Extra, Extra! Newsies Is Going To Run For A Million Years!

Tonight, Newsies opens on Broadway.

In a matter of hours, we fully expect a prompt announcement that will put an end to these "limited run!" shenanigans...once and for all. Yeah, we went there.

Hillary and I saw the show from lotto seats this past Sunday with the highest of expectations, based on the deafening buzz surrounding the adaptation of the 1992 movie failure/cult classic and our never-ending appreciation of all things Jeremy Jordan. And to be honest? We can't find a single tidbit about the staged version, which began its life at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey last fall, to pick apart. Our only complaint would be the awkwardly slanted side orchestra seats we were given, which resulted in feeling like we sat on a Tilt-A-Whirl for two and a half hours. (And that the ridiculous Santa Fe dance break from the movie was cut, but that's another story.)

Yes, there are some "DISNEY!!" moments in Newsies. But it's a Disney show. Duh. The result is the perfect first Broadway show for anyone from the cliched ages of 8 to 80. Harvey Fierstein's book serves its purpose - to more or less transition between the show's infectious musical numbers, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman.

Yes, for you die-hard movie fans, there have been some changes. Remember how terribly boring the character of Sarah was? (If you don't, well, that proves our point.) Enter Katherine Plumber, played by the sparkling Kara Lindsay, who, had she been included in the movie, would have been eight-year-old, aspiring-journalist-Michelle's IDOL. As a replacement character for Denton and a new and FAR more compelling love interest for Jack, Katherine is strong, intelligent, determined, and quick with the sarcasm - and these qualities are why Jack likes her! Major feminist props from us to you, Disney.

Nearly half of the young, male-dominated cast makes their Broadway debuts with this show. Combine their energy with a few hundred of Newsies' biggest fans in the audience, and the Nederlander nearly levitated during numbers like "Carrying The Banner" and "Seize The Day." (The crescendo in the middle of the latter inspired Hillary to kick me furiously in the shins.) While the show's highest points remain beautifully re-orchestrated versions of songs from the movie, a few new additions are nice as well, particularly "Brooklyn's Here," "Something to Believe In," and "Watch What Happens," Katherine's number. Medda (Capathia Jenkins) and Pulitzer (John Dossett) each get a new song as well, but it's really the kids we care most about. In the midst of so many powerful and iconic songs, my personal favorite was the build in the middle section of "Once And For All," first heard in this video from the Paper Mill sitzprobe. Live, it's a completely thrilling moment that makes your heartbeat feel like it's shifting the time signature of its palpitations right along with the song.

Christopher Gattelli's choreography is the ridiculous epitome of inventive and infectious. With a penchant for tap dancing and no dance skills whatsoever, watching professional dancers from a few rows back will always remain one of the coolest things about musical theater to me. And these boys can DANCE, flip, twist, tap, DANCE, and did we mention DANCE?! They dance on tables, with metal spoons, and on NEWSPAPERS. Ryan Steele garnered mid-number applause for a particularly impressive pirouette at the performance we attended, and I suspect that was not a one-time deal.

Random tidbits that we enjoyed, narrowed down from a list far too large to include in its entirety - the adorable Matthew Schechter as young Les; golden-voiced Ben Fankhauser as the timid Davey; and a well-utilized relevance and connection to the recent Occupy movement, especially at the show's end, with a call for the young generation to stand up for themselves. Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Crutchie proved himself a terrific character actor by stealing the scene in every one of his few appearances. We also loved the clever use of animation (this is Disney, after all) to show the daily chalking of the news headlines, and a image of Katherine as Jack draws her.

If you're wondering how we've gotten this far with minimal mention of the show's triumphant leading man, look no further. As an opening argument, we direct you to his bio, which reads, in part, "He recently starred opposite Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah in the gospel hit, Joyful Noise, and also shot some folks as Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde on Broadway."

Jeremy Jordan plays strong, violent, vulnerable, relatable, and admirable all at the same time. His is a voice that we've never heard crack or fall flat. It's fortunate that the show-stopping "Santa Fe" falls at the end of act one, because we needed some time to recover from the high note at its conclusion. (Tangent: can someone please explain to us what is so alluring and fantastic about Santa Fe to musical theater folk?!) Jordan gets to be freer and goofier as Jack than as Clyde, which was a delight to see. Those moments in scenes where the spotlight wasn't on him seemed to be where Jordan really brought Jack's nuances to life. Although we would have loved (read: massive understatement) for him to have had a longer run as Clyde, Jordan is this season's break-out leading man, hands down, and we're feeling  oddly like proud mothers as we read the fantastic notices he's receiving in reviews more legitimate than ours.

