Big song-and-dance productions can be a challenge for community theaters, who sometimes are left with a difficult casting choice — singers who can't dance or dancers who can't sing.
With Disney's "Newsies," Theatre Baton Rouge seems to have handled that problem nicely.
Though not flawless, "Newsies" is enjoyable both to the eyes and ears. Under Jenny Ballard's direction, it's an excellent summer diversion, full of energy, love, laughter and sweetness.
The dance numbers, under the tutelage of choreographer Dylon Hoffpauir and tap choreographer Natalie Baily Smith, are big and bold, with a stage full of dramatic leaps that, if poorly timed or executed, could have created a train wreck. Not a problem here.
The scenery and lighting, both designed by Kenneth Mayfield, are effective. Much of the set work — often nothing more than scaffolding — is bare, but transforms in the audience's imagination into fire escapes and balconies over which the large cast of newspaper sales-boys ("newsies") clamber when they're not out hawking the latest edition.
It's the only way they can eke out a meager existence on New York City's streets in 1899, and it gets even more difficult when New York World publisher Joseph Pulitzer (played with an evil scowl by Albert Nolan) raises the price the newsies must pay in advance for the papers. They get no refunds for what they can't sell.
That becomes too much for Jack Kelly (Austin Ventura), who organizes a strike by his fellow newsies, including Crutchie (Thomas Luke), Davey Jacobs (Grayson Barraco) and his younger brother, Les (Joey Roth), who uses his boyish charm to sell papers (and delight the audience). Their efforts get the attention of newspaper reporter Katherine Plummer (Rebecca Smith), who writes a story that gets makes the top of the front page.
Jack and the young reporter fall in love, but Plummer is actually Pulitzer's daughter. It gets complicated.
Much of the story gets told through music, and TBR's production is at its best in the choral and small ensemble moments. "The World Will Know" is the best of the big numbers, and the "Seize the Day" duet by Ventura and Barraco is wonderfully harmonized. Brandy Johnson's sassy, powerful "That's Rich" is the high point of the solos.
Ventura and Smith, who both are winsome actors, have their musical moments, too, though they sometimes get pitchy in "Watch What Happens" and "Something to Believe In." Some of the words are hard to pick up in choral numbers that involve significant dancing, such as "Carrying the Banner" and "King of New York."
"Newsies" is a big production, with 40 on-stage cast members and a four-person offstage chorus, but the scene changes happen remarkably smoothly. The show lasts 2½ hours and leaves the audience wanting more.
A Theatre Baton Rouge production
WHEN: June 20-23, June 27-30. Performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, with 2 p.m. matinees Sunday and Saturday, June 22
WHERE: Theatre Baton Rouge, 7155 Florida Blvd.
TICKETS/INFO: $30; $19, students. (225) 924-6496 or theatrebr.org