The Newsies Broadway Cast Recording is available on iTunes.
In 1992, Disney released what they hoped would be the first in a new line of live-action musicals they could add to their repetoire. Their hopes were quickly dashed when Newsies bombed like hell in theatres, and hopes for an expanded brand name were quietly shelved. But much like the vaunted newsboys of the title, word spread as the movie landed on VHS and later DVD, and for twenty years, fans agitated for the story to be taken to the stage. Two years ago, Alan Menken (who wrote the original music) and Harvey Fierstein teamed up to rewrite the book and songs, and after a brief but wildly successful run at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, Newsies is finally taking its place on Broadway.
I was one of those agitating fans back in the day—still am, although these days I’m more invested in it getting buried in an avalanche of Tonys—so seeing the show reach Broadway is essentially a dream come true for me. Not only that, but I come from a long and proud line of unionizers (my great-grandfather somewhat infamously turned down an OBE because he knew the government was trying to make nice with his union) so the musical’s themes of standing up for your rights and working together ring especially loud and clear for me. I saw the show at Paper Mill and thought I’d never get the chance to repeat the experience, so this really is my dream come true. So let’s see what Menken and Fierstein have in store, shall we?
Santa Fe—Prologue. “We won’t beg no one to treat us fair and square!”
In the movie, “Santa Fe” comes at around the one-quarter mark—when we’ve already been introduced to our hero, Jack, as a devil-may-care charmer, and the revelation of his quiet unhappiness and desperation to leave New York comes as a shock. Here, it’s what kicks off the musical, as Jack tells one of the younger newsboys, Crutchie (so named for his bad leg) that “this town sucked the life outta my old man—they ain’t doin’ that to me!” Jack in the musical is a cat of a different color—same age, same basic backstory, but more open about how bitter and worn-down he’s become by the life he’s been forced to lead. And who wouldn’t be? Living in a communal newsboys house, scrounging for pennies, essentially begging strangers for the basics of staying alive. Jack dreams of a better life for himself—one where he doesn’t have to kick his way through 1899!New York’s dirty streets, where he gets respect and proper wages. Around the time this musical takes place, there was a big push for people—young men especially—to head “out West” and become cowboys. Jack dreams of a proper home for himself in Santa Fe and shares the dream with Crutchie, as they both sing about leaving behind this miserable life they’re trapped in. Crutchie even hopes that his leg can heal properly in New Mexico, and he won’t be stuck as a “cripple.” “Watch me stand! Watch me run!”
Carrying The Banner. “It’s a crooked game we’re playing, one we’ll never lose.”
This is the number that kicked off the movie, and here it essentially remains the same. As the newsboys rouse themselves for work, they bring up the energy—previously at a lower level, with the quiet “Santa Fe”—to a jumping, dancing pace, as they sing about the joys of being a newsboy. Well, at least they don’t have to go to school, right? They’re still very much aware of their surroundings (“Cause it’s two for a penny, if I take too many, Weasel just makes me eat ’em after”) but what else is there to do? As long as they’ve got the streets to roam and papers to hawk, they’ll be okay. “Sure beats washing dishes!”
(At around the middle mark, the boys run into a group of nuns, who hand out their breakfast—buns and coffee, basically. This bit had me torn between happiness that at least SOMEONE is feeding these kids, and irritation that the nuns take the opportunity to scold one of the boys about now showing up in church. How about getting the kid a decent roof over his head first, sister?)
The Bottom Line. “I’ll train them to be like an army that’s marching to war!”
Pulitzer—the villain of the piece—didn’t have a song in the movie, which is weird when you consider Disney’s proud history of villain songs. Here as in the Paper Mill run, it’s been rectified, this time with a song called “The Bottom Line.” (At Paper Mill it was “The News is Getting Better.”) John Dossett makes an appropriately sleazy Pultizer, singing that the kids may suffer from the price raise, but at least his pocket lining will get thicker! And hey, they’ll get “a lesson in economics,” and gosh they’ll be so grateful, they’ll beg to pay even HIGHER prices! (For anyone confused by what exactly he’s doing here, the newsboys have to buy the papers they sell and make the cost back in sales. Pultizer is proposing to raise the price the newsies have to pay, so they’ll have to work even harder to make it up. And the extra goes right in his bank account, of course.)
That’s Rich. “I pulled up a weed, they found oil in the ground!”
In the movie, Medda Larkson was played by Ann-Margret, who I think they hired just to make the cast look like less of a penis-fest. Here she’s been replaced by Carpathia Jenkins, whose rich smooth voice makes this song- another musical original—a joy to listen to. It’s a callback to the vaudeville acts of the day, with appropriately nude-nudge-wink lyrics (“Seems everything I touch seems to rise!”) Medda is a friend of Jack’s, who lets him stay in the theatre when on the run from the cops, and remains a friend and substitute mother figure for the duration of the musical, and I’m thrilled to pieces that they both kept her character and gave her this number.
