Don’t forget to purchase your Newsies Original Cast Album on iTunes tomorrow, April 10!
Two weekends ago, on a whim, my husband and I decided to try for the Newsies lotto. What does this mean? We showed up about 3 hours before show time (it was for an 8pm performance), filled out a slip of paper, stopped to have a beer, and walked back to the Nederlander Theater in time for the 6pm drawing. And we actually won! I couldn’t believe it.
There were probably about 100 people outside of the theater waiting to hear. When you fill out your slip, you can either request 1 or 2 tickets. I think about 15 people were lotto winners by the end of the drawing. You can’t really do any better than paying $30 for $125 seats. Armed with our tickets as I squealed down the street, we officially had plans (with Jeremy Jordan) for the evening!
Bottom line: Newsies is everything it was at Paper Mill and more. Full of enthusiasm and heart. An energetic showcase of great singing and standout dancing. The audience was totally invested before the show even started and wild about it through the curtain call. It’s fun, it’s funny, and it makes two and a half hours go by in a flash. And my favorite part? You’re humming the music on your way home, the following morning, and even a week later.
So instead of writing a traditional review, I thought I’d go back and compare the Broadway production to my initial thoughts after seeing its first run at the Paper Mill.
PM: “His voice is strong and defiant. Beautiful and full of emotion. He sets a high bar for the rest of the cast, who fall into place just as efficiently.”
NT: Since I first laid eyes on Jeremy (it was a magical moment) at Paper Mill, I’ve also seen him in the title role in Bonnie & Clyde, where he was totally brilliant. With a tighter storyline and new songs, he is even better in the Broadway version of Newsies then the first run at PM. He’s a gung-ho leader with heart. He’s a flirty dreamer. He is Jack Kelly to the point where you can’t imagine anyone else embodying this role on stage.
PM: “The choreography is a triumph with twirling, tumbling, flipping, and tapping with grace and power all over the stage. The cast is beyond impressive, especially in one of the most creative dances I have ever seen — slipping and sliding and spinning on top of ripped pieces of newspaper.”
NT: The choreography (by genius Christopher Gatteti) is still so impressive. It’s a wonder no one hurts themselves with their seamless tumbles and flips. Plus it’s impossible to peel your eyes away from the stage. There was just an overabundance of it. Not only that, they were repetitive movements. So much so that I think if they had cut down the repetitive dance reprises, the remaining time could have ideally been used to concentrate on some of the weaker parts of the book.
PM: “Unsurprisingly, Alan Menken and Jack Feldman take some exceptional music and make it better. Changes had to be made because of the differences in the movie and the book of the musical, yet most of the lyrical changes are subtle. The music is just as catchy as ever, and the additions of “Watch What Happens” (which I mentioned earlier) and “Then I See You Again” were thoroughly enjoyable.”
NT: The best songs in this show are still the ones that everyone has heard before in the 1992 movie. And they are great, show-stopping songs. I absolutely love them. (And I wish I could dance because the songs make me want to.) But the newbie song, “Watch What Happens,” performed by Kara Lindsay, is still such a highlight for me. She’s hilarious and adorable in this number. “Then I See You Again” was replaced with “Something to Believe In,” a romantic duet between Jeremy and Kara. (I know plenty of girls would give up their right arm to have Jeremy’s eyes on them during this number!) Sure, it’s sort of cheesy but the chemistry between the two made the words convincing and real. Some of my favorite parts within the music would be when Jack and Davey (Ben Fankhauser) sang together. Goosebumps. A lot of them. In fact, the electricity when the two of them sang together was a missed opportunity for sure. I wanted more. (Goosebump overload when the two join forces with Kara, at one point.)
Fun fact: Did you know this is Jack Feldman’s Broadway debut (he’s 61) & he helped pen the lyrics to Barry Manilow’s “Copacobana”?
PM: “Kara Lindsay is a true delight. She easily transitions from being one of the boys to a woman with her own ambitions and an affection for Jack.”
