Tag Archives: Bronté Barbé

“Newsies” at the Wembley Park Theatre

While current industrial action makes this story of striking newspaper boys in 1899 New York strangely topical, the show is a traditional affair. Based on the 1992 Disney film, the standard is high and its success in the States is understandable. If Harvey Fierstein’s book and Jack Feldman’s lyrics are disappointingly simplistic, Alan Menken’s score is forceful and director Matt Cole’s choreography strong. This is a family show with wide appeal.

Newsies is very ‘Broadway’, which makes this long-awaited UK premier in Wembley a little odd. The theatre itself is a barn of a place lacking atmosphere, but it suits the dance heavy piece in terms of spaciousness. A lot of effort is made to get the cast running around the cavernous hall. Going amongst the crowd is a small part of the energy expanded – there’s a lot of gymnastics that cannot fail to impress.

Do all the somersaults and splits get a little boring? There really are a lot of them. That said, the tap-dancing number that opens the second act, along with swinging from the lights, is superb. Likewise, the rousing score is effective… but a touch monotone. This is a long show – they want you to get your money’s worth, and that wish is achieved. The question is whether the time could be better spent on other things? Yes, you’ve guessed it, the characters in Newsies are paper thin.

Michael Ahomka Lindsay

The notable exception is Jack, who leads the show and the union that takes action against newspaper baron Joseph Pulitzer. It’s a great role for Michael Ahomka-Lindsay, who powers the whole production with a great voice and commanding presence. But Jack’s sidekicks, Crutchie and Davey (he’s the brains) are horribly slim: performers, Matthew Duckett and Ryan Kopel, do their best but the roles are uncomfortably one-dimensional. The ensemble nods at other characters but there’s little besides hearing lots of names. And everyone is hampered by a New Yeurk accent.

The grown-ups are baddies (and poor villains at that, despite Cameron Blakely’s spirited performance) or underused (Moya Angela’s Medda needs to be on the stage more). A brief appearance by Theodore Roosevelt is the show’s only surprise – who would have thought a politician would save the day? But the biggest disappointment is the plucky female reporter who, sigh, becomes Jack’s love interest. Bronté Barbé gives the role a good shot but wastes her big number (which is one of the more interesting) and, despite a big voice, ends up a small character.

Newsies is fantastically naive. And very sentimental. Think Les Mis with optimism. None of this is bad, but the show does takes itself very seriously. The rousing score fits with this. But falling for the happy ending is a tough sell. Praising the potential of youth is hardly a scoop, and achievements come too easy in the swift story, so they fail to teach much. This may sound like a grumpy appraisal but, for all the scale here (of venue, cast, energy and the sound), the show is slight. The headlines are good, but the story itself isn’t worthy of many column inches.

Until 16 April 2023


Photo by Johan Persson

“Striking 12” at the Union Theatre

Declan Bennett is the star attraction for this new musical, a clever riff on Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Little Match Girl. Joined by Bronté Barbé, both performers sound great and recap the original tale, which Bennett’s character reads and Barbé acts out, alongside an update that involves a sales girl for lightbulbs aimed at sufferers of Season Affective Disorder. The show is cute, charming, and uses its fairy tale antecedents wisely.

The piece comes from musical theatre team Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda with expert help on the book and lyrics from Rachel Sheinkin. The structure is tight and the words very good: clear and direct with smart plays on rhythm. When it comes to the modern melancholy, as the countdown for New Year approaches, the team does well. Attempts at humour don’t quite land, which is a shame given the wit and intelligence behind the show. The music is proficient and enjoyable if, I fear, not quite memorable enough.

At just over an hour, Striking 12 feels truncated. Bennett’s mopish character could easily be given more backstory. And the modern-day girlhe meets urgently needs one. Transforming Andersen into a romance needs more work. But the production skilfully glosses over shortcomings. Kate Robson-Stuart and Leon Scott have a good go at a variety of roles alongside sitting at the drums and taking up the violin. Danielle Kassaraté makes an amiable, if underused, narrator. Oliver Kaderbhai, who is choreographer (with Marah Stafford) as well as director, has plenty of ideas – like the piece itself -and the whole show faces the perils of striking a match on stage bravely. There are plenty of warm glowing moments that make Striking 12 sparky, if not with quite enough material to get a goodfire going.

Until 23 December 2018


Photo by Tom Grace