Major-league talent makes for Paramount's winning 'Newsies'

“Newsies” - ★ ★ ★ ½

It's getting a bit late in the season for a baseball reference, but it applies in the case of Paramount Theatre's “Newsies,” the ever-timely tuner that pairs Jack Feldman's lyrics and Harvey Fierstein's book with Alan Menken's irresistible, foot-tapping score.

The well-loved musical about the New York City newsboy strike of 1899, which triumphed on Broadway 20 years after it flopped on film, marks another home run for the Aurora theater known for attracting major league talent.

Alex Prakken, center front, plays charismatic newsboy and budding union leader Jack Kelly Paramount Theatre's exuberant production of Disney Theatrical Productions' "Newsies." Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Underscored by the same authenticity artistic director Jim Corti brought to his boldly re-imagined “West Side Story” in 2016, Paramount's is a splendidly gritty revival where the smudged faces and tatty clothes reflect the hardscrabble lives of child workers who sleep on the street. Or, in the case of Jack Kelly (Alex Prakken, self-confidant and charming) and his best friend Crutchie (a sweetly vulnerable Michael Kurowski), on a roof.

That authenticity extends to Joshua Blake Carter's snappy, athletic choreography. Not always perfectly synced or entirely uniform, Carter's leaps, pirouettes and flips are perfectly distinct and entirely real, revealing each newsie's individuality.

Newsboys and devoted friends Crutchie (Michael Kurowski), left, and Jack Kelly (Alex Prakken) dream of better things in the well-loved musical "Newsies" running through Oct. 20 at Aurora's Paramount Theatre. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Menken's score - comprised mostly of gung-ho anthems extolling brotherhood, courage, loyalty and social justice - is more homogeneous. His tunes are infectious, from the clarion calls for social justice expressed in “The World Will Know” and “Once and For All,” to the boundless enthusiasm reflected in “Carrying the Banner” and the taptastic “King of New York,” all of them played by an 11-piece orchestra conducted by Paramount's all-star music director Tom Vendafreddo.

Paramount Theatre opens its 9th season with a rousing revival of "Newsies," inspired by the New York City newsboy strike of 1899 and directed by artistic director Jim Corti with choreography by Joshua Blake Carter. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Back to Jack and Crutchie. We meet them atop a building dwarfed by neighboring skyscrapers that nearly obscure the sky. There Jack dreams of escaping to the clean air and wide open spaces of his imagined Santa Fe. Instead he's consigned to the crowded, gray-tinged metropolis (by set designer William Boles and lighting designer Victoria Bain) where he leads a ragamuffin group of poor, mostly orphaned boys who hawk papers for publishing tycoons Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. When Pulitzer and the other publishers raise the price they charge the newsboys for the “papes,” the newsies revolt.

At the urging of newcomer Davey (Koray Tarhan), they form a union - with Prakken as its leader and beating heart. The boys organize a citywide strike covered by Katherine Plumber (an auspicious professional debut from Justine Cameron), a reporter who catches Jack's eye and heart as she encourages the strikers to expand their efforts beyond ensuring fair treatment for newsies to improving conditions for all child workers. If Tarhan's Davy is the movement's brains and Kurowski's Crutchie is its conscience, Cameron's Katherine is its fighting spirit.

While fighting for social justice, budding journalist Katherine Plumber (Justine Cameron) and budding union leader Jack Kelly (Alex Prakken) find romance in Paramount Theatre's revival of the 2012 musical "Newsies." Courtesy of Liz Lauren

That's what makes this underdog tale so appealing. The enthusiasm, the grit and in the case of Paramount's winning revival, the authenticity of that never-ending struggle.

Location: 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, (630) 896-6666 or

Showtimes: 1:30 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday; through Oct. 20

Running time: About 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission

Tickets: $36-$74

Parking: Limited street parking, paid lots nearby

Rating: For most audiences, includes some fighting

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