Chanhassen’s 'Newsies' is well-crafted millennial nostalgia

Rich Ryan Photography

Rich Ryan Photography

Millennials will never stop loving Newsies—and they may never stop playing them, either.

The 2011 musical, based on the 1992 movie with a large cult following, requires some suspension of disbelief. Unmistakably adult actors play impoverished teen vendors who launch a “children’s crusade” with the goal of preventing NYC publishers from raising the price they charge newsies for stacks of “papes” to sell.

Now playing in an entertaining production at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, the show works because it doesn’t strain for any unlikely heights. You go to Newsies to see singing and dancing newsies, and that is absolutely what you’re going to get. Keeping a steady beat of plucky defiance, Newsies is to Les Misérables what SpaghettiOs are to French onion soup.

Befitting its Disney pedigree, Newsies is a model of clarity in storytelling, nearly to the point of self-parody. (At one point, comrades from the southeast arrive singing, “We’re from Brooklyn! We are newsies! We are Brooklyn newsies!”) Jack Feldman’s lyrics aren’t particularly poetic, but they fit Alan Menken’s catchy and rhythmic music with great precision, making the songs lucid and highly singable.

The show is a fine choice for the Chanhassen, which is about nothing if not hitting its marks. Director Michael Brindisi was born to lead this platoon of newsies, who glory in their exploration of a time-honored theatrical trope: the Street-Smart New York Kids. Jaws firmly set, rakish hats and jaunty kerchiefs in place, they scamper forth to jazz-dance for justice. What’s not to love?

In the leading roles of ace newsie Jack and aspiring reporter Katherine, Aleks Knezevich and Ruthanne Heyward are so on-point they could almost be computer-generated. If you’re going to play a fresh-faced newsboy when you’re entering the upper age range of contestants on The Bachelor, you really have to commit to the bit, and Knezevich gives it—as Arie Luyendyk Jr. might say—a thousand percent.

That note of unblinking sincerity resonates down the cast, with a particularly resolute performance by Lucas Wells as “Crutchie,” the most literally named newsie. (It’s best not to speculate regarding what more colorful nicknames real-life newsies might have bestowed.) This is a show that’s truly about the ensemble, and by opening night they were already tight as a drum.

Scenic designer Nayna Ramey’s sturdy, weathered set gives the urchins an ample playground for running and jumping and sliding around. Photographs and text projected on a large upstage screen are more distracting than informative, though.

Newsies is a spectacular showcase for choreographer Tamara Kangas Erickson, who delivers one jolt of energy after another. The dinner theater’s Main Stage brings the audience close to the action, showcasing the confident pizazz of this well-crafted pageant for all the newsies fit to sprint.

Chanhassen Dinner Theatres
952.934.1525; through September 29