I Never Planned On You/Don’t Come A-Knockin’ “Love at first sight’s for suckers—at least, it used to be.”
This song counterbalances the vaudeville number being played in Medda’s theatre, a slower, more contemplative piece scoring against the peppier “Don’t Come A-Knockin’.” Jack, taking refuge in the theatre, runs into Katherine—a female reporter he tried to flirt with and got struck down by earlier in the day. Fascinated by this bold, beautiful woman, Jack quietly sketches her face on the back of a playbill—our first hint at his artistic aspirations, which figure into the plot—while singing about this strange new feeling she inspires. It’s a sweet little number, and a nice treat for fans of their relationship—which comes to even more prominence later in the play.
The World Will Know. “Will we let them stuff this crock of garbage down our throat? No!”
The newsies have found out about the price hike, and man are they pissed. This is when the music takes a swing for the angrier, more pulse-pounding, as Jack rouses his fellow newsboys to go on strike and show Pultizer what they’re made of. The drums build in time to the boys’ dance as Jack’s singing becomes a rallying cry for them to shout back to him. “Pultizer may own the World, but he don’t own us!” (Yes, “the world” is a pun on the name of the paper they sell. It’s a little cheesy, but hey, it’s Disney.) The world—and Pultizer—are finally going to hear their voices and give them a say. I defy anyone to listen to this and not jump up and start singing along.
Watch What Happens. “Someone to write about it—that’s how things get better.”
This may well be my favorite addition to the stage show. Katherine—an amalgamation of two characters from the original movies—has agreed to cover the strike (no other papers will) but runs face first into a case of writer’s block. As she paces next to her typewriter, she muses about her own struggles—as one of the only female reporters working in New York, she has to kick and scratch to be taken seriously. (“It’s a girl? How the hell—is that even legal?”) Kara Lindsay’s voice is delightful, and I especially love that Katherine is allowed to have a deeper, louder voice than you generally get with love interests in musical theatre. Katherine leaps off the stage as a confident young woman who’s well aware of the conditions she and the boys are forced to work under, and determined not to let things stand. At the same time, she struggles with her growing attraction to Jack. (“What a face!” she muses.) But ultimately, her goal is to make things change. “Give those kids and me a brand new century—and watch what happens!”
Seize The Day. “Minute by minute, that’s how you win it.”
If “The World Will Know” was Jack’s rallying cry, this is David’s. David Jacobs, my favorite character in the movie version, is brought to the stage pitch-perfectly by Ben Fankhasuer—Davey is quieter and more measured than Jack (possibly due to the fact that he’s not a career newsboy—he and his brother have gone to work since their father lost his job after a factory accident). But his voice is no less firm as he encourages everyone to stand together in the face of Pultizer’s attempts to break the strike. I think my favorite part is how David leads the opening, is joined by Jack around the second verse, and everyone’s voice comes swelling in at “Once we’ve begun, if we stand as one, someday becomes somehow.” And once again, it becomes a marching song as the boys stand in front of the newspaper office and demand to be listened to. Not only that, but they envision their torch being carried by child workers all across America—”Houston to Harlem, look what’s begun!” This is the song and dance number that most often gets performed on talk shows and whatnot—here they are doing it on The View—and it’s not hard to see why.
Santa Fe (Reprise). “‘Cause I’m dead if I can’t count on you today.”
Jeremy Jordan shines all through the recording, but it’s here that he really made me start bawling. Having seen Crutchie being struck down and dragged away at the rally, he flees to his hiding place on the lodging-house roof, consumed by guilt and self-loathing. Jordan’s voice never cracks, but you can hear Jack trying to stay strong and not burst into tears as he blasts himself for leading everyone into this. (“Guys are fighting, bleeding, falling—thanks to good ol’ Captain Jack!”) It’s here that you really start to understand how young Jack is—seventeen was an adult by the standards of the time, but it’s awfully young to carry a burden like this with no support and no one to tell him things will get better. Hell, he can’t even tell himself things will get better—why would he? From a distance of a hundred years, we know it will, but stuck in 1899, Jack has only the evidence in front of him to look at it. And it’s a pretty bleak view. The act ends on this note, as Jack howls to the audience. “I got nothin’ if I ain’t got Santa Fe!”
Intermission time! Grab some pop from the lobby and be back in a few minutes for Act Two. Hopefully it ends on a brighter note.