When you love something as much as I love the 1992 movie, Newsies, you don’t want a single, minute detail changed.
So naturally I was apprehensive for the Broadway adaptation.
I couldn’t decide if I wanted to see it or not (would I hate it? Love it? Hate that I loved it?). In the end, I entered my name in the Newsies ticket lottery and let the outcome decide.
I won. So I saw it.
When I heard all the theatre buzz, my two main concerns were Jack’s transformation from cowboy to artist, and the reporter who’d followed the strike being a woman instead of a guy.
Actually sitting through the show, those weren’t the issues I had at all.
Although, if you’re going to make Jack an artist (a change which I don’t think was necessary, by the way), why make one of Pulitzer’s lines be:
“Time’s running out kid, so what do you say/Cowboy or convict, I win either way.”
Cowboy or convict.
Cowboy or convict.
I gotta say kudos to Jeremy Jordan (pictured below) for playing such a great Jack. He’s charismatic, cheeky, a natural leader, and quite sympathetic. As a huge fan of Christian Bale in this movie, I think Jeremy stepped into the role very well.
The same can’t be said for Ben Fankhauser, playing David. I’d never even stopped to worry that the actors wouldn’t be up to par to their movie counterparts, but David and Racetrack (played by Ryan Breslin) were two characters who were particularly…cringeworthy.
David is supposed to be more book-smart than street-smart, at first hesitant, but ready to stand up for what’s right. In the Broadway show, he’s portrayed as a pathetic, spineless nerd. When he sings “Seize the Day,” which is supposed to rouse the Newsies, it comes off more as ‘Seize the day? If you want to?’
As for Racetrack, I just love Max Cassella and how he plays Race in the movie. He’s more charming and endearing than Breslin’s brash portrayal.
I was pleasantly surprised, though, to find that I recognized one of the newises – Alex Wong, who had been a contestant on So You Think You Can Dance. He was pretty amazing there, so it was nice to see him get on with his career.
Knowing all the lines by heart made it tough to sit back and be calm when the wrong words, sentences, and lyrics were uttered onstage.
This was particularly annoying because I felt that certain changes were made for no ulterior purpose other than to make changes.
For instance, when David urges Jack to think about the ramifications of striking, and Jack sits down to think about it:
In the movie: “Hey, Jack, you done thinking yet?”
In the play: “You still thinking?”
Not a very necessary change, you’ll agree.
I did like some of the new lyrics, like this one from “Seize the Day” – “Someday becomes somehow/And a prayer becomes a vow/And the strike starts right damn now.”
With regard to character modifications, Jack doesn’t seem to feel a lack of family in the show, as he did in the movie. He doesn’t join David and his family for supper. He still wants to escape to Sante Fe, but it’s more about escaping the squalor of city life and the burden of responsibility he feels for the newsies.
I also noticed that while discussing the strike with Katherine (the reporter), Jack tells her to bring her camera – in direct contrast to the movie where he explicitly tells Denton (the reporter) not to take pictures, the latter being the smarter move, as Jack’s a fugitive. Jack is supposed to be street-smart, which makes this revision confusing.
And then there’s Jack’s closeness to Crutchie, which leaves David with a much smaller role. I’m okay with this because the less I saw of David here, the better.
Of course, the biggest change was the entire ending.
For some reason, Jack waltzes into Pulitzer’s office to invite him to the rally. Pulitzer responds by telling Jack to go to the rally and convince the newsies to go back to work, threatening to imprison his friends if he doesn’t. So Jack does that, and the newsies think he’s crazy, and then he comes around and makes the strike notice on Pulitzer’s press.
The depth of betrayal in the movie is much deeper. After Jack riles them up, the newsies actually see Jack going back on his word, dressed up all rich, selling newspapers, and seeming to not care about them and the situation he’s put them in. When they confront him, he shrugs his shoulders.
I understand that everything gets more dramatized in a play, but there was an element of telling over showing that I didn’t like. For example, when they decide to make the strike notice to distribute to all the child laborers, Katherine gets all gleeful that they’re using Pulitzer’s own press to get the word out.
In the movie, the irony’s stands for itself.
And thanks to winning those lottery tickets, my friend and I sat three rows away from the stage. I’m not sure if this provided us with a unique vantage point but, boy, was there a lot of spitting from the actors. Arcs of spittle flying everywhere. Sorry, it sounds gross, cuz it was.
Waiting in the darkened theatre for Newsies to begin, I’m not sure if I was nervous that the show would be bad…or that it’d be good.
My verdict? I thought it was good.
Would it have been better if it had followed the movie more closely? Yes.
Am I happy I saw it? Absolutely.
What do you think of the changes?