Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Hale Centre Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Heathers The Musical and Alice by Heart

Truman Regard-Whipple and Reece Harris
Photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw
With a never-ending stream of musical stage adaptations of hit films, it's a bit of a shock that the 1992 Disney film Newsies, which was a huge flop at movie theatres, not only went on to be a crowd-pleasing, Tony-winning show, but also one that continues to receive numerous productions across the country. Hale Centre Theatre presented the show in 2019 and has brought it back again in a production that features fantastic leads and a rousing ensemble, including a few members who played the same parts in the previous production. Newsies is full of showstopping dance numbers, toe-tapping tunes, memorable characters, and a whole lot of joy, so it's easy to see why Hale has brought the musical back so soon.

Inspired by the real-life Newsboy Strike of 1899, the plot focuses on a group of newsboys in New York City, many of whom are orphans, who revolt against publisher Joseph Pulitzer after he raises the price they must pay for newspapers, aiming to boost his own profits. Led by the headstrong Jack Kelly and Davey, a new recruit forced into the workforce by his father's unemployment, the newsies find inspiration from striking trolley workers. However, they quickly discover that standing up against powerful adults is more challenging than they initially thought.

The score, with Alan Menken's music and Jack Feldman's lyrics, is expanded from the film and includes rousing anthems and touching ballads. Harvey Fierstein's book introduces subtle yet smart changes to the original screenplay by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White, infusing the story with humor, heart, and new twists.

Reece Harris leads the cast as Jack Kelly, delivering a performance filled with street smarts, charm and strength. His portrayal captures Jack's reluctant leadership and devotion to his fellow newsies, and he brings strong vocals to his songs, particularly in his moving rendition of "Santa Fe." Brie Wadsworth-Gates shines as Katherine Plumber, a tenacious reporter seeking to make a name for herself. Her spunky and intelligent performance creates a believable and dynamic connection between Katherine and Harris' Jack, and her gorgeous singing voice soars, especially in one of the excellent new songs written for the stage production, "Watch What Happens." Harris and Wadsworth-Gates both have wonderful chemistry and create believable characters you root to see succeed.

The supporting cast all excel, adding depth, humor and emotion to the production. Taylor Hudson's portrayal of Pulitzer provides a nuanced villain, avoiding caricature, and his singing voice is deep and rich. Kale Burr and Jacob Vella, as brothers Davey and Les, form a charming duo: Burr's Davey is intelligent and warm, with a strong sense of right and wrong, while Vella, who alternates with Beni Bermudez in the role, is hilarious and sweet as Les. Truman Regard-Whipple as Crutchie, Jack's friend with a bum leg, evokes deep sympathy, and his bond with Harris as Jack is heartfelt. Kieara Kurtz-Williams as Medda, the club owner and Jack's ally, is lovable, smart and fun.

Reegan Regard-Whipple, Joshua South, Brandt Norris, Jeremy Cruz, Albert Mendoza, Jacob Currie, Bennett Allen Wood, Lynden Jarman, and Joseph Strode portray the group of newsies and they are all wonderful, creating lovable characters. In smaller parts, Adam Guinn plays a few varied roles with a refined clarity, including also filling in as Teddy Roosevelt at the performance I attended, while Jenina Gallaway is a riot as Pulitzer's wise-cracking and fast-talking secretary. Noah Delgado, Payten McLeod, Cameron Rollins, Ava Cusiter, Diana Stapley, and Sarah Cleeland round out the cast playing numerous supporting characters with ease.

Director and choreographer Cambrian James ensures his entire cast create realistic and lovable characters, and his dances are fast-paced and energetic, blending athleticism and ballet. They are executed well by the large cast. However, with dances that feature a lot of leaps and jumps, the stage size sometimes restricts and limits the full potential of the ensemble's talents, but the dance numbers are constantly entertaining; the tap number "King of New York" is a major crowd-pleaser.

Under Lincoln Wright's music direction, the cast delivers rich, harmonious vocals. McKenna Carpenter's scenic design, featuring large towers of metal in the corners of the stage, effectively represents the various urban settings, while Catherine Andrus' lighting design enhances the production with evocative colors. The detailed and vibrant costumes by Brielle Hawkes add authenticity and visual appeal.

Newsies is a spirited and engaging stage adaptation of the 1992 film, and Hale Centre Theatre's production is a crowd-pleaser with a fantastic cast that brings infectious joy to the musical numbers and a deep connection to the characters. Hale's production is exciting, engaging, and highly entertaining.

Newsies runs through June 29, 2024, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or by or call 480-497-1181

Producers & Casting Directors: David & Corrin Dietlein
Directed and choreographed by Cambrian James
Music Director: Lincoln Wright
Costume Designer & Costume Shop Manager: Brielle Hawkes
Scenic Designer & Head Scenic Artist: McKenna Carpenter
Lighting Designer: Catherine Andrus
Props Mistress & Scenic Painter: Liz De La Torre
Scenic Painter: Brittany Arwine
Production Stage Manager: Kaitlyn Grace
Audio Engineer: Jackson Zyontz
Hair, Wigs & Makeup Designer: Cambrian James
Dance Captains: Brandt Norris & Jeremy Cruz
Set Carpenter: Dan Rodriguez
Costume Stitchers & Wardrobe: Molly Hill & Toni Smith
Assistant Stage Managers: Abby Hawel & Jayna Rardin
Outside Technical Consultant: Ashton Corey
Production Assistant: Jamie Fleischer
Business Manager & Hale Bookkeeper: Britney Carpenter

Jack Kelly: Reece Harris
Katherine Plumber: Brie Wadsworth-Gates
Crutchie: Truman Regard-Whipple
Davey: Kale Burr
Les: Jacob Vella/ Beni Bermudez
Joseph Pulitzer: Taylor Hudson
Medda Larkin/Nun: Kieara Kurtz-Williams
Teddy Roosevelt/Wiesel/Bunsen/Mr.Jacobi/Mayor: Adam Guinn
Elmer: Reegan Regard-Whipple
Race: Joshua South
Specs: Brandt Norris
Finch: Jeremy Cruz
Albert: Albert Mendoza
Tommy Boy: Jacob Currie
Romeo: Bennett Allen Wood
Buttons: Lynden Jarman
Henry: Joseph Strode
Morris Delancey/Nunzio: Noah Delgado
Oscar Delancey/Spot: Payten McLeod
Snyder/Guard: Cameron Rollins
Hannah/Nun/Woman: Jenina Gallaway
Female Ensemble/Nun/Bowery/Splasher: Ava Cusiter
Female Ensemble/Nun/Bowery/Jojo: Diana Stapley
Female Ensemble/Nun/Bowery/Mush: Sarah Cleeland