Extra! Extra! Read All About It!
BY SANDY STAGGS
Mauldin Cultural Center, led by Artistic Director Tim St. Clair, II, is quickly establishing itself as THE brightest jewel in The Golden Strip of Greenville County (Mauldin, Simpsonville and Fountain Inn).
Boasting some upcoming blazing-hot shows right off the literal printing press of Broadway licensing firms (Something Rotten, Once on This Island Jr., Cats), Mauldinis now in the triumphant run of Disney’s Newsies about the 1899 newsboys strike in New York City.
Only the second Carolina Curtain Call visit to Mauldin – and first for me – the vocal quality of the production came as no surprise knowing some of the leads attached to the show. And I expected an astute grasp of the material since St. Clair has already music directed a professional and brilliantly elaborate version of Newsies in 2019 at Greenville Theatre.
Though the stage is smaller at Mauldin, this outstanding production (the company’s first adult/youth collaboration) rivals Greenville Theatre’s epic staging in every way from the musicality, inventive use of the entire theater (Newsies racing throughout the space, temporary side stages and aisles), ebullient choreography, period costumes, and the quick-change scenic design.
With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and a book by Harvey Fierstein, Newsies is a visual and aural feast from beginning to the final bows. And kudos for St. Clair for directing this beautiful work that speaks more than ever to the widening gap of the haves and the have nots.
The perfectly cast duo of Drake King (last seen in Centre Stage’s rock show The Final Countdown) and Alex Poteat (Mauldin’s In The Mood) star respectively as Jack Kelly, the unlikely leader of the strike, and Crutchie (his crippled best pal).
From a rooftop in NYC, they present an emotional paean of a richer, fulfilling life in the fantastic opener “Santa Fe.”
The newsboy revolt is set in motion by a 10 cent increase in the cost of a stack of The New York World newspapers to our impoverished newsies. Jason Fulton gives a bravado maliciously winsome performance as newspaper tycoon Joseph Pulitzer as he squeezes the 99% for every cent to increase his profit margin. And oh, that last sustained note in “The Bottom Line” was most impressive.
The wonderful Meg Jones dazzles once again with “That’s Rich” in the featured role of vaudeville performer Medda Larkin, a character inspired by the Queen of the Cake Walk Aida Overton Walker. Jones sparkles in her elaborate period costumes which gleefully standout in the browns and tweed palettes of the other cast members.
While most of the newsboys and girls seem to be orphans, Davey and little brother Les (Maxwell Weaver and Jayden Jemison) are a breath of fresh air as they have taken up the newspaper street hawking to support their family since their dad was injured on his job. And both lend a stupendous element to the number “The World Will Know” and the Les Misérable-like anthem of revolt in “Seize the Day.”
And lastly, but certainly not least, is the incomparable Rachel Gasdia as Katherine Plumber, the incognito daughter of Pulitzer, who writes under a pseudonym and develops an affinity for the labor class, and for Jack. Her “Watch What Happens” is divine and the chemistry with King in “Something to Believe In” is not only believable, but inspiring.
Greenville superstars Kristofer Parker and Michelle Malone choreograph this sprightly show which becomes another character all its own, from boundless leaping to an awesome tap number. There are many talented dancers in this ensemble but a few did stand out including the skills of Jedidiah Taylor, Abbey Sullivan and Braylen Lee.
Jones also serves as assistant director, Barb Rupp is stage manager, Erica Lustig is assistant music director, Jenny Bennett is costume manager, Patrick Rupp is lighting designer, Zachary Urban is scenic designer.
And Tweed caps off to the innovative use of video projections and the animated sketches (by WillPaul McDonald) that Jack makes of Katherine in their first encounter.
It takes a village to produce a musical of this magnitude, so let’s hear it for this cast: Will Fulton, Brady Green, Aaron Fulton, Alexander Hoverath, Kya Lenaé, JB Glenn, Josh Saadati, Theron Rivers, Satcher Howell, Rennah St. Clair, Hannah Grace Attaway, Kya Bielecki, Evan Gunderson, Mayson Carroll, Hannah Taylor, Lauren Bennett, Kobe Powell, John Doran, Thomas Ballard, Eddie Laxton, Andrew Rivers, Jonathan Coffee, Olivia Frazier, Samuel Hendricks, Emily Laxton, Lauren Laxton, Olivia Marseil, Jill Palmer, Gavin Rector, Josiah Reffner, Marley Rivers, and Nessa St. Clair.
Newsies continues for two more weekends through April 10 with shows on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 3 pm at Mauldin Cultural Center, 101 East Butler Road in Mauldin. Tickets are available at www.mauldinculturalcenter.org.
Next up is The Golden Gala fundraiser April 21 followed by As You Like It in the amphitheater. Free admission April 22-24.