Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 14, 2019

REVIEW: Opera House Players, Newsies

Opera House Players, Enfield, CT
through May 19, 2019
by Shera Cohen

“Extra, extra, read all about it!” This was the resounding chant of young newsboys throughout the boroughs of New York City in the late 19th century. With a cute title like “Newsies” starring lots of kids who seem to keep coming out of nowhere – theatre aisles, backstage, stage wings – one might anticipate a frothy musical. Yet, it’s characters, story, and setting are far from shallow. “Newsies” is the realistic, albeit with song and dance, bit of American history. That said, an important lesson can be taught with a whole lot of fun at the theatre.

Opera House Players (OHP) has taken on a huge challenge; the most obvious is casting 28 talented boys (plus a few girls with their hair stuffed into caps, voila – another boy appears). The big ensemble numbers, of which there are many, require ability in dance, agility, and gymnastics, not to mention acting. This is a demanding requirement for any director to oversee with a cast of adults, let alone children.

It is obvious that Sharon FitzHenry does not heed the famous W.C. Fields’ quote, “Never work with animals or children.” As OHP’s perennial director, FitzHenry must enjoy challenges; she has guided many of the “big musicals” on OHP’s community theatre stages for many years, receiving numerous accolades.

Our hero Jack (sweetness and sincerity portrayed by Christopher Marcus) and sidekick Crutchie (sorrow exuded from Max Levheim) team up with Davey (smarts and sensibility from Josiah Durham) and Les (cuteness personified by Alex Barry), and ultimately the other 24 newsboys to create a brotherhood of down on their luck, nice kids, looking for small opportunities to survive by selling newspapers. They are newsies. The story presents the audience a look at the highs and lows of children working for a living. Ultimately, Jack, et al, challenge the renowned publishers of the era (Pulitzer, Hearst) for fair wages and safe working conditions.

Standout moments include: Amanda Urquhart’s high-spirited “Watch What Happens,” Tim Reilly’s bombastic and humorous Pulitzer, Bill Martin’s multi-tasking orchestra conductor and keyboardist, and Josiah Durham’s imagination as set designer. Special kudos to choreographers Aileen Merino Terzi and Karen Anne McMahon. Dance can make or break this musical. OHP’s should be proud that these two brilliant women, along with dance and assistant dance captains, deliver ensemble pieces that shine. “The World Will Know” and “Seize the Day” are inspiring and profound.