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Review: Newsies (Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre)

Review by Daz Gale


The Troubadour Theatre in Wembley Park is making headlines again. After being the first indoor theatre to reopen following the first lockdown in 2020, they are now bringing us the UK premiere of an American favourite as Newsies pitches up to sell the well-loved show to British audiences. But would we react the same way as they did over the pond? Read all about it...



Based on the 1992 film, the musical adaptation of Newsies premiered in 2011, making its Broadway debut the next year where it played for more than 1000 performances. Inspired by real life events, it tells the story of the newsboys strike of 1899 in New York City. But that's only half the story as it reveals itself to be full of intricate details and subplots as we get to know and love this group of characters amongst themes of love, poverty and injustice.

For its UK debut, the essential elements of Newsies have been taken but the rulebook has been well and truly ripped up in this brilliantly creative, very different and "immersive" version. Immersive theatre has become a growing trend lately with seemingly every show billing itself as that to varying degrees of success. While some shows stretch the very meaning of the word, this is as immersive as it gets with Newsies coming at you from every conceivable angle. (It's worth noting this is immersive, not interactive so don't worry about being called up to join in with their elaborate dancing). The still relatively new Troubadour Theatre inWembley Park has been transformed effortlessly to create a vast space that extends beyond the stage, meaning the cast travel all around the audience - this is one show where sitting further back might be more beneficial for the overall picture.



The set design by Morgan Large is breathtakingly stunning. Vast and meticulous in its detail, it is the kind of set that makes you gasp the moment you set foot inside the venue. The sheer scale of it and the care and attention that has gone into it is like nothing I have ever seen before, and the fact it still manages to convey an intimate story while displaying some of the grandest staging choices is a testament to the sheer brilliance of it. A case of one of the greatest feats in set design I have ever seen, if not THE greatest. An ingenious use of props constantly surprises and delights including the best use of hanging lamps you're ever likely to see.


The rest of the production elements match the impressively high bar set by the staging with gorgeous costumes by Natalie Pryce matching the exquisite surrounding design and truly stunning lighting from Mark Henderson making the whole thing look stunningly beautiful, particularly in one dimly lit sequence in the second act.


This staging is complex at best, impossible at worst so it is a marvel that it has been pulled off at all, let alone this flawlessly. This is, in part, thanks to the remarkable direction from Matt Cole who has to deal with every possible element including flying Newsies (yes, they fly), how to navigate the vast and unconventional space and make the whole thing segue seamlessly, which he does with ease.

Matt Cole is also responsible for the choreography which can only be described as out of this world. From the moment the Newsies bound on to the stage, you know you are in for something special and that feeling doesn't let up until the very last Newsie has jumped off of the stage at the end of the curtain call. Incredibly intricate and complicated choreography wows at every turn, with 'Seize The Day' evoking the same sense of wonder the title number of 'Anything Goes' managed - truly wonderous to witness, and just growing bigger and bigger as the number progresses. It’s no wonder this number has been drawing standing ovations. Other staging highlights include the equally impressive 'King Of New York' and the rousing 'Brooklyn's Here' - each of these numbers take liberties with their staging, seemingly pushing the boundaries of what is possible in a theatre production such as this.



A production as impressive as this demands an equally impressive cast, and luckily Newsies delivers that in spades. In the lead role of Jack Kelly, Michael Ahomka-Lindsey is effortlessly charismatic, captivating and commanding, displaying a sensitivity and depth to his acting choices alongside his magnificent vocal abilities. Whereas Jeremy Jordan made his mark on the role in Broadway, Michael looks set to do the same thing here in a true star turn which will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.

Bronté Barbé delights as Katherine Plumber, always grabbing focus in scenes where she is among a crowded stage. Moya Angela is a standout as Medda Larker while Cameron Blakely is pleasingly ruthless in his portrayal of Joseph Pulitzer. Ryan Kopel delivers a fantastic performance as Davey forming a brilliant double act with little brother Les (played by four alternating children – (Nesim Adnan, Haydn Court, Oliver Gordon and Ethan Sokontwe)



In a large cast of 36, it may be hard to single out performers especially in the big group numbers where they all impress with their consistently high standard in their performances. It's the other Newsies that really make jaws fall open with Samuel Bailey as Specs, Jack Bromage as Tommy Boy, George Crawford as Morris, Ross Dorrington as Splasher, Matthew Duckett as Crutchie (forming an emotional core in place of the dancing of his fellow Newsies) and Damon Gould as Finch among the phenomenal cast. There really is no weak link among them though with every person gracing that stage well deserving of their own individual standing ovation.

Bursting with fantastic songs by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, the sound coming off of that stage matches the high energy of the visual with some instantly memorable songs including the earworm of 'Carrying The Banner', the beautiful 'Watch What Happens', the aforementioned epically staged 'Seize The Day' and the rousing act one finale 'Santa Fe' which is performed with as much emotion and skill as a song that legendary deserves. One musical highlight comes from Michael and Bronte in their act two duet 'Something To Believe In' with all these numbers sounding glorious thanks to musical supervision and direction from Nigel Lilley.



Harvey Fierstein’s brilliant book easily transports us into the Newsies world, setting the scene and allowing audiences to fall in love with an already loveable cast. Tonally consistent, it manages to carefully convey the severity of the situations at hand, including the abuse the group face alongside an optimistic and rousing quality that keeps the hope alive throughout and ultimately leaves you satisfied with the resolution. While the events are set in 1899, it feels fittingly relevant to modern events given all the strikes that have been taking place this year – this strikes that balance of being able to experience the truest escapism of theatre while still being able to relate it to the real world. When this delicate combination is pulled off like this, it really amplifies the feelings and the message it conveys, and Newsies is a prime example of this.


There are certain trips to the theatre you will remember forever, certain shows that will be embedded in your brain as long as you live. Newsies is a fine example of this. It has been a long time since I last found myself reacting in such an extreme way to what was being performed in front of me, even going as far as reducing me to tears at one point thanks to the sheer wonder and genius of this production. While my huge adoration of all things theatre is no secret, Newsies feels like a textbook example of why theatre is my whole world. If somebody was to ask me what it is about theatre I love so much, I would take them to this production and simply say “THAT” – it speaks for itself. During the show, Medda says “Where better to escape trouble than a theatre?” That mantra is well and truly upheld at Newsies in a production that insists you leave your troubles at the door and immerse yourself in the unbridled escapism.



Newsies really is the very best of the best. With unrivalled creativity in its staging and the most outstanding choreography I have ever witnessed, this is a visual spectacular. The fact it is performed to the highest degree of excellence by an exceptional cast means there really is nothing to fault about this sensational work of art. Absolute perfection in every sense, Newsies may well be THE show of the year and will undoubtedly deserve every plaudit it will inevitably receive. This is a production with a huge future ahead of it. Just watch what happens.


★★★★★


Newsies plays at the Troubadour Theatre in Wembley Park until April 16th 2023. Tickets from https://newsiesthemusical.co.uk


Photos by Johan Persson

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