Geek Lab Review
Disney's Newsies Live admirably brings the Broadway musical to the big screen.
Fathom Events, known for bringing national wide access to special events, does it again with the theatrical broadcast of Disney’s Newsies. Disney Theatrical Productions presents Disney’s Newsies based on the Disney musical film, Newsies, based on the events of the “Newsboy Strike of 1899” against publishing titans, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolf Hearst.
Release Date: February 16, 2017
Writer: Harvey Fiersten
Composer: Alan Menken and Jack Feldman
Director: Jeff Calhoun
Cast: Jeremy Jordan, Kara Lindsay, Ben Fanhauser, Andrew Keenan-Bolger
There are two elements to address with the screening: the play and the film. Let’s start with the play. Full disclosure: I have never seen the Newsies film or the play on stage, so I’m coming in fresh with a fresh viewpoint.
The musical, Newsies, follows the lead character Jack Kelly (Jeremy Jordan), who is the reluctant leader and in many cases father figure to the newsboys of Brooklyn. He lives on the street with Crutchie (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) and survives with the money he earns selling newspapers to the fine people of Brooklyn. Every morning newsboys buy papers from the newspapers company at wholesale and sells them for twice the money. Newsboys keep the profits.
Concerned with the lowering readership and the increase in expense, news titan Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard) raises the wholesale price the newsies have to pay, thus making it harder for them to make a profit. Angered by the rise in price, Jack attempts to rally the newsboys to go on strike and encourage the other boroughs of New York to do the same.
Faced with the certain beatings of the paper’s strikebreakers, the uncertainty of survival without income and competition from paid scabs, Jack must find it within himself to inspire not only the boys around him but inspire himself at the same time. Jack and the boys are aided by an entertainment columnist, Katherine Plummer (Kara Lindsay) to cover the plight of the young boys. Of course, all of this is set to music and dance.
Other elements of the story include the Refuge, a juvenile detention center for delinquent boys. The living conditions are bleak with little food, sunlight and three-to-a-bed sleeping situation. The real refuge is found in a vaudeville-style theatre owned by Medda Larken (Aisha de Haas), who allows the boys to hold their first union meeting there. Then there is Davey (Ben Fankhauser) and his young brother Les, who become the providers of their family due to an on-the-job accident that disables their father. It is Davey that understands the inner working of unions and provides wise counsel to Jack.
At the end, Newsies is a fantastic, but not perfect musical. The set pieces are large and impressive. It’s tall scaffolding and projection system makes you feel like you’re on a New York set. The actors are good. Jeremy Jordon is charismatic as Jack Kelley and he makes you feel the broad range of emotions of Jack as the inspiration of the movement along with the heavyweight he bears for the safety and welfare of his crew. The choreography is fun and whimsical. I’m not much of a dance expert so I’ll end there.
The music is the highlight of Newsies. Disney Hall of Famer Alan Menken does no wrong. Often a musical greatness is a collaboration of music, lyrics, staging and acting, but the music shines above the production. Celebration, dreaming, love and determination is felt throughout the entire score. The only downfall of the music is lyrics. It is plan hard to understand what is being sung, specifically in the group number. It appears when everything sings together at the same time, you lose clarity. For example, the big opener, “Carrying the Banner” is a great song to watch. It has fantastic choreography and the music is hummable, but I could not understand a single line being sung. “King of New York” is a fantastic song with an even better hook, yet, I can hardly repeat any line from the song, except “King of New York”
It’s the quite moments that brought me back to enjoying the visual feast of Newsies, “Something to Believe In” is the love song and works to bring the Jack and Katherine together.
I walked away from Newsies feeling inspired by this post-modern turn-of-the-century David and Goliath story. It takes you back to a time, when Americans had to fight for real things, like survival.
Let’s talk about the movie. When you film a staged musical, the goal is to capture the quintessential performance of its run. Filmed in 2016, this film brought back most of the original cast from its Broadway opening night. The performances are clean and flawless and the veteran cast performs as a veteran cast should. It’s clear that the film blends footage from its live performance with a pack audience with a separate performance for close-up cameras.
Newsies Live manages to give us the feel of the stage production, especially during the big dance numbers. Although, sometimes the overuse of close-ups can pull you out of the theater and drop you in a live broadcast on television. The theater audience has the opportunity to look around the stage for the action, but then the close-up cameras force you to see what the film director wants you to see. This is just a small criticism, with what otherwise is the quintessential capture of the Broadway show.
The last small annoying thing about Newsies Live is the audience. Clearly, they are there because they are theater geeks, who are a little too over-enthusiastic about the experience. But fortunately, the performance itself is able to stand on its own and garner the admiration it deserves.
If you love big Broadway musicals, Disney musicals and a good ole feel good show, Newsies Live is worth checking out.