Newsies Seize the Stage

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Newsies Seize the Stage 1

This fall, the world will know a new theatrical version of Disney’s 1992 movie musical — Newsies — and D23 has the inside scoop from the show’s lyricist, Jack Feldman.

There are a handful of Disney movie musicals that were just meant to be full-fledged stage shows of their own. Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins, The Lion King, and The Little Mermaid, with their moving songs and beloved stories, are a few of these Disney masterpieces that seemed to transition seamlessly into a theatrical version. But there are also a few Disney films — perfectly fit for the stage — that are waiting in the wings to be adapted for a live audience. Newsies is one of those films that has “theatrical stage show” written all over it. On Thursday, September 15 (though the official press opening is scheduled for September 25), nearly 20 years since this tuneful film debuted in theaters, Disney’s Newsies will finally step into the spotlight. Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn, New Jersey, is kicking off the first production of Disney’s Newsies musical. From there it will be up to Paper Mill’s cast to “carry the banner” and make the stage version a headlining success.

The new Newsies musical has been written with utmost care, not to mention by some of the biggest headliners from Broadway. Disney Theatrical Group gathered together a triumvirate of talent to pen the script and score. That includes eight-time Academy Award®-winning composer Alan Menken, four-time Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein, and noted lyricist Jack Feldman. Jack and Alan collaborated on the original soundtrack for the 1992 Newsies film and they’re back to rework the script for the stage with Harvey steering the story.

It’s been a long time coming for a stage show version of Newsies. For years, Newsies has been the single most requested title by professional and amateur theatre groups, according to the world’s largest dramatic licensing agent Music Theater International (MTI). “Once Disney decided they wanted to do a stage version of Newsies they asked Alan Menken and I if we wanted to be involved because it was not only going to be translating the movie to the stage, but they also said it would require some new songs, which we were definitely up for,” says Jack. “We both sort of jumped at it. There wasn’t really much of a hesitation.” The new stage version will introduce several brand-new songs by the original team. But not to worry, the original story and most of the film’s songs will remain intact.

Newsies is inspired by the real life Newsboy Strike of 1899 in New York City, when newsboy Kid Blink led the ragged orphans and runaways known as newsies on a two-week long action against Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst and other powerful newspaper publishers. Disney’s take on this piece of history tells the tale of a newsie named Jack Kelly, who dreams of a better life far from the hardship of the streets and gathers a group of young paperboys along the way to greatness. “The bones of the story and many of the characters are as they were in the movie,” Jack reveals. “It’s still the story of a Newsboy Strike of 1899 and its still led by Jack, but we’re making some changes to some of the characters and how the story is told.” They’re mixing up the song list, too. But Jack assures us that all our favorites will still be included. “A couple of the songs from the film will probably not appear in the stage show, but we’re also writing a couple of brand-new songs,” he says. “A couple of songs that are familiar to people from the score are used in slightly different ways in terms of where they are in the story. All the big numbers are there.” No doubt you’ll walk away from the stage show with the same feeling you did when you saw the film — a whimsical arm punch of optimism.

As for the Paper Mill production, September 15 is right around the corner and there’s still plenty of work to do. “We’re pretty far along,” Jack assures. “Harvey has written several drafts of the script and Alan and I have basically completed the score. There are still a few things we want to tinker with and a few numbers we may want to swap out. But it’s mostly there.” And what about after Paper Mill? Is Newsies Broadway bound? “The purpose of doing the show was never to build a Broadway production,” Jack notes. “The purpose, and they were very clear about this, was — with so many requests from schools, theater groups, camps and all sorts of other places — to do a stage version that could be licensed. A lot of people were really anxious for it, which really makes you feel great.” For this year, Newsies fans can revel in the show’s updated story, new characters and songs through the Paper Mill production. Beyond that, only time will tell.

Not only is the musical a step in evolving the original film’s score and story it’s a chance for the original team to take a look at their work and make some edits. “We got the chance to go back and polish what we never got to do during the film,” Jack says. “A couple of the songs are now used to build a more emotional connection with the audience and make the characters and their relationships with each other deeper and more like that of a family. One of the things about this show that moves me is that even though it takes place over a century ago, its very relevant to today.” The heart of the Newsies story is about overcoming all odds. “Newsboys are not even part of our lives anymore and, still, the story is so relevant to the world today,” Jack adds. “It’s what makes the story very specific, but also extremely universal.”

Newsies begins at Paper Mill Playhouse on Thursday, September 15 and will be performed eight times a week, Wednesday through Sunday through Sunday, October 16. Three, four and five show subscription packages are available beginning February 17, starting at $84. If you want to ensure that you will get a ticket to see Newsies, become a Paper Mill Playhouse subscriber. Single tickets will go on sale this summer and range in price from $25 to $96. Tickets may be purchased by calling 973-376-4343 or online at papermill.org.

Article by By D23’s Billy Stanek


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