After saying about three sentences to Vincent Angello who plays Les in Newsies, he cleverly observed, “You’re one of those 20 year-olds that are a part of the Newsies cult, aren’t you?” Why, yes, Vincent. I definitely am. I saw this movie when I was about nine or ten and it quickly became one of my favorite Disney live-action films. So I have been waiting patiently (along with my fellow cult followers) for this show to make its way onto the big stage. With the memorable songs and amazing dance numbers, it was really only a matter of time before it happened. And as I’ve said before- I’m a pretty tough critic. Especially when it comes to something I care so much about. I went into this telling myself to expect changes. Movies have infinite space and time to get things right while the stage is obviously more limited in what you could pull off. The question was- could it be executed in a way that brought in all the elements people loved from the movie along with its own flare to make the almost 10 year old story better?
Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner!
Estelle (being the smarter one as always) contacted Shayne Miller, the director of Press and PR for the Paper Mill Playhouse and he graciously gave us tickets to come see the last dress rehearsal for the show. I’ve never been to the theater and was a little worried about how long it would take to get to New Jersey. It was such a quick train ride from Penn though and the theater was just a hop, skip, and jump from the train station. We had to wait a few minutes to be seated so I took that opportunity to buy some merch! When I was on the line, I noticed this adorable kid standing right next to me and as if we were old friends, he struck up a conversation like it was nothing.
His name was Vincent Angello and he was about to become my newest Disney hero. He explained how excited he was for the show to open and how he knew people were going to love it. What surprised me as well was that this kid was about as big of a fan of the movie as I was! I remember thinking, “Was he even alive when this movie came out?” He assured me that the choreography would blow me away (it was the first thing I asked about) and that all the boys had been working so hard to make the show something the fans would be proud of. (Did I mention how smart this kid was? I couldn’t believe he was only 11!)
When we made our way into the theater we passed Shayne and he tipped us off to the best seats in the house up in the balcony (THANK YOU SHAYNE) and I swear, when the lights dimmed and the music started, I could hardly sit still. So how was the show, you ask? Well, Stelle is the one with a theater background, but I’m going to try my best to describe why this show totally rocked.
One word came to mind while these boys were dancing: ENERGY. There was such an immense feeling of spirit permeating from every corner of that stage. These boys can DANCE. The choreographer, Christopher Gattelli, made sure to include all of my favorite jumps, twirls, and back-flips that makes me want to get up dance every time I watch the film. There was even a scene where the boys danced on newspapers and the entire time I kept thinking, “please don’t fall, please don’t fall.” But I should have known better than to doubt these professionals. They made it all look so easy.
In a sea of men’s faces (as cute as they are) it’s nice to see a strong female lead in Kara Lindsay. Being one of the main differences from the movie, the newsies’ star reporter, their man Detton is now their gal, Plummer. No offense to Ele Keats who played David’s sister, Sarah, but she had about five lines in the whole movie. Katherine, on the other hand, is a complete flesh and blood character fighting to get away from ladies fluff pieces and earn her place with the big boys at The Sun. Spunky and determined, she begins to write about the strike and her chemistry with Jack (actor Jeremy Jordan) is undeniable. She definitely holds her own with the boys and I was glad they added someone to the story that we ladies can relate to.
Jeremy Jordan’s ability to woo does not stop at Katherine however. I was in love after hearing the opening number, Santa Fe. His voice is strong and powerful, something that sadly Christian Bale didn’t quite have going for him. I also liked how Jeremy made Jack his own. This Jack Kelly was a little quieter in his tough guy routine. You didn’t doubt his leader capabilities though, but it was more subtle than the “over-the-top-NY-accent” Christian Bale’s Jack. This lead character also has added attributes that the film lacked. Jack is now a three-dimensional character and his yearning for Santa Fe isn’t some dream that came out from left field (which is what I always thought with the film. Why Santa Fe? Where did that even come from?) Jeremy Jordan does the cowboy some justice and I have a feeling this actor is about to blow up on the stage soon.
There were however, things I didn’t like — for instance, the ending. Leave it to Disney to wrap things up in a pretty bow at the end. There is even a heart-warming moment with Pulitzer which I did not like because after giving him his own song, it deepened his status as the story’s villain. That seemed to be thrown out the window however with the cookie cutter ending and I thought it cheapened the story a bit. Another tidbit I did not like were the boys from Brooklyn. When I was young, I thought Spot Conlon was the coolest guy ever. So when I heard the Newsies from Brooklyn were getting their own song, I was overjoyed. The excitement ended there though. After the song, Spot’s role in the show was minimal and Brooklyn’s presence died down. I was just expecting something bigger because he is after all, Spot Conlon.
There were other differences in story and song lyrics but they weren’t bad at all. I think it just depends on what type of fan you are. If you walk in expecting to see the 1992 film from start to finish then I think you’re a little foolish. The differences were made to enhance the story and they even added a twist that surprised even me. Jack Feldman and Alan Menken (who we got to meet during intermission thanks to Vincent!) created some new songs to really add some depth to the story and Miss Medda even got a completely new one. (Thank God.) This show also introduced the fight for all the kids in New York working in sweatshops a lot sooner than the movie had. Jack has a heart-warming speech about every worker just trying to make it in New York City despite all the obstacles thrown at them each day.
All in all, I think director, Jeff Calhoun and book writer, Harvey Feinstein (Woo-Hoo, Harvey Feinstein!) did an amazing job in transferring this story to the stage. At its core, Newsies is about these boys who are more like family to each other. That sentiment was made clear within the first five minutes of the play and I really liked that because without that bond they all shared, there is no story. I could definitely see this on Broadway and I really hope it makes it there someday soon. One suggestion however — get some more boys! I think there were more than like 12 Newsies in the movie. =)
Newsies will be playing at Paper Mill Playhouse until October 16. There is also a special fan night on October 2. Please visit Paper Mill’s website for tickets and showtime information. The theater is located in Millburn, NJ but is less than an hour from New York City by train (plus the train station is in walking distance of the venue).