The gates have opened! Will you sieze the day??
Update #1 — November 5, 2015; 11:37 AM
Photo of Zachary Sayle (Crutchie) and Joey Barreiro (Jack Kelly). ©Disney. Photo by Shane Gutierrez
A bunch of old-school Newsies fans saw the production, and we’re back to report. Let ’em laugh in our face(s), we don’t care! Get your tickets! Performances run through Sunday.
The new songs/lyrics
A lot of improvement–some of the weird, kind of offensive by 21st-century standards lyrics have been replaced. The new songs were largely good, with the exception of Pulitzer’s overly cute little number (“The Bottom Line”) when he describes how he’s going to screw over the newsies with his raised wholesale prices. He was a much less intimidating villain in the show than in the movie.
Medda Larkin’s numbers went from two to one, and that one was a different one (“That’s Rich”). A major improvement from Ann-Margret’s weird “High Times, Hard Times” and “My Lovey Dovey Baby.” Also, the idea of teenage boys getting all high times/hard times over Medda was much downplayed, which was nice, because weird.
I missed the drumming involved with “Seize the Day,” but I loved the tap-dance addition to “King of New York.” But HELLO. Where is the “one leg jumping through other leg” classic newsies move? How could they have left it out??
Katherine’s song, “Watch What Happens,” is completely adorable, and her entire character breathed another dimension into the plot, as well as a lot of the humor that was missing when Jack Kelly became less of a wisecracker and more of a noble Jean Valjean.
More Spot Conlon please
Arguably the best character in the movie was reduced to basically just a cameo–Spot Conlon is the Boba Fett of Newsies. He rules Brooklyn, he’s a whiz with a slingshot, he’s the badass, the wild card, the most respected person in the film. There’s entire fan fiction dedicated to him.
Really quickly, take a minute to remember that I was really into this when I was eleven. I am currently 34. These are memories I am banking on, not intense AM Google searches of “Spot Conlon animated GIF.” Don’t EVER do that. It’s not the most heart-fluttering Google search ever.
The Brooklyn contingent in general was watered down to just an appearance of musclely gents. Come on! “Never fear! Brooklyn’s here!” Not “WE ARE BROOKLYN! WE ARE NEWSIES!”
A whole lotta loose ends got tied up in a very Disney Broadway way–everyone’s friends again! I always kind of want Jack to head off to Santa Fe–or at the very least do some fake invisible-horse-lassoing.
You forget how amazing the production value is on some of these huge national tours. The tenement-like set offered itself up to not only a ton of sectional variations, but also gave the vibe a darker and (oddly) a more realistic feel than the movies, shot on a sunny backlot in LA.
Jack Kelly is overacted–and not by Joey Barreiro, but by the writers. He’s just too…too. Belting and crying and running around on a rooftop passionately. He just moves too fast. Jack Kelly is a swaggering smolderer. He’s the Logan to Veronica Mars. He might dance a little, but mostly he’s smirking and smacking other newsies on the back. It’s the same treatment given to Pulitzer–the Broadway treatment.
Spot, we’ve covered, and Katherine, A+. Medda, Les, and a bunch of other smaller parts were fantastic.
But mostly you’re there to see…
Incredibly acrobatic dancing. And Newsies has it in spades.
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Original — October 29, 2015
Let’s say someone crowns you King of New York and asks what you’d do.
If your answer is “Oh wow, maybe clean up the streets and eat a really delicious meal for free,” you probably don’t need to read the rest of this.
If your answer involves bursting into song, jumping off a table, grabbing a ceiling fan, and spinning around…well, then, we understand each other.
Newsies is coming to Richmond. The 1992 movie enraptured basically every female (and some males) that I know who had the good fortune to be a preteen (in some cases, even a teen) in the early 1990s. It had singing, it had dancing, it had songs by the great Alan Menken, it had a bunch of cute young men doing noble things that looked pretty amazing next to the things the actual young men in our lives were doing1. It blew our minds.
Not in the theater, though. Newsies landed in the red and was considered a box office flop. The legions of fans didn’t start amassing (in an organized, choreographed way) until the Christian Bale-led flick hit VHS. Videos, you see, can be watched over and over. And over and over. And over some more, until they wear out.
I first saw the musical, which is about the New York newsboys strike of 1899, in the summer of 1993 while sleeping over at a friend’s house. It must have just hit Blockbuster’s shelves, because, on a walk down the street the next morning, we saw some sidewalk chalk writing that said things like, “JACK KELLY FOREVER,” “SEIZE THE DAY,” and, more alarmingly, “SARAH IS A WHORE.”
(Poor Sarah is one of two female characters, and her role is to smile shyly while Christian Bale, who plays the daring Jack Kelly, stares at her. By virtue of being Jack’s love interest, she is hated by womankind. That’s how it goes, and what a bummer!)
