In this historical moment of unprecedented privatization and political hostility toward organized labor, it may come as a surprise that one of Disney’s most popular Broadway musicals tells the story of a successful strike — but that’s exactly what Newsies is about. The Newsboy Strike of 1899 pitted thousands of street kids, many of them barely into their teens, against the two most powerful media figures of the age, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. Thanks to Alan Menken’s musical talent and a great team of writers, the story translates well to the stage. The spectacle of anywhere from eight to fourteen young men, all great dancers, charging around and singing as if their lives — and livelihoods — depended on it gives luminous, resonant shape to the ideal of a free society and a fair deal.
For this production, director and choreographer Michael Jenkinson has gathered an extraordinarily talented group of young performers, several of them making their debuts with PCPA. “We have a caliber of dancer [for this show] that we have never had on this stage before,” said Jenkinson, who attributes the excitement about Newsies in the theater community to the freshness of the title, and to the heart of the show. When the action begins, the boys dance and sing in loose formations. But as the tension mounts and they become more focused on winning the strike, their voices rise and the steps tighten until they arrive at what Jenkinson describes as a “military” level of precision and unity of purpose. If Broadway audiences are any indication, the show has legs. After opening in March 1992, it ran for a remarkable two years and 1,005 performances. You can see it under the stars in Solvang from July 27 through August 20.