Written by Jamie Griffiths on December 10, 2022
08-12-22 Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre by Jamie Griffiths
Reimagining an award winning musical can be a tricky thing to master, but done right they can build on the original premise and reach hitherto unseen heights. Or it can be regarded as a pale imitation of what has gone before, and I was pleased to discover that this new production of Disney’s Newsies is most certainly the former.
The original production opened on Broadway and was slated to play only 100 performances but went on to play over 1,000 performances before touring. I have to confess that the 2012 Tony Award winning production and subsequent film of Newsies, although acclaimed, never stuck in my memory and this was perhaps a blessing for the new show. I think most of the audience won’t be arriving ready to compare and contrast with previous versions, and instead simply be dazzled and overwhelmed by the immersive staging. From the moment you enter this impressive theatre space you can’t help but be impressed by Morgan Large’s design. I was lucky enough to see X Factor a few times at the Fountain Studios – it’s always been an impressive stage and the way that the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre has refashioned this space is nothing less than inspired. This gritty, industrial set, with a darkened palette serves the production well. Similarly the creative use of lights, ramps, gantries and cascading newspapers make this a very engaging production.
Michael Ahomka-Lindsay’s vocal performance was one of the true highlights for me – his Santa Fe was one of the few spine-tingling, emotional moments that resonated into the interval. Bronté Barbé is also a wonderful piece of casting, offering a great comedic touch when required, and her numbers go from strength to strength in the second half. Moya Angela’s Medda Larkin is also a breath of fresh air, adding a touch of soul to proceedings.
As we enter a Winter of Discontent, this Disney musical has so much relevance, with it’s tale of young Newsies of New York unionise and strike. Indeed, there will be times in the coming weeks that UK strikes will make it difficult to reach the Troubador Theatre, amplifying the fact that strikes are still as significant over a hundred years later. This may be based on a true story, but it is resolved in a more simplistic, fictional and idealistic way, and is nonetheless a great way to introduce younger members of the audience to the concepts of political disputes.
The talk of the town has to be Matt Cole’s choreography – this is one of the most talented and versatile ensemble casts I’ve ever seen, with such a combination of dance styles, numbers and aerial performances that effortlessly fill this enormous space. Credit has to go to Lucy Casson and Jo Hawes for raising the bar with their casting. This is a production I would gladly see again and I hope more productions make use of larger spaces like this to similarly deliver style and substance.