Newsies, The Musical
By: Jeannie Lieberman
Jeremy Jordan and the cast of Newsies, The Musicial
(Photo credit: Deen van Meer)
There’s a new hit musical in town! And guess what? Its full of old fashioned ideals, a glimpse of real history, with a super talented cast from the leads to the chorus boys (what chorus boys!), good music, swell dancing, and a very, very happy ending. And from the cheers of the audience, grown ups and kids, way before the finale, its here to stay!
Of course, in all honesty, it’s not perfect. But Disney has a way of embellishing to make a hit of almost anything way (and the bucks to make it happen), like the 1992 flop movie on which it is based (which nevertheless developed a cult following.)
If the simplistic story weren’t based on fact one would scoff at the improbability of it. In 1889 media barons Joseph Pulitzer and Randolph Hearst, publishers of The Journal and The World were using newsboys to hawk their papers in the afternoon. They decided the way to combat sagging circulation was to charge the newsies, who were daily paying in advance 5 cents per 10 papers, a penny more, 6 cents, which meant they had to work harder to make back the money (and no payback for unsold “papes”).
Even more preposterous is the idea that these uneducated, scruffy, mostly homeless boys, living one step ahead of their natural enemies: “coppers,” thieves and “goo-goos” (do gooders), could actually organize, form a union and go on strike. But they did!
Somehow these scrappy and scrapping lads like Crutchie (Andrew Keenan-Bolger), Race, Romeo, Mush, guided by an unlikely pair of brothers, Davey and Les (Ben Fankhauser and his precocious baby brother Lewis Grosso, alternating with Mathew J. Schechter) who do not fit in because they actually have a home and parents, add their organizing talent to get it together. Despite several brutal confrontations with company goons, they stay the course, motivated by the one fictional character in the show, Joseph Pulitzer’s pretty daughter (Kara Lindsay), anxious to make a journalistic name for herself despite dad’s (John Dossett) pigeonholing her into the society columns. She falls for Jack Kelly (Jeremy Jordan), the gang’s leader, a nice touch.
Another book embellishment is the manufactured involvement of then Governor Teddy Roosevelt (Kevin Carolan) and Capathia Jenkins, playing Medda Larkin, a big-hearted vaudevillian who fed and protected some of the boys, was added from the movie.
Kara Lindsay and Jeremy Jordan in a scene
from Newsies, The Musical
(Photo credit: Deen van Meer)
Bring in spinmeister Harvey Fierstein to bring the book to vibrant life, musicmeisters Alan Menken/Jack Feldman, to deliver the score, set designer Tobin Ost to house these homeless in a versatile no frills set to match their no frills existence, and costume designer Jess Goldstein to create signature “newsie” outfits which are destined to become a fashion trend. (Remember the Bonnie & Clyde fashion revolution after the iconic movie?)
The show’s sixteen plus numbers begin with a dreamy “Santa Fe” as Jack longs to escape to a more serene life, but quickly provide an itinerary through the boys’ mission and the problems they encounter. They are encouraging, enabling and usually upbeat, propelling the story along.
But the evening’s true hero is choreographer Christopher Gattelli, whose identifiable dance moves become the vocabulary of the show and tell the story, cutting through the occasional torpor with torrid terpsichore. In fact, when director Jeff Calhoun lets the book slow down the pace, you can almost hear the audience, like businessmen at a convention, chant “bring on the chorus girls” - only this time it’s the dancing newsboys. Danny Troob’s punchy orchestrations provide a musical trampoline to keep them airborne as they kick higher, twirl faster than humanly possible. And while some may quibble that the “boys” look a bit older than their parts, their energy is chronologically on target, so synchronized and stylized that, freeze-framed at any given moment, they would resemble old-fashioned daguerreotypes in their street stylish clothes and picturesque patterns.
Actual reports indicate 2000 newsboys (with Runyon-esque names: Blink, Mugsy Magee, Barnie Peanuts, Jimmy the Goat, and Hunch Maddox) crowded the Bowery’s New Irving Hall, and 3000 flooded the streets when Kid Blink delivered the clarion call “I am trying to figure out how 10 cents on a hundred papers can mean more to a millionaire than it does to a newsboy … and I can’t see it.” The Daily Tribune, a rival paper delighted at the drubbing Pulitzer and Hearst were getting, quoted a newsboy named Boots: “We tells him dat it’s got to be two fer a cent or nuthin’… he sez ‘Go ahead and strike’ and here we are. Dat’s all’.” Reports indicate Pulitzer stated, “the loss in circulation to the strike has been colossal.” In the end, the strike lasted two weeks, the 6 cent price remained but the publishers bought back the unsold papers. On Broadway this “strike” will last a good deal longer and well worth it – at any price!
Newsies, The Musical (through August 19)
Nederlander Theater, 204 West 41st Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-870-2717 or http://www.newsiesthemusical.com