Newsies is a musical that is nostalgic and dear to my heart, and when I heard that MUSKET was going to present a virtual concert of it this year, I got so excited. And boy, did MUSKET pull through. Based on historical events of 1899, Newsies follows the stories of New York City’s newsboys as they fight against the injustices perpetuated by the city’s powerful newspaper publishers.
Theater is already a form of art that requires so much creativity and innovation, but that need for thinking outside the box reached new levels this year. Even in the most “stripped down” theater performances, actors rely on their facial expressions to convey attitude and emotion. This year, MUSKET’s actors had to navigate how to portray their characters with a mask covering their nose and mouth. While seeing actors perform in masks felt very strange, I was impressed with how the actors used their eyes and their bodies to tell their stories. Furthermore, each mask had a playful illustration of a mouth on it that matched each character’s costume, which was such a creative touch.
Another component that usually contributes to storytelling in theater is the set design, or the backgrounds where the story takes place. Usually, the cast and crew of a show have the opportunity to work with a set that is designed specifically for that show, but this year, the Newsies team had to get creative. Their utilization of local, non-traditional performances spaces worked well, and their resourceful and artful use of the outdoors was truly beautiful. These visuals and storytelling were elevated by the amazing and evocative camerawork. For example, in “Something to Believe In,” the actors were singing romantically to each other, yet for most of the song, they were socially distanced and not even in the same frame. Although the actors could not hold each other in their arms, these moments were brilliantly shot and still felt intimate and loving.
This production was simply so fun to watch. There was hardly a moment without movement, and the choreography was outstanding. The dancers were aerobic, energetic, and graceful, notably in “Seize the Day.” In addition to the engaging choreography, the cast of Newsies delivered such strong vocal performances throughout. “Watch What Happens” stood out to me as an especially memorable performance, but there wasn’t a weak moment in the entire virtual concert. The soloists’ voices sounded full and bright, and on ensemble numbers, harmonies were clean and locked in.
Hats off to the sound technicians for getting all the voices and orchestra synched up and balanced, especially since I’m sure recording was complicated due to COVID restrictions. Whenever the technical aspects of a production are “invisible” (meaning you don’t notice them), that’s a good sign. And the sound on Newsies was seamless.
Overall, was it weird to see a socially distanced, shortened version of Newsies? Yes, of course it felt strange, but I am wildly impressed with the ingenuity of the cast and crew because they put together what I didn’t think was possible. Since March, I’ve missed live music and live theater, and Newsies brought me one step closer to experiencing that again. MUSKET’s production of Newsies felt immensely joyful, and joy is something I think we could all use right now.
The Newsies playlist link is accessible here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7jQ4ZS5Biju4Yi4MvvL6_gEz1HN9XDhj