Disney has created a theatrical version of their Tony winning Broadway show Newsies and released it to the masses via Fathom Events.
About the Show
Newsies is based on the events of the 1899 Paperboy strike in New York. Told in Broadway musical style, it’s a show that features classically infused dance and constant musical numbers.The stars of the show are Jeremy Jordan, Ben Fankhauser, Kara Lindsay, and Andrew Keenan-Bolger. This movie is a specially compiled performance done with the touring cast of the show and select members from past runs. In order to create the movie, they held a special run in California in order to give the performers an audience to perform to. On top of that they filmed the entire performance as a movie. These different performances were compiled together into a feature film.
Faced with dipping revenue, newspaper mogul Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard) decides to increase the cost for Newsies to buy papers. That means that they will have to sell more papers just to make the same amount, while the paper gets more money. Jack Kelly (Jeremy Jordan) is the charismatic young leader of the local newsies. When he gets news of the price increase he, along with new newsie Davey (Ben Fankhauser), urge the newsies to form a union and go on strike.
As the boys try to unite all the newsies from the different Burroughs they are assisted by Katherine (Kara Lindsay). Katherine is a female reporter who wants to move up from reviewing burlesque shows to reporting real news and she hopes that covering the newsies strike will help her do that. The boys successfully organize a strike and get their story printed in the paper before they’re beaten down by thugs hired by Pulitzer. During the altercation Jack’s best friend “Crutchie” (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) is taken away to a place known as the “refuge”; a rundown home for delinquent children.
Jack is thrown into turmoil when faced with the consequences of the strike. He also finds out that Katherine, whom he’s fallen for, is actually Pulitzer’s daughter. Jack had always wanted to leave NYC for Santa Fe, New Mexico and getting out of town is starting to seem more and more appealing. Pulitzer makes Jack an offer to take money in exchange for blowing up the strike. If Jack refuses, then Pulitzer plans to expose his past as a thief and have him arrested. Faced with that proposition, Jack betrays his fellow newsies.
The betrayal doesn’t last long as Katherine and Davey are able to convince Jack to rejoin their cause. With the help of then Governor Theodore Roosevelt, Jack is able to expose the corruption of the refuge and force Pulitzer to negotiate. In the end everyone lives happily ever after. Crutchie and the other kids are released from the Refuge. Pulitzer and Jack come to an agreement that works for both sides. And Jack decides to stay in New York with Katherine and actually takes a job as a cartoonist with Pulitzer.
What did I think?
Obviously, you know that a musical is going to have singing and dancing in it. Even so, I was absolutely blown away by the level of athleticism displayed by the dancers in this show. The choreography in the show is very heavy on acrobatics, tap dancing and ballet. It was absolutely ridiculous all the stunts and combinations that they were pulling off. Many of the choreography sequences go on for long stretches, which makes it even more impressive. Full disclosure, they did admit that the choreography had been amped up for the movie because they were able to get the “best of the best” dancers for the limited run. It definitely shows with the amount of energy and precision that the dancing in this show takes.
The leads of the show were also very good. Jeremy Jordan does a great job at delivering Jack as a boy who feels trapped in the world he’s in. He also shines in the song “Santa Fe”, which is his solo. Kara Lindsay is also particularly notable as she is really the only woman who is consistently in the show. There is Aisha De Haas, who plays brothel owner Medda Larkin, but she’s more of a side character. The Katherine character has to hold her own while literally surrounded by a chorus of male newsies. She really caught my eye/ear during her solo “Watch What Happens”, which isn’t exactly an easy song to sing. After that I noticed that she really does shine as a unique voice in the show. Last, but not least is Ben Fankhauser as Davey. Davey is kind of the glue of the story. He’s also the person leading the charge in the song “Seize the Day”, which is arguably the most famous song from Newsies. He does a lot of things well in the show, but his intro into that song inspires goosebumps.
The one thing that did bother me about their performances is that the show apparently requires them to speak with very thick stereotypical New York accents. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing. It’s just strange that the accents don’t really carry over to the singing. I wouldn’t really wish that anyone have to sing in that accent, but it’s just strange to have that change happen when the characters jump in and out of song so frequently.
Nitpicking aside this was a great show and I’m glad that they went through such lengths to really try to capture it on film. Over the past few years there’s been a real push to make Broadway shows available to people outside of New York. It is admittedly difficult to capture the essence of a stage show on camera, especially when it’s only done with a single fixed camera focused on a stage. Some other productions have almost over-produced the shows to the point that they can be hard to follow. I think this feature hits the sweet spot of production value and trying to capture elements of the performance. They even included an intermission in the middle of the movie, which actually really confused some people in the theater I was in, but it does match the theater experience. It’s unfortunate that this was only a limited event, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. Who knows, maybe this will even get a DVD release. It’s definitely more deserving of one than the movie that it’s based on.