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4.0 out of 5 stars Newies Has Never Sounded Better, April 24, 2012
This review is from: Newsies [+Digital Booklet] (MP3 Music)
Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Disney has done it again!

With the new Broadway Musical NEWSIES, based on the 1992 Disney film of the same name, the House of Mouse easily has its first hit show since MARY POPPINS opened on the Great White Way in 2006.

One listen to this album will show you why. The ensemble cast is breathtaking! While the original film's score, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman, was and still is fantastic, this cast could easily give the film cast a soaking. This cast's harmonies are tight on the film's signature tunes such as "Carrying the Banner," "The World Will Know," "Seize the Day," "King of New York," and "Once and For All," There isn't a weak voice or an off note anywhere, a problem that sometimes permeated the film's recording. This version also boasts some impressive orchestrations. Though the Broadway version utilizes a smaller orchestra, the orchestrations are still lush and impressive. The slightly harder, rock edge that the Broadway album gives to certain songs like "The World Will Know" may also surprise and delight the film's fan.

And as with most shows, there are a few standouts in the cast. As Crutchie, Andrew Keenan-Bolger offers some sweet and tender vocals (his half of the duet/lullaby version of "Santa Fe") and some vaudevillian smiles and chuckles (his solos on "Carrying the Banner"). Keenan-Bolger would even melt Pulitzer's heart.

But the true bright spot in the cast is leading man Jeremy Jordan as Jack Kelly, a role originated in the film by Christian Bale. As enjoyable as the film cast was, no one will ever accuse Christian Bale of being a singer. Jordan, on the other hand, is an extremely capable and versatile performer. On the new number "I Never Planned on You," Jordan sounds like a crooner of Broadway's golden age, on "The World Will Know," he personifies power and a passion-fueled rage against the machine, and his belt on Act I closer "Santa Fe" is the stuff goose bumps are made of.

But for all the good news, there is some bad as well.

Certain cast members are extremely underutilized. As Medda Larkin, a vaudeville diva, Capathia Jenkins has only one number, the newly penned "That's Rich." The tune is bouncy and fun but not exactly memorable and doesn't showcase Jenkins's strong voice. As one of only lead or supporting female characters in the show, Medda Larkin gives NEWSIES one of very few opportunities for a woman to play with the boys, and she deserves a big number. This was a problem with the film as well. The movie's Medda, the iconic Ann-Margret, had two lackluster numbers, "Lovey Dovey Baby" and "High Times, Hard Times." While the Broadway version smartly deletes those tunes, the replacement isn't much better, or better at all.

Even more troublesome is the misuse of former Tony Award nominee John Dossett as Joseph Pulitzer. Pulitzer didn't have a song in the film, perhaps because he was played by non-singer Robert Duvall. Dossett has a smooth, velvety voice and is a talented performer, but his song "The Bottom Line" is a throw-away song, and his carefree attitude and the easy-going tune make his Pulitzer weak. This is no formidable foe, and it's not a surprise that a few street urchins can overpower him.

And then there's Kara Lindsay as Katherine, news reporter and a love interest to Jack. Ms. Lindsay's voice is shrill at times, and she changes her intonation and enunciation so frequently she almost sounds like a schizophrenic conversing with herself. Her song, "Watch What Happens," is an obnoxious and annoying tune, but she doesn't do the material any favors. However, she fairs slightly better on material from the original film, such as "King of New York."

As evidenced by the comments above, the show's new songs also struggle a bit against the songs from the film. None of the six new songs are stand-outs, and they pale in comparison to the showstoppers delivered by the original material.

Still, this is overall a highly enjoyable recording, thanks to an ensemble that gives it their all and a leading man who carries the show higher than he carries the banner. If this show wins a Tony for Best Musical or a Grammy for Best Broadway Album, the headlines won't be exactly startling.
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