Turning a hit movie into a Broadway musical isn't anything new, but making a Broadway calibre show out of a flop movie musical isn't exactly something that you'd think a producer would put their money behind or where any creative talent would waste their efforts. However, Disney Theatricals and The Paper Mill Playhouse have combined to present the stage musical Newsies based on the flop 1992 movie of the same name. It officially opens tonight, we saw it yesterday and boy, do Disney and Papermill have a huge hit on their hands.
The film, inspired by the real life Newsboy Strike of 1899 and featuring music by multi Oscar winner Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman was a $15 million dollar movie that grossed less than $3 million at the box office. But years of cable tv runs of the film and video and dvd sales along with the fact that Christian Bale played the lead in the film has turned the movie into somewhat of a cult classic. The score has several rousing anthems, all of which have been brought to the stage and even expanded and Menken and Feldman have also written several new songs to fill out the score.
|Lindsay and Jordan|
The musical has a new book by four-time Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein who expanded on the screenplay by Bob Tzudiker & Noni White. Fierstein's theatrical touches are prominent throughout the show and his sense of warmth and humour, as well as smart, realistic dialogue turn the story into something more relevant and by doing so, completely allows the show to connect with an audience in the live theatre setting. He was definitely a good choice to turn the movie into something more. He has also wisely turned the reporter character from the film into a young female newspaper reporter who is now a romantic interest for Jack. There are also some new twists in the plot that are welcome additions.
Kara Lindsay is Katherine, the new character of the female reporter added for the stage version and Lindsay has the looks and pipes to carry off the young fast talking, feisty reporter who's trying to prove herself in a world of men. Like Jordan, she is also an excellent singer. Lindsay was the lead in the tour of the musical version of Little House on the Prairie that started at Paper Mill a couple of years back. She was perfect in that musical as well, but is actually given a better score to sing in this production.
|Keenan-Bolger and Jordan (center) and the |
rest of the "Newsies"
Ben Fankhauser and RJ Fattori as brothers Davey and Les are completely believable as brothers who turn to hawking newspapers while their father is out of work. They look and act like they come from a slightly more well off place then the rest of the "newsies" but have no problem in connecting with Jack. While Fanhauser is given more of the "straight man" part to play, not just against Jordan as the born leader, but also against Fattori, who gets some nice laughs in his part, he also has a nice sense of intelligence, education and truth that is a nice balance with the street smart Jack.
|Jordan inspring the "newsies" to stand together|
The choreography by Christopher Gattelli, is rousing and is original yet in the style of the film and the cast delivers on what is required of them. Gattelli cleverly uses newspapers as a dance prop in one number and the energetic "King of New York" tap number in act two was a huge crowd favorite. Ryan Steele, who plays "Specs" has the perfect combination of ballet and athletics that the choreography requires, and he is given many chances to show off his abilities. The rest of the boys are on par with Steele, and the joy they bring to all of the dance numbers is infectious.
Calhoun keeps the show moving at a fast speed, and the sets by Tobin Ost are fantastic. Check out the photo below as well as the video clips at the bottom of my review. A three tiered steel set of stairs that is almost constantly moving around the stage, it is perfectly paired with projections by Sven Ortel to become the tenement where Jack lives, the backstage of a theatre where Jack spends his time painting backdrops and even the Brooklyn Bridge.
All in all, Newsies is a rousing turn of the century story of David vs Goliath, with an excellent cast featuring a star making performance in the lead, a smart book, huge sets, perfect period costumes, energetic choreography and clear direction. With the Disney corporation behind this production can Broadway be far behind? I clearly hope so.
The Paper Mill production runs through October 16.
Paper Mill Playhouse Official Site
Performance on "The View"-
Behind the Scenes Playbill clip -
Jeremy Jordan in rehearsal sings "Santa Fe" -
"Santa Fe" from the movie -