Thunberg are doing right now.   

And a sensational cast that includes a pack of multi-talented actor/singers – plus 16 middle- and high-school students from the Milwaukee area that dance their hearts out – has no trouble saying, “Listen to Me!”  Given the superb quality of the dancing by these young people in such high-stepping numbers as “Carrying the Banner” and “Seize the Day,” I’d say the future of the American Theater is in good hands.  The casting of these students gives Newsies an authenticity that is appropriately appealing. 

Other performers of note include Lee Palmer, a multi-talented actor, singer and dancer who excels in the role of Joseph Pulitzer, and Natalie Harris, another diverse performer who brings down the house as nightclub signer Medda Larkin in the number, “That’s Rich.”  And then there’s Rachael Zientek, superb as Katherine Plumber, the enterprising reporter who joins forces with the newsies in their fight for fairness.  But at the heart of Newsies is Marco Tzunux, a graduate of the Chicago College of Performing Arts.  In the plum role of Jack Kelly, leader of the newsies, Tzunux displays a passion for both his craft and for his character, giving a spirited performance and thrilling the audience with his outstanding vocal talents.

Speaking of passion, the entire cast is charged with it – so much so that when the newsies and their cause make the front page of the New York World, you can’t help but be happy for them.  This is great theater because it makes us feel and believe. 

Newsies runs through Dec. 29. For tickets, call (414) 291-7800 or go online at www.skylightmusictheatre.org