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Jeremy Jordan gives a charismatic performance in this utterly beguiling stage adaptation of the 1992 Disney film.

Jeremy Jordan and company in Newsies
(© Deen van Meer)
The utterly beguiling and heartwarming new musical Newsies, now playing at Broadway's Nederlander Theatre -- and based on Disney's generally dismissed 1992 movie of the same name -- may center on events from the turn of the twentieth century, but the story seems tailor-made for our era of the Occupy movement.

But the story is not the only reason audiences -- young and old alike -- will gravitate to the show. The production, directed with panache by Jeff Calhoun, bursts with a richly melodic score from Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, boasts some of the most energetic and cleverly conceived dancing on Broadway right now from choreographer Christopher Gattelli, and features an electrifying turn from its leading man, Jeremy Jordan.

Jordan plays Jack Kelly, a young man who earns a pittance hawking newspapers (a.k.a. a "newsie") on the streets of the Lower East Side in 1899, imbuing the character with streetwise toughness and fiery hotheadedness, even as he reveals the sensitivity and vulnerability that lies just beneath Jack's rough-hewn surface. More important, he delivers the score, which deftly blends period sounds with a contemporary pop sensibility, with unquestionable gusto and passion.

Given Jordan's commanding, charismatic performance, it's little wonder that the other newsies readily follow Jack in striking after publishing tycoon Joseph Pulitzer (an evilly oily, yet curiously compelling John Dossett) raises the price that they must pay for their wares.

Among those at Jack's side are long-time pals, such as the sweetly goofy Crutchie (Andrew Keenan-Bolger), who finds that his involvement in the strike has profound repercussions, as well as new ones, including the gentle firebrand Davey (excellently played by Ben Fankhauser) and his pipsqueak brother Les (played at alternating performances by Matthew J. Schechter and Lewis Grosso) who have come to the streets to earn a few coins to bolster their family's failing finances.

Even as the show reveals its little guy versus business giant tale, a romance unfolds between Jack and Katherine (Kara Lindsay), who is facing her own uphill battle as she attempts to carve out a career as a serious journalist at a time when women covered nothing more than arts and social events. In addition to sharing a zestful chemistry with her leading man, Lindsay brings a winsomely spiky energy to her turn, which on some levels resembles a delicious cross between any of the plucky princesses of Disney's animated features and a young headstrong Katherine Hepburn.

This romance is one of the shrewdest revisions that book writer Harvey Fierstein has made to the story from his source material. It soundly grounds the show in something other than a story about a bunch of kids rising up against their oppressors.

Fierstein has ably fine-tuned this element of the show since its debut last fall at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Similarly, Menken and Feldman have added three songs: "Something to Believe In," a charming love ballad for Jack and Katherine; "The Bottom Line," a tune for Pulitzer that expresses business philosophies in literally cutthroat terms; and That's Rich," which is delivered with saucy poise by Capathia Jenkins, who plays Medda, the owner of a theater who proves pivotal in Jack's and the newsies' success in their battle.

The show shifts from the streets to the theater to Pulitzer's elegant office and beyond thanks to the combined efforts of scenic designer Tobin Ost and projection designer Sven Ortel: three giant towers, crafted out of erector set-like girders define space while the video, photos, and animation provide delicious details for this crowd-pleasing show.

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