The Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre launched its 2019 main-stage offerings with a rousting production of “Newsies,” an old-fashioned, crowd-pleasing musical.
Working with a cast of mostly UFOMT newcomers, director Michael Jenkinson recaptures much of the enthusiasm and charm that made this musical a favorite with both regional theater and Broadway audiences. Jenkinson deserves special credit for also serving as choreographer for “Newsies”; such double-duty is no mean feat for a production renowned for high-energy dancing.
The play’s admittedly corny plot is loosely based of the historic Newsboys Strike of 1899, a revolt against newspaper mogul Joseph Pulitzer by the young men who hawked his papers throughout the streets of New York City.
Newcomer Derek DeRoo leads that uprising as Jack Kelly in the local production. DeRoo is a fine actor and a welcome addition to the UFOMT family. He opens the play with a heartfelt rendition of one of its few ballads and blends nicely with other cast members on several duets.
For much of the show, DeRoo shares the stage with UFOMT veteran Stephan Espinosa as Crutchie, a handicapped newsboy. As usual, Espinosa fills that supporting role effortlessly and provides his trademark comedy relief.
Another welcome newcomer is Molly Dobbs, who is sensational as Katherine, a crusading female journalist who helps to promote the newsboy strike in a rival newspaper, The New York Sun. Dobbs has a beautiful voice, excellent comic timing and she can dance up a storm.
Other cast standouts are Timothy Stewart and Porter R. Harris as the Jacobs brothers and Meami Maszewski as the Vaudeville thrush Medda Larkin. Kudos also to the young members of the show’s ensemble — they sing their hearts out all night long.
But the cast of “Newsies” is at its best when they are dancing, which is a joyous, nearly non-stop experience. That is especially true in a tap dance number opening the second act that really brought down the house. Anyone who can watch Dobbs lead a dozen chorus boys in a flawless tap dance without grinning from ear-to-ear has no business sitting in a live theater.
Additional performances of “Newsies” are slated at the Ellen Eccles Theatre in downtown Logan through Aug. 2. For ticket information, visit utahfestival.org