Academic Writing

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Image source
Last week The Paper Mill Playhouse premiered its new stage version of the beloved Disney musical Newsies!  Complete with new songs and revamped characters, this show remains true to the original version while making way for nuances which give it a fresh feel.  There are a few character changes, most notably, Bryan Denton (who was originally played by Bill Pullman) is now a female character, Katherine Plumber and a love interest in Jack.  They've trimmed some of the excessive characters out as well.  For instance, we no longer meet David's family.  (This also cuts out any reference to David being Jewish). 

Definitely go see it.  If you liked the movie, you will really enjoy this production.  Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, who did the music and lyrics, respectively, for the original movie have returned for production and created new numbers for the stage version.  Not all of the new songs are up to par with old ones, like there is no need for Pulitzer to keep on singing, and now it feels like there is one to many ballads.  That being said, I should also mention that I am also having a hard time remaining objective in regards to the music because I hold the old songs so close to my heart. 

What was particularly interesting was how much the message of the story holds true today.  Telling the story of how Jack Kelly (Jeremy Jordan, soon coming to Broadway in Bonnie and Clyde) as he rallies his fellow newsies to strike against the greed of Joseph Pulitzer (John Dosset, who is one of those actors you've seen in a million things).  As a group, the newsies have to learn to stand up for themselves and fight for what they believe in.  They are the "little man" going up against the power hungry corporate interests that seem to be willing to stop at nothing to improve their bottom line numbers.  Sound familiar?  It's definitely a narrative which holds strong through today.

The play, more than the movie, also hammers home the idea that it is the responsibility of the youth to stand up and make a difference in their worlds.  This is a theme and a message not uncommon to youth oriented message films since the 1950s.  It's interesting that it still needs to be mentioned over and over, as if the world hasn't gotten it.  On the other hand, it's important that each generation finds new ways to get the message across in a way that's relevant to them.

Originally choreographed by Kenny Ortega (recently of High School Musical fame), the movie offered an impressive array of talent.  The play is nothing less.  The dancing is impressive and it builds on the foundational ground that the movie did.  Now, choreographer Christopher Gattelli does a good job incorporating much of the original dance moves, but also expands upon it and lets the cast members' talents really shine through.  It's truly an impressive feat of ballet, acrobatics, and definitely coordination. 

One thing that cannot go unmentioned is the set design.  Incorporating video backdrops to depict the city and their living conditions and screens to highlight text that the characters are reading or writing on newspapers, it changes the visual landscape that one might expect from a play and further aesthetically connects it with the original film while forging its own identity at the same time. 

What was great about going to see this show in a venue such as it's in, was that you truly felt like you were surrounded by fans.  People were mouthing along to the lyrics and when new plot twists were introduced there were collective gasps from the audience.  The energy in the theater was electric, and I'm sure, intimidating for the boys on stage.  But they pulled it off.  The show on a whole is a little rough around the edges, last night's performance was only their 6th, so it's understandable.  There were a couple of almost flubbed lined and tossed props occasionally dropped in the wrong places, but I could look past it.  Judging by the standing ovation and deafening applause at the end, most of the audience felt the same.  But for this to make it to Broadway, and I really hope it does, it will definitely have to be retooled some, but for the most part it was a great nod to a great Disney film which has, and continues to, live in the hearts for so many.

Newsies! runs at the Paper Mill Playouse until October 16. 

You can buy tickets here:

You can watch clips here:

Here's the clip from when they recently performed on The View:

1 comment:

Brad said...

yay, i can't wait to see it! there is something so joyous about that setting.