The best Broadway musicals tend to be based on subjects that don’t sound promising as musicals.
The topic of racism in the military during WWII, for example, was at the heart of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.” The problems of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia in the mothers of teenager children fueled the 2008 rock-musical Pulitzer-winner “Next to Normal.”
And the New York City newsboys strike of 1899 – basically the story of impoverished American child laborers rising up against their wealthy bosses – became the 1992 Disney film “Newsies.”
In all fairness, “Newsies” – starring a singing and dancing Christian Bale – was a flop of a film.
But in a turnaround as big as the one that inspired the movie to begin with, the youth of America eventually rose up and demanded that “Newsies” get its due. The film earned a massive cult following when released in VHS and DVD, it’s many true believers calling themselves “Fansies.” The film’s growing popularity eventually convinced the powers-that-are-Disney to adapt the movie musical into a stage musical.
That, it turns out, was a very good idea.
“Newsies” long Broadway run, beginning in 2012, earned the show eight Tony Award nominations, and won two of them (Best Choreography and Best Musical Score). Based on audience responses to the touring production, which has played to packed houses all over the country, it seems clear that “Newsies” – once the performance rights are made available to community theaters and schools – will be a part of the American musical landscape for years to come.
Not bad for a show about 19th-century child labor abuses.
The truth is, “Newsies” really is a great musical, crammed with memorable songs, colorful characters, and a rousing story of regular folks standing up for their rights and beating the wealthy establishment.
And, yes, the stage version is far better than the movie version.
Which lends a bit of irony to the fact that this weekend, for two performances only, a filmed version of the Broadway show will be screened in movie theaters across America. In a special presentation by Fathom Events, “Disney’s Newsies: The Broadway Musical” is coming to several movie theaters in the Bay Area, including the Sonoma 9 Cinemas.
The show, running 2 hours and 25 minutes, screens Saturday, Aug. 5 at 12:55 p.m., and again on Wednesday, Aug. 9, at 7 p.m. Filmed before a live Broadway audience, the show features Tony nominee Jeremy Jordan (now on “Supergirl”) as Jack “Cowboy” Kelly, a struggling newsboy who convinces his rivals to join forces and strike against the Pulitzer and Hearst newspapers.
The story of the film and stage show are only loosely based on actual events, but capture a time in America where the country thrived on child labor. In real life, the strike’s leader was a one-eyed orphan who went by the name “Kid Blink,” a relatively minor character in the show. The stage version differs from the movie that inspired it in a number of ways. It has more songs, for one thing, including several new ones, such as the wonderful “Something to Believe In.”
For Fansies everywhere, who never stopped believing in “Newsies,” the show’s two-day appearance in movie theaters will surely be very welcome news.
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