“Newsies” might be better titled “The Little Show That Could.” Originally staged in New Jersey with the intent of creating a show that could be licensed to regional and local theatres, the production then transferred to Broadway for what was to be a strictly limited run. Over one thousand performances in New York later and even more than that on the road, the show is a smash hit and has now made its way, in fine fashion, to movie theaters with an eventual eye on the home video market.
“Newsies” is based on the real-life newsboys strike of the late 1800s. When the paper magnates, led by Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard) raise the price the newsies pay for their “papes” the kids decide to take a stand. Led by the charismatic Jack Kelly (original Broadway cast member Jeremy Jordan) and the newest newsie Davey (original Broadway cast member Ben Fankhauser), the strike is on to right the wrongs of all the suffering children in the city. When their story is picked up by a beautiful young reporter (original Broadway cast member Kara Lindsay) she becomes a hero to the strikers, an enemy to the newspaper owners and both a foil and potential love interest for Jack. Rounding out the returning original Broadway cast members is Andrew Keenan-Bolger as the lovable Crutchie.
For the most part, “Newsies” looks and sounds fantastic on the big screen. The audio is a HUGE improvement over the “Allegience” broadcast of a few months back, showing how having the budget of Mickey Mouse behind you can greatly improve the quality of the finished product. Filmed both with and without a live audience, the camera is able to go everywhere on the stage, although there were a few times where the editing was a bit too frantic and a larger, more inclusive shot would have sufficed. As someone who enjoys great stagecraft, some of the magic of the scene changes and projections used in the production were lost on video. But overall, this was a minor problem. The show also added several more “newsies” to the ensemble, making the dance numbers pop even more. The production numbers do also suffer from the fast camera work and editing. I’d love to see a DVD/Blu-Ray version that features not only this heavily edited version but also one with a stationary camera capturing the entire stage picture in one shot.
Overall, the cast is excellent, with the returning Broadway stars all welcome additions. But Jordan and Lindsay are a step above. Jeremy brings incredible energy and pathos to Jack and performs as if he’s been with the show all this time (it’s really been almost 5 years since he played Jack on Broadway). His act one closer “Santa Fe” has never been sung more poignantly or been more gut-wrenching as in this version. Kara, who was making her Broadway debut in the New York production, has developed Katherine into a much more dynamic character than before. Her patter number “Watch What Happens” landed all the laughs with the screening audience, a feat sometimes not accomplished in the stage version. It was also nice to hear Keenan-Bolger put his own spin on “Letter from the Refuge,” the song added for Crutchie prior to the US national tour. Andrew never got to sing it in New York, but you’d never know it from his honest and heartfelt take on the song.
There’s much to like in this filmed version of the Broadway show and editing aside, it’s a fantastic preservation of this wonderful show. This production seems to continue to find new life. Home video would seem to be next. Is it possible that we might see this as a live musical on TV at some point? It would certainly seem to lend itself to such an idea…and there seems to be no getting rid of it. As one of the refrains of “Seize the Day” says so perfectly: “Newsies forever!”
**** out of *****
“Disney’s Newsies the Broadway Musical”
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Jack Feldman
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
A Fathom Events Presentation recorded live at the Pantages Theatre in September 2016
Photo: Jeremy Jordan as Jack Kelly and Kara Lindsay as Katherine Plumber in “Disney’s Newsies the Broadway Musical”