The action takes place a few years before the Wright Brothers’ first flight, but audiences for the latest musical at the Maine State Music Theatre still get to witness thrilling aerial maneuvers.

“Newsies” features a corps of highly athletic, gravity-defying dancers who leap, back flip, spin, cartwheel and do splits in numbers that incorporate both Broadway and ballet forms. While serving the tale of a newsboy strike that rocked the world of the New York City dailies in 1899, these theatrical daredevils constitute what amounts to a spectacular show within the show.

The 2012 Menken/Fierstein/Feldman musical, based on the Disney movie from 1992, sets a group of scruffy street kids against the legendary movers and shakers of American society at the turn of the century. It’s a good, old-fashioned taking-on-the-establishment story with rough-hewn but sympathetic characters finding their collective power in the face of a changing society. It’s when they break into song and dance, though, that the show really takes off.

Matt Farcher plays Jack, the reluctant hero who only dreams of escape for himself and his “crippled” brother. He’s drafted by his fellow newsboys into a leadership role when Joseph Pulitzer and his cohorts raise the distribution rates for their newspapers. Jack’s idealized destination, embodied in the song “Santa Fe,” allows Farcher to escape his character’s street accent and reveal a clear and powerful singing voice.

Kate Fahrner, takes full advantage of her gritty role as the ready-for-a-crusade reporter Katherine. The show rises to another level in her solo performance of the musical’s best song: “Watch What Happens.” Traversing the song’s tricky cadences and adding layers of doubt and determination along the way, the actress defines a star-turn.

Fahrner also leads an excellent tap dance sequence before joining Farcher to unite the collective and individual elements of the story as they discover that they share “Something to Believe In.”

“Newsies” features a corps of highly athletic, gravity-defying dancers who leap, back flip, spin, cartwheel and split in numbers that incorporate both Broadway and ballet forms. Photo by Roger S. Duncan

“Angela Grovey” adds a showbiz angle as a burlesque queen who prowls the stage pointing out “That’s Rich,” as the nine-piece orchestra seated below adds punch. Brian Sutherland menaces as Pulitzer before discovering a tuneful new location for “The Bottom Line.”

Justin Schuman, as the thoughtful Davey, gives fine voice to the boys’ plans to “Seize the Day” while Timothy Woodward, Jr. draws laughs as his outspoken younger brother, Les. Blake Stadnik’s Crutchie tugs at the heart as he suffers at the hands of the authorities.

The rags-to-riches period costuming establishes the social divisions within the story and the set, framed by movable fire escapes and catwalks, keeping the energized and talented cast on the move. Director Marc Robin has wisely kept the focus on the exciting high points of song and dance for which the show won multiple awards on Broadway.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.