External to the show itself, there's the issue of the Newsies cast recording debuting on April 10 (listen to some sample tracks on their Facebook page) and the Bonnie & Clyde cast recording on April 24. We see you, blatant attempt to distract us from every important obligation in April, like an oncoming ensemble of twirling, dancing newsboys that we're powerless to stop.

The only other thing to say about Newsies? How cool is it for each and every Newsie to get their own bow at curtain call. What a thrill to watch the definition of a talented ensemble raise the show to electric heights and then receive individual recognition for a job well done.

Venus in Fur

It's revolutionary to me that the trend of hosting a Blogger's Night seems to be catching on in the New York theater scene. So we write a (badly-up-kept) blog, purely for our own enjoyment - and hopefully yours as well - with no external motives...and have the chance to receive a pair of complementary tickets to see a show? And then write about it? For fun?

What an awesome trend! Kudos to you, Broadway.

Last week, one half of Super Awesome Broadway Ninjas was able to make a mid-week trek to the city and take in Venus in Fur, a two-person play that began its New York run off Broadway at the Classic Stage Company in January 2010, was brought to Broadway's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre by Manhattan Theatre Club in October, and moved again to the Lyceum Theatre to play through June 17.

Going into the dark comedy, I had two expectations: 1) that it would be 90 minutes of good, kinky fun (Charles Isherwood's words, not mine), and 2) that Nina Arianda would be a revelation. Both expectations were exceeded. I also walked out wishing I could immediately head to the nearest library and read everything that playwright David Ives has ever written. (It was recently announced that he is working on a new musical with God of All Musical Theater Gods Stephen Sondheim...and after being exposed to his work for the first time with Venus in Fur, I am SO on board with this plan. Let's get to writing, fellows.)

Venus in Fur opens rather abruptly, with playwright Thomas (played by Mark Alhadeff at the performance I saw) lit by the dreaded intensity of florescent lights, multiplied by ten, on the phone and very frustrated after a long and unsuccessful day of auditioning actresses for his play, based on the 19th century novel "Venus in Furs" by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose last name inspired the term "masochism" (and another term as well, should you be clever enough to examine the initials of his last name). In another abrupt entrance, actress Vanda (Arianda) stumbles in, soaking wet with an umbrella that won't close, a wild assortment of costumes, an abundance of curse words that somehow become endearing, and a name that isn't on Thomas's list of appointments. Of course, Vanda convinces him to let her audition, for a character that curiously holds her same name, and also convinces the hesitant Thomas to read opposite her. The audition that ensues takes just about every twist and turn that you couldn't have thought of.

The most interesting part of the play for me was the way in which it examined the shift in patterns of dominance between men and women. Rather than just addressing the issue through dialogue, the play literally morphs into a discussion of the issue as the characters in Ives' play slowly merged with the characters in Thomas's play-within-the-play. At first, accented dialogue could be used to distinguish Vanda and Thomas from the roles they were playing, but suddenly it didn't matter who was who. One minute Vanda is begging Thomas for the chance to audition, and the next she holds power over him with the reveal of details of his personal life that she should or should not know. One minute Thomas is lamenting the shortcomings and failings of every actress who auditioned that day, and the next he's at the mercy of an actress who has many self-confessed shortcomings, but a certain manipulative power as well.

Director versus actress? Male versus female? Playwright versus character? All are upended. The ebb and flow of sympathies, gender dynamics, and sexual tension between Thomas and Vanda weave one of the more thought-provoking and dynamic relationships that I've seen onstage in a while. And this chameleon-like quality is where Nina Arianda shines. Her physicality is hilariously believable, and her line delivery (and Mr. Ives' writing) reminded me of "Modern Family," a fast-paced and really smart style that sling-shots jokes and puns left and right but leaves no time for that I-got-the-joke-ten-seconds-later chuckle.

Mr. Alhadeff, understudy to Hugh Dancy, was wonderful, and I found no flaws with his performance.
I particularly enjoyed a scene in which Thomas lamented the modern tendency to condense, categorize, and therefore oversimplify plays into something that they are not, or something which they transcend by far. Visually, I was intrigued that he is of shorter stature than Arianda, which made the power dynamic even more pronounced during certain scenes when the two stood face to face, until I was told that Arianda also towers over Mr. Dancy, thanks in part to a dangerous pair of heels. But the play is really Arianda's to run with, and sprint away she does. She's dangerous, charming, lovable, mysterious, seductive, the girl-next-door, confusing, and crystal clear all at once. I'm still not quite certain which of Vanda's stories were meant to be true or not.

As a fan of creative structure, interesting characters, and performances that truly come to life, I loved every minute spent watching the erotic antics play out between Vanda and Thomas. Vanda's true motives are never quite revealed - or should I say confirmed - but Ives' characters are so intensely dynamic that I left wishing I could meet these people in real life, not stuck on how their stories came to intersect.