Newsies – The Movie Event
Cinemas Worldwide from 16 February 2017
Newsies is one of those rare birds, a Disney film which was not successful at the box office but which over the years became a cult success due to home video and a legion of children who took the story to heart and made it their own. So much so that when polled about which Disney film people most wanted to see on stage Newsies was continually one of the top choices amongst the public.
I don't think that even Disney themselves knew just what a powder keg they were sitting on when it came to Newsies. Adapted by its original team of Alan Menken (Music) and Jack Feldman (Lyrics) with Harvey Fierstein brought in to rework the book, the show was brought to the Papermill Playhouse before transferring to Broadway where it became the fastest ever Disney musical to turn a profit running for over two years on Broadway before embarking on a national tour that played in over 65 cities across the USA.
This will be the first time that Disney has bought one of their live shows to the screen but they have done so in epic style and the result is absolutely exhilarating!
Recorded at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, this recording features some of Broadway's original newsies augmented with the tour cast thrust in front of an audience of 2700 fans, with enough sheer talent and enthusiasm to blow the lid of any theatre.
Inspired by the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York, a campaign driven to change the way that William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer compensated the child labour force that sold their newspapers, Newsies is a heady story that has a bunch of rag tag heroes squarely up against the adults of the establishment.
Scenic Designer Tobin Ost has created a gigantic playground on which to retell this David and Goliath story. Three enormous towers bringing to life the tenements of the lower East side, striking and solid each steel tower glides around the stage perfectly complimenting the onstage movement and choreography. Typeset images from print works and clever projections by Sven Ortel compliment Ost's physical set giving the whole production an inky, grimy, realism to the world of the Newsies.
Alan Menken has delivered yet another stirring score which when combined with Jack Feldman's wonderfully gritty lyrics really make this show take flight. I am a fan of the original 1992 movie but there's just something about Harvey Fierstein's book that when combined with Menken and Feldman's songs make the stage version of Newsies something really special.
Where Newsies really takes flight is with the choreography of Christopher Gatelli and twenty-something of the most incredible young performers that I've seen on stage in a long time. Both the choreography and the execution of it is compelling and dynamic and only re-enforces the desire and importance of the story being told.
Leading the Newsies is Jeremy Jordan, Broadway's original Jack Kelly, in an impassioned performance that gives you little doubt why he is this group's natural leader. But like any leader he has doubts and the light and shade in Jordan's performance is what makes this performance notable.
As for the Newsies themselves, there are incredible performances from Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Crutchie. Crutchie is one of those irrepressible characters that defies his physical disability to become a champion of his cause. Keenan-Bolger's delivery of Crutchies new number in Act Two is powerful and heart-felt and had more than a few in the preview screening I attended wiping away a tear. Ben Fankhauser as Davey provides balance to the story here. Given the benefit of parents and a family structure, he balances out Kelly's more aggressive moments. It's an impressive performance that beautifully balances out the youthful exuberance of younger brother Les played by Ethan Steiner.
Ben Crook (race), Sky Flaherty (Albert), Jordan Samuels (Specs), Michael Rios (Henry), Iain Young (Finch), Anthony Zas (Elmer), Nico Dejesus (Romeo), Nicholas Masson (Mush), Jack Sippel (Darcy) and Tommy Bracco (Spot) round out the Newsies, this fine ensemble of performers working as one is something to behold.
Kara Lindsay gets my lifelong admiration for being able to deliver one of the most convoluted lyrics with Watch What Happens, you can almost imagine Jack Feldman with a devilish smirk watching performers performing this mind bender of a monologue, but deliver it she does with impeccable style. Feisty and brassy, Lindsay's brilliant performance is in perfect synch with the Newsies she is supporting.
Steve Blanchard's Pulitzer is staunchly immovable, with just a hint of villain. There's never a moment where you don't believe this performance. Aisha De Haas as Medda Larkin is a perfectly sassy and wonderfully loveable supporter of the Newsies and let's face it they need it when confronted with John E Brady's thoroughly nasty Wiesel.
Disney are also to be congratulated for providing an intermission in the screening. For those of us who had trouble sitting through a 3 hours screening of Les Miserables, the provision of the intermission was welcome and added to the theatrical nature of the event.
Jeff Calhoun's masterful production of Newsies, not only works with a live audience but transfers beautifully to a big screen environment. It's wonderful to get such a close-up look at a stage production. I'm looking forward to seeing Newsies again with a bigger audience to see whether the audience reacts in the way I think that they might. I for one wanted to stand and cheer at the end of this screening.
Having now seen just how fantastic Newsies is, my question is when do we get a stage production here in the UK?