The newsboys are helped by a reporter played by Bill Pullman, who helps their strike get the press it needs. They’re printin’ their own papes! Makin’ their own headlines! Then a badass with a slingshot walks over from Brooklyn and joins in with the dancing! Eventually, they all make enough noise so that media mogul Pulitzer (played by Robert Duvall) relents and lowers the price of the papers they have to buy. Oh, sorry, spoiler, I guess? Like I said, if you’re not a Fansie (as they’re called), you probably stopped reading long ago anyway2
— ∮∮∮ —
When I interviewed Stephen Michael Langton from the traveling company, we chatted about fans from 25 years ago versus fans of the 21st-century production. The latter hang out at the Stage Door every night, asking for autographs and pictures. Langton, who plays Davey–the voice of reason to Jack’s brashness, welcomes it all. He’s new to the production, having been added to the cast with three others just a few weeks ago, and it’s his first big Equity job. So we’re all watching his dream come true right before our eyes. He will sign anything anyone asks him to and is glad to do it!
Langton grew up in a dance family and eventually added theater to his list of passions. “It just consumed me in high school,” he says. Now, as a recent graduate of Pace University, he’s ready to sing and dance his way into each Fansie’s heart.
He likes the show, which differs from the film. Its Disney Theatrical makeover premiered in 2011 and it’s been updated with some more contemporary sensibilities. Bill Pullman’s reporter character has been replaced by a female (Katherine) with a little more agency than the eye-batting Sarah. Jack’s nefarious history is explored a little more (and given a boost of honor). And the pretty silly song “High Times, Low Times” has been removed entirely, in favor of new works that, by all accounts, are pretty dang good.
“It’s a classic underdog story, it’s David and Goliath,” says Langton. “And it’s not just stock characters. These are real people and real things that actually happened.” (To some extent–there was a newsboys strike and of course a real Pulitzer, but a guy nicknamed Cowboy who likes to dream about Santa Fe is just the brainchild of the Disney team.)
“The songs we remember–‘King of New York’ and ‘Seize the Day’–it’s about these kids! They don’t have grandiose dreams,” he says about the longevity of the show. “They just want their voice to be heard.”
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About that longevity
I took a poll of my friends and neighbors (and my niece, who’s 16 but fell in love with the movie once I demanded she watch it), and if their responses convince you of one thing, it should be that there is just something special about guys in tweed, waving around papers, leaping over barrels.
Reminder: these are grown adults (mostly women) with the exception of my 16-year-old niece.
How many times have you seen the movie?
- “Maybe 15.”
- “Probably at least 30.”
- “Definitely over 30 times.”
- “A few short of a million? Maybe more like a few short of 100.”
- “I would say approximately 200 times. And that is not including the approximately 50 times I’ve put it on and then fallen asleep immediately because I am a child.”
- “Dozens and dozens and dozens of times. With 7 kids in our house and no cable TV, this movie was on constant repeat, mostly because it was one of the few movies that was suitable for both teenagers and toddlers. I’ve now forced my own children to join the Newsies fan club, they’re proud members.”
- “I’m going to guess 30-40. Saw it way too many times in middle school and probably once a year (at least) since then.”
- “I can’t even begin to estimate the number but I can say it’s top five of movies I’ve watched the most. A lot!”
What was your favorite Newsies moment to act out with your friends?
- “One leg jump through dance.”
- “Acting out moments from the Newsies has literally never happened in my life. That might be a girl thing.”
- “Always the beginning of King of New York when they’re getting ready. It’s funny every time.”
- “I always tried to do the dance move where you hold your foot in front of you and jump over it with the other leg. It wasn’t pretty. Also, whenever my mom would ask, ‘How did you sleep?’ I would reply with, ‘On me back, mom.'”
- “My sisters and I sang all of the songs and knew all of the dances by heart. Now my daughter and I belt out the songs together while driving down the road. It’s obvious this movie brings families together.”
- “I don’t remember which one we acted out way back when, but I find myself quoting the Brooklyn scene often. ‘What I say is that what you say is what I say.’ This one is funny to my three-year-old.”
- “My friend and I always used to sing Carrying the Banner and tried to do the dance routine in that number as well as the crazy Seize the Day dance before they go raid the newspaper place.”
- “Probably King of New York. There might have been jumping off the couch pretending to spin on a ceiling fan… “
What song will you have in your head after answering this survey?
- “‘Seize the Day.'”
- “‘Seize the Day.'”
- “Definitely ‘Seize the Day.'”
- “‘Seize the Day,’ of course.”
- “‘Seize the Day’ and ‘Santa Fe.’ Although I just looked up the rest of them and now they will ALL be stuck in my head. ‘And the world will know!’ Thanks.”
- “Absolutely ‘King of New York.’ No question. And ‘Carrying the Banner.’ Both.”
- “‘Carrying the Banner!!!’ Love that song…the whole soundtrack is on my phone haha.”
- “‘And the World Will Know! And the journal too!’ Dammit, now I’m singing it.”