NT: I love this girl. I love this character and I love Kara. As Katherine, the replacement for Bill Pullman’s character in the movie, she’s sassy and funny and direct and ambitious. She’s a girl you can have a beer with as you commiserate over your writing. Her facial expressions are so right on, and her singing is amazing. It’s hard to believe it’s her Broadway debut. (It would be nice if she had one other song though… “Watch What Happens” is one of my favorites but for all the girls out there, it would have been nice to have something else to connect with.) Best of all, she proves the boys don’t have all the fun and is a relatable and strong character for all the young ladies out there.
The character of Les
PM: “Les… swiftly elicits “aww” after “aww” from the audience.”
NT: Les is an adorable kid whose character has evolved into a grown man stuck in an 8-year old’s body. Instead of merely existing to be super sweet and innocent, he has some hilarious one-liners. I absolutely loved the subtle changes here.
PM: Most noticeably the first act booms and the second deflates.
NT: With a few tweaks in the storyline (book by Harvey Fierstein) and the songs, neither the first or second act tops the other, which is a huge improvement. But while the second act moves faster this go-around, the loose ends wrap up a little too quickly for my taste. This leads me to my first tangent:
Did Disney play it safe with this story?
Yes. The show is still entertaining and has the ability to steal your heart without digging a little deeper but I can’t help but wonder how much tighter the whole show would have been if they had just focused a bit more on the friendship of Jack and Crutchie (brilliant Andrew Keegan-Bolger), or even Jack and Davie. Davie and Les’ mom is completely out of the picture and even a segueway into a small bit of family time would have been nice. It’s hard to remember a lot of the details from back in September at Paper Mill but it even seems like the “Jack as an artist” theme was cut back a bit.
Here’s the thing: This ensemble is just so good. So good. You can tell they all enjoy working with each other. (Great direction by Jeff Calhoun.) It’s easy to wish we had about 4 more hours to spend with each of these characters because they all have a story to tell. My biggest gripe is that we should have gotten the chance to get to know these boys just a little bit better.
Fun fact: There are 12 cast members making their Broadway debut in Newsies.
And that leads me to…
PM: “If anything that’s the weakness of this book, all the loose ends are tied up with a pretty bow.”
NT: They kept in the “plot twist” (spoiler!) but it seemed to come a little bit earlier in the second act this time. But the other “oh, of course that should happen!” Jack moment at the end seemed a bit more open-ended, which was better! And here’s the next tangent:
Joe Pulitzer as a character.
Wow. This guy was a freaking bully. Don’t get me wrong. At PM, he was mean but not this mean. Pulitzer felt downright villainous. In fact, I wondered if he would be able to redeem himself because some of his proclamations were pretty unforgivable. To the point where I would actually drop any association with him. Even if he somehow fixed things. But maybe that’s just me. His character arc definitely suffered due to the speeding action of the second act. (I did like that they made him meaner. I just don’t think the production OWNED it.) It’s like Cinderella allowing the stepmother to babysit her kid as soon as he/she is born or something. Too much too soon.
While none of the changes from the Paper Mill production to the one taking over Broadway were huge, I’m glad to see there were subtle improvements to an already entertaining show. Some other personal highlights:
♦ The tap dancing number (accompanied by spoons!) in “The King of New York.”
♦ Ryan Breslin as Race. His part may be small but he really stuck out to me. He was funny and his dancing was awesome.
♦ A more ethnically diverse cast! (This was missing the first time around.)
♦ Capathia Jenkins as Medda Larkin seriously sizzled in this production. (I hardly remember these particular scenes from the PM performance.) She had pizazz, she was sexy and soulful, and her song was such a standout. (I wanted more!)
♦ “Once and For All” is so beautiful it makes my heart hurt.
♦ I’m also a sucker for sets and the industrial, multi-use steel set by Tobin Obst is still a highlight. Tip: I have to believe the best seats for this show are the first rows of mezzanine.
In the end, it’s pretty remarkable that Disney took a movie that once failed at the box office and was able to improve upon it and most importantly, give it new life on stage. (Make old fans happy and engage new ones!) In an article in Playbill Magazine, Tom Schumacher, the president of Disney Theatrical Productions, called the connection between the show and the audience “the important thing” about Newsies.
Well, they’ve nailed that and so much more.
(Picture Source: Newsies on Facebook)