By Kendra Hill
At the risk of being brief, all I want to say is, WOW, after I saw Tuacahn’s production of Newsies in St. George.
Oh, does my review need to be more than WOW? I guess I should expound on that.
While the stage version of Newsies is a little different from the movie, it has all of the great songs plus a few more. There are also a couple of slight changes to the characters and story line.
I have seen a few shows at the Tuacahn, and they never disappoint. However, this show is in a league of its own. The dancing is impressive, the harmonies are tight, the acting on point, and the set is amazing.
Ryan Farnsworth as Jack is fantastic. He emits a charisma that had audience members clamoring to join the Newsies. (Though they all stayed in their seats, I’m sure a few wanted to charge the stage–I know I did.) Farnsworth is a great dancer and singer. I dare you not to cry at the last note of “Santa Fe.” But what I loved most was he does a great job at leading the audience through this wonderful story with his acting. When he wants to give up on the Union he’s created and he laments all of the children that were hurt, you feel the pain and regret he feels at leading them into that situation. But you can’t help but cheer for him to do the right thing and take them to victory. Whitney Winfield plays opposite Jack as Katherine, his love interest. I really liked her lovely, “Watch What Happens” near the beginning of the play. She does a great job getting across her trepidation as well as her determination. I couldn’t help but fall in love with her. While she doesn’t do as much dancing as the Newsies, she does get the opportunity to strut her stuff in “King of New York.”
Davey (Daniel Scott Walton) plays a pivotal role by helping to inspire the Newsies to stay true to their chosen course, and on more than one occasion helps bolster Jack when he is feeling the pressure to back down. Walton plays the inspirational character well and has a wonderful singing voice. Though little Will Haley as Les, Davey’s younger brother, is surrounded by older actors, he definitely holds his own. I let out my own ‘whoop’ when he yells at the police officer to tell Pulitzer that he’d be, “begging to have a meeting with me by the next morning!”
Jack’s other supporters, Medda (Jennifer Leigh Warren) and Crutchie (Jordan Aragon) were both characters that found a special place in my heart. Warren is funny and a delight to watch as she not only helps the Newsies with their union, but lets her womanly attitudes be known. Aragon just tugged at the heart strings as he hobbles across the stage, singing with Jack about how he would run again one day when they were together in “Santa Fe.”
Pulitzer (Matthew Tyler) is a great villain. Stubborn, unconcerned, and rather grumpy (“He doesn’t know how to do happy”), Tyler does a great job playing a character you love to hate. Slimy and smart, he nearly wipes out the Newsies ‘union’ using his intellect to infect Jack with doubts and fears.
All the Newsies in this production are top notch. There are many solo parts that are sung by different people, and all are fantastic. And the dancing? Director/Choreographer Jeffry Denman does a fantastic job creating a production filled with energy, joy, and meaning. The big dance numbers are filled with tricks and flips and intense choreography that is in sync and wowed the audience with each new song. Denman does a fantastic job with a huge group of amazingly talented dancers. With the larger musical numbers, the stage is filled with Newsies and I can’t imagine the practice hours and choreographing that went into making sure everyone was in sync and safe. The difficult moves and tricks definitely make the show a wonder to behold.
There are a couple of moving set pieces, but the main attraction is the large set that spans the entire stage, is 3-4 levels high, and filled with stairs, ladders, and poles. The nimble actors scurry up and down them as if they’ve been doing it their whole lives. Behind these tall set pieces, towering bridges that will take your breath away. I take my newsboy cap off to the set designer (Brad Shelton), and all those who helped build it.
The lighting and sound are fantastic. One time a mics went out, but it was fixed within moments. I always heard the amazing voices of the actors blend with the music from the live orchestra pit. All is balanced and harmonious. Kudos to Musical Director D. Alexander Rovang.
There are so many other people who make this show possible with amazing lighting design, costumes, props, backstage work, and more. Everything is mind-blowing and everyone who works on this show in any capacity should be very proud.
It is always fun to go see shows at the Tuacahn and they really utilize the fact that they are an outdoor theater. Often shows are accented with the use of pyrotechnics, live animals, and additional scenery behind the stage. It is also nice to have fresh air and a slight breeze as you watch. While many things are great with an outdoor theater, please be prepared for the elements. When the show started this weekend, the temperatures were still above 100 degrees. Thankfully, the entire amphitheater is in the shade for the duration of the show. Take water and whatever you need to keep cool. If you forget, they do have bottled water for sale as well as drinking fountains (though the lines are longer for these than even the women’s restroom.) I do recommend buying a frozen lemonade. Those treats are delicious and a nice cold snack for a warm evening. If you don’t make it to one of their concession stands, they have ushers selling water and frozen lemonade in the amphitheater before the show begins and during intermission. One seller in particular was making the audience laugh by selling ‘frozen happiness’ and ‘water so you don’t die.’
While they allow children three and above into the amphitheater, I recommend not taking young children to this show. The dancing and music probably will keep them entertained, however I feel the parts in between can become a little boring as they may not understand what is happening. There is a little bit of violence with some bloody lips and such. I think this show would be best suited for about seven years old and above. They do offer child ‘showcare’ and advanced registration is required.
I live in Utah County and drove the 4 hours to St. George to see this show. Beyond worth it. If you miss this, you will be kicking yourself.
You can see Newsies on various dates until October 18. Ticket prices range from $29-$89. Starting time varies from 8:45 PM to 7:30 PM depending on the performance date. You can buy tickets and find more details at www.tuacahn.org
Tuacahn Amphitheatre, 1100 Tuacahn Dr, Ivins, UT 84738 435-652-3200