‘Newsies’ wows full house

Queen of Arts

‘Newsies’ wows full houseBy LAURA LEIGH MONTEREY

Wow, what a show!

Third row center was an excellent place to enjoy Ridgecrest Musical Enrichment Society’s production of Disney’s “Newsies.” Saturday night, at the second performance in the series, the Lecture Center at Cerro Coso was packed to the gills. It was definitely family night, and there was a buzz of excitement in the air.

In heavy New York accents, Jack Kelly (played by Steven Farris) opens with his anger and frustration at being trapped in his life as a newsie. “The streets sucked the life outta my old man,” he rants. “Then they threw him to the curb like an old paper.”

Oh, how he longs for Santa Fe!

In song, dance, and dialog, “Newsies” tells the David-and-Goliath story of the disenfranchised youth who sold papers in New York for behemoth media barons around the turn of the 20th century, making only starvation wages. They had to buy the papers from the company, then hawk them to passers-by on the streets. Unsold papers could not be returned. When prices rise to an intolerable level, the newsies strike.

They struggle against economic oppression and beastly conditions, but there’s another struggle portrayed here as well – that of women inching their way into professional society on their own merits. And while all this social upheaval is going on, love arrives.

Throughout the performance, a skeleton-crew orchestra provided the music, perching at one end of the stage area. The balance was just right. “Simon is the only person I know who can play the trumpet quietly,” commented Ryan Zeigler, drum player. The orchestra comprised Simon Austin on trumpet, Penny Belt on piano and Zeigler, under the direction of Amber Farris-Petersen.

The cast carries off many entertaining – and sometimes shocking! – theatrical innovations, as when Medda Larkin (Melanie Anderson), sings, “That’s Rich.” As a successful businesswoman who owns a theater, Medda is a lady of the stage and thus of questionable morals. “I live in a mansion on Long Island Sound. I pull up a weed, they find oil in the ground. Now you’re telling me you don’t want me around? Baby, that’s rich!” As the song goes on, Medda gets intense. In full voice, she inches closer and closer to the audience until she is but a handspan from an unsuspecting gentleman in the first row – to the delight of everyone.

As the strike looms, a lady reporter, Katherine Plumber (played by Bekah Coursey), edges her way into covering the strike – her first hard news story and her ticket “out of the society pages.” She wants it, but once she’s got it, dithers about how to pull it off. She’s both excited and scared. Finally, “Whatever happens, let’s begin,” she sings. Wonderful portrayal of a journalist’s life, and beautifully delivered.

Jack Kelly sweeps in two newcomers, Davey (Philip Petersen) and his younger brother, Les (Christopher Anderson), partly because Davey is smart and partly because Les is young and adorable – and thus able to sell more “papes,” The newsies sing, “Now is the time to seize the day.” Kelly wraps it up, “If we stand together, we change the game,” and his boys are all in.

At intermission, I spoke with my audience neighbors, David Tait and his grown daughter, Natalie. David, who saw “Newsies” on opening night, came down again from Olancha so Natalie could see it. Both dressed in period newsie costume. Natalie, from Lone Pine, knew many of the cast members and was clearly delighted from start to finish.

Katherine Hobbs attended with her husband, Harlen. Katherine particularly enjoyed the dancing, especially in “Seize the Day,” she said, while Harlen commented on the actor’s portrayal of Jack Kelly. “I appreciate that he put effort into the accent,” he said.

I won’t give anything away about the love interest except to say that there is at least one kiss involved, and the audience completely loves it.

Director Bill Farris was full of praise for his cast. “The players in this particular group have worked very hard to put this show together, and I believe it shows,” he said. “They are a very talented group of young people.”

This RMES production cannot be surpassed as family entertainment. It is large as life, beautiful, clean, and thoroughly enjoyable. Do come. Bring your muddah. Bring your faddah.

Pictured: Melanie Anderson delivers a solo as Medda Larkin in “Newsies.” — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-10-04