- “I always have ‘Santa Fe’ in my head. I’ve been singing it as a lullaby to my kids for three years. But I also sing ‘Carrying the Banner’ and ‘King of New York’ often. Basically the whole soundtrack has been turned on in my head for 23 years.”
Do you even remember how they got Pulitzer (or was it Hearst?) to back down?
- “I don’t :)”
- “Mob outside??”
- “Making their own newspaper? Striking? Lassoing a horse?”
- “Teddy Roosevelt, right? And the good old fashioned power of strikes and collective bargaining.”
- “They had a nice chat and then Teddy Roosevelt showed up?”
- “Do you mean there’s a plot to the movie and not just the songs?”
- “No clue.”
- “Um, it was Pulitzer. And they got him to back down in my FAVORITE scene when everyone came marching down the street protesting child labor laws… I still get chills. I just got a few just thinking about it. #carryingthebanner”
- “It was Pulitzer. They striked and they made their own paper (uses Pulitzer’s own press) writing about what they have to go through (I think that’s what they wrote about).”
- “Jack yelled at him probably, just not in his scary Batman voice.”
Why do you think Newsies is so enduring? Why did we all love it so much??
- “Christian Bale.”
- “The music is legit musical music. If it started out as a Broadway play then become a movie, it probably would have won a bunch of Oscars. Or Golden Globes anyway.”
- “Pro-human, pro-union, total underdog story. Also, slingshots from Brooklyn and fighting the man.”
- “The songs were catchy, the story was fun, but let’s be honest, it was Christian Bale.”
- “My pre-teen self fell in love with it because of the cute boys (helloo, Spot Conlon) and then stayed in love because of the music.”
- “It was something my sister and I loved together. It was our thing. And every time we met someone that loved it too, it made it more fun to geek out about it. I even had a pen pal across the country because of Newsies. We are still friends today.”
- “Orphan stories with happy endings always stand the test of time. Fill that orphan story with a bunch of guys that would make any preteens heart pitter patter and put a male dominant harmonious soundtrack in the background with some killer dance numbers and what’s not to love? I think every woman in our age bracket that watches that movie as an adult feels a little dirty still swooning over Spot Conlon and Jack Kelly. It’s a movie that fills me with nostalgia and is still what I reach for when I am having a bad day and need a pick me up.”
- “It is very different from other Disney musicals, with a mainly male cast. The songs are so so good, and you can’t not like the movie. Every person I have shown the movie to has loved it.”
- “Good characters. Good music. No Michael Bay.”
What were dudes doing during while we were watching all this Christian Bale dance footage?
I asked them too!
Have you seen the movie Newsies?
- “Yes! In eighth grade. I sat next to this girl Lisa and we had a sub for band class.”
- “I haven’t!”
- “Not all the way through.”
- “Sadly, no. Is this a test I’m going to fail?”
What’s it about? If you don’t know, take a guess.
- “Buncha newspaper sales folks in the late 1800s or early 1900s?”
- “Little Newspaper selling dudes on the corner. I assume a plucky group (which includes a joker, tough guy, sensitive guy, kid with physical handicap, off chance of a minority of some sort, and dumbass) are banding together to fight some injustice or find love.”
- “Kids selling newspapers.”
- “Newsboys who like yell ‘Extra extra'”
- “A bunch of hunky newspaper boys go on strike and sing songs about it.”
- “Behatted newsboys take down anti-labor fat cats in the slums of 1930s New York City. Head newsboy Christian Bale falls in love with Boss Hog’s daughter, and their marriage (and untimely deaths) unites the city for the good of unions across the country.”
Where does it take place?
- “Either New York or London but might be getting confused with the chimney sweeps from Mary Poppins.”
- “NYC duh!”
- “New York?”
- “The slums of 1930s New York City.”
Can you guess what any song lyrics from the movie might be?
- “‘Exxxxtra, Exxxxxtra, read all about it.’ (repeat 200 times)”
- “That’s a negative, ghost rider.”
- “‘Newsies! We’re newsies!
Take your paper sir!
Don’t be choosy.
Every morning we ride,
ride our bikes to the town.
Take your paper good ma’am,
and don’t turn me down.
Newsies! Just bypassing floosies,
To get you the news, jeez.
That news that you use-ies.
— ∮∮∮ —
Don’t be afraid, and don’t delay–it’s time to secure your Newsies tickets for next week’s traveling Broadway production. The show runs from Tuesday, November 3rd through Sunday, November 8th. Buy tickets online, they’ll run you between $38 and $78. Or, about 1300 papes.
- Eating, lighting off fireworks at inconvenient times, eating some more, stealing our stuff, throwing gum on the ground so that we’ll step in it, playing that “Crossfire” game, just being gross in general. ↩
- At some point they hang out with Ann-Margret, who is a sort of cabaret dancer/performer, and they’re all supposed to be in love with her. She was 51 at the time of filming, and to a twelve-year-old like me, she might as well have held the world record for advanced age. That part never made sense, and was probably the result of 51-year-old guys at Disney casting the woman they all drooled over when they were 14. ↩