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Disney "Newsies: The Musical" is one lean, muscular evening of theatrical entertainment

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Disney "Newsies: The Musical" is one lean, muscular evening of theatrical entertainment

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So let me get this straight: Disney Theatrical has just produced a brand- new Broadway show (i.e. that limited engagement of "Newsies: The Musical" which is now running at the Nederlander Theatre through August 19th) which isn't some special effects-filled extravaganza?

The cast of Disney "Newsies: The Musical." Photo by
Deen van Meer. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

So there's no nanny that flies out over the audience? No mer-people on Heelies wheeling all over the stage? No elephants or rhinos parading down the aisles during the opening number? No magical onstage beast-transforms -into-man bits and/or ape men bungeeing around the set? Just a plain, old-fashioned musical where people stand onstage and then sing & dance? Does Disney Theatrical even know how to produce a show like that?

And the answer is ... Absolutely. "Newsies: The Musical" (perhaps because it doesn't have all the bells & whistles that one typically associates with a show produced by Disney Theatrical) is a surprisingly effective & entertaining night at the theater.

Harvey Fierstein at the Opening Night for Disney "Newsies:
The Musical." Photo by Nancy Stadler

Mind you, a lot of the credit for making the stage version of  this 1992 Walt Disney Pictures release work has to be heaped at the feet of Broadway veteran Harvey Fierstein. This four time Tony Award-winner waded into Bob Tzudiker & Noni White's original screenplay and then significantly rejiggered the elements.  Keeping the overall story (which was/is based on real-life events that occurred during the Newsboy Strike which happened in New York City back in 1899) in place while chucking much of the film's secondary plot (Jack Kelly's romance with David & Les Jacobs' sister Sarah).

To Harvey's way of thinking, the female protagonist of Disney "Newsies: The Musical" had to be just as strong, just as feisty as Jack Kelly was. Which is why -- after drawing some inspiration from pioneering female reporter Nellie Bly -- Fierstein created a whole new character, Katherine Plumber.  This reporter-with-a-secret who's determined to do everything she can to help make the world aware of the Newsies' plight.  While -- at the same time -- unexpectedly finds herself falling for the rough-around-the-edges-but-still-good-hearted Jack Kelly.

Kara Lindsay as Katherine Plumber and Jeremy
Jordan as Jack Kelly in Disney "Newsies: The
Musical." Photo by Deen van Meer. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And once Harvey had reconfigured the story of the film version of "Newsies" so that it would work far better for the stage, it was now time for  Alan Menken and Jack Feldman (who wrote the songs for the 1992 movie) to revisit their original score. Tweaking earlier tunes so that they now fit the revised narrative, not to mention writing entirely new songs which then helped push this show's new storyline along.

From there, it was up to director Jeff Calhoun to come up with the best possible cast for the pilot production of Disney "Newsies: The Musical" (which was presented at the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey back in September). And Calhoun really hit the jackpot when he hired star-on-the-rise Jeremy Jordan to play Jack Kelly and then convinced Kara Lindsay to come portray Kelly's love interest Katherine Plumber. Not to mention hiring Broadway vet John Dossett to play that charter member of the 1% Club, publishing giant Joseph Pulitzer.

Aaron J. Albano (L) and Jess LaProtto (R) with the cast of Disney "Newsies: The Musical."
Photo by Deen van Meer. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But perhaps the smartest move that the execs at Disney Theatrical made was in hiring Christopher Gattelli to handle the choreography for "Newsies: The Musical." Gattelli is probably best known to theater fans for his Tony-nominated work on Lincoln Center's 2008 revival of "South Pacific ." And Christopher brings the same sort of extremely athletic energy that he brought to the dances for "South Pacific" to "Newsies." And then some.

Now add to the mix Tobin Ost's sparse-but-clever stage design (where three three-story-tall metal structures get spun around the stage and  -- in various different configurations -- become New York City tenements,  Joseph Pulitzer's office, backstage at a vaudeville theater and Newsies Square) and you've got this lean but really muscular piece of theatrical entertainment.

The cast of Disney "Newsies: The Musical" takes advantage of all three levels of Tobin
Ost's set. Photo by Deen van Meer. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

To put it bluntly, "Newsies: The Musical" really doesn't need any special effects or onstage illusions in order to put this new stage musical over the top. The creative team who put together this Disney Theatrical production knew exactly what they were doing when they adapted that 1992 Walt Disney Pictures release to the stage. They just made the necessary adjustments to that film's narrative, dropped in six new songs and then hired 33 of the most talented performers working in musical theater today to bring this show to life.

And the end result is now wowing audiences nightly at the Nederlander Theater without a single performer on stilts pretending to be a giraffe and/or someone dressed as a dancing cheese grater. Which -- when you really think about it -- is pretty magical all by itself.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

FYI: If you want to get a sense of what this new Broadway show actually sounds like, head on over to Broadway World.com ASAP. Why For? Because that website -- along with WNYC -- is currently hosting a first listen to the original cast recording of Disney "Newsies: The Musical" (which will be released on iTunes April 10th and then in CD form on May 15th) over on their website. So go check that out before this "Newsies" original cast recording preview becomes yesterday's news.

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  • Saw the show opening night of previews... it's a lot of fun. I've heard it called "Annie with boys" and that's about right. For some of the reviewers saying it's hokey, I think they're missing the point. Fierstein's script is COMPLETELY SELF-AWARE that it's corny and manipulative. What I find admirable about it is that it goes whole hog on its hooey and there is blessed near absence of anything ironic. I think the best Disney animated movies pull of the same trick (acknowledge they're simplistic and manipulative/wind up being emotionally moving nonetheless). So despite the fact that there are no giraffes or rollerskates, it still totally hits the Disney sweet spot...

  • I have to respectfully disagree.  I found the new songs to be repetitive and unmemorable. The Metta character was completely underutilized.  I do acknowledge my opinion of the show is biased based on my experience in the theatre.  Fellow audience members were rude to the point of being crass and the theatre ushers and management were unresponsive to complaints.  Disney is know for their customer service: they blew it in that regard

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