A couple months ago, I posted about “Newsies,” a 1992 film that holds a sacred place in my heart because:
1) It gave me, at nine years old, my very first celebrity crush
2) The harmonies in the songs still do this fluttery, soaring thing to the inside of my chest
3) It shows the little guy defeating the giant with nothing but the power of the press
Looking at this list, I have to wonder how the film influenced my becoming both a journalist and a singer (through college but since neglected, to my chagrin). One of my best friends and fellow “Newsies” nut also happens to be a journalist. I’m not so sure that’s a coincidence.
But I digress. The point is I that was fiercely loyal to 1992’s “Newsies.” And not just to Christian Bale’s Jack Kelly with the red bandana, but to Crutchie and Racetrack and Davey and all of Brooklyn too. I knew every word by heart and for a while, “Are you a ‘Newsies’ fan?” was one of the first things I asked when meeting someone new. So when I found out that Broadway was adapting it, I was a little skeptical. Then, when I found out they CHANGED the storyline (gasp!) … SCRAPPED my beloved man Denton (hyperventilating) … and REWROTE many of the lyrics so carved into my brain (convulsing on the floor) … I was just about ready to form a picket line.
But to make a long story short, thanks to a half-price holiday deal and the desire to have a girls’ day with my mom, I found myself sitting in seat 5, row HH of the Nederlander Theatre’s mezzanine last Wednesday.
And I stand humbly corrected.
First, Corey Cott was phenomenal as Jack Kelly. Not only could his voice run circles around Bale’s (no big surprise there), but he really made the character his own. Lovable and goofy but conflicted and strong … he didn’t just try to imitate Bale’s version. Not at all. He took it and made it so much better. And with thousands of fiercely loyal fans holding him under a microscope, that is NOT an easy task!
Second, the whole newsies-strike-turned-child-labor-movement was a great idea in the movie, but did seem to be an afterthought. The Broadway show, however, gave this connection real legs and wove it in from the beginning — simultaneously giving Jack’s character another layer.
I’d be lying if I said it never bothered me that, besides the vaudeville chick, “Newsies” the film had basically no females. It was a man’s world in more ways than one. Not that I minded watching a bunch of guys hopping around for two hours. But (spoiler alert) at the end of the film, Jack shares this big, hooting kiss with his friend’s sister and I was always like … huh? Really? Was that based on anything? Did those two even share more than three meaningful words the entire movie?
The Broadway production finally gives Jack a worthy love interest. And while I won’t spoil her secret, let’s just say she’s the kind of character I would have idolized as a nine-year-old-future-journalist. What’s more, the love story doesn’t take over or ruin the show with a whole bunch of sappy songs. It adds just the right amount of romance. And while Davey’s character was minimized because of this (no mentorship from Denton), I actually didn’t find myself missing Bill Pullman’s character at all! (Shocker!)
As for the lyrical changes, it was somewhat refreshing to not know every single word as I sat there in the theatre. It wasn’t until I got home and downloaded the soundtrack that I cringed at a few of the newcomers. For me, for example, 1992’s “the old will fall and the young stand tall” beats “the old will weep and go back to sleep” any day.
But this was so minor compared with all the improvements. Instrumentally, the revised songs are what the originals were always meant to be. Broadway’s “Santa Fe” was just amazing, “Seize the Day” has so much more depth, and “Once and For All” (my favorite) became larger than life on the stage. I did not mourn the cutting of the film’s vaudeville solos, and felt most of the new songs (particularly “Something to Believe in” and “Watch What Happens”) were absolute winners in my book.
Honestly, my only substantial complaint has to be with Joseph Pulitzer’s character. Where Robert Duvall’s version was complex and idiosyncratic and real, the Broadway version was a cardboard cutout of a dozen other musical “villains.” His new song, “The Bottom Line,” was forgettable and his overall persona was more comical than compelling.
But then again, Duvall is quite a hard man to outdo. Christian Bale, it suddenly seems, is not.
SUMMING IT UP
Phenomenal! See it if you like musicals, dancing, David-vs-Goliath stories, or the original “Newsies.” And while I’m sure the next Jack Kelly will be good as well, I highly advise catching the show while Corey Cott is the headliner. You won’t be sorry!
The “Newsies” set includes a three-story scaffolding that moves from upstage to downstage. It looks great, but if you’re sitting toward the back of the orchestra (especially toward the sides), the mezzanine overhang will block a significant portion of it. You’re far better off in the mezzanine. Honestly, the theater is so small that I had no problem making out facial expressions from row HH. I couldn’t have asked for a better view. Also, the seats are tiny, so if you have long legs or a wide girth, you might want to consider a box or make sure you’re on the aisle or a first row. Click here to view the seating chart.