If you are a female of a certain age, chances are good that you went through a Newsies phase sometime during the ‘90s. In fact, you may never have grown out of your Newsies phase, because movie musicals about singing, dancing, striking newsboys never get old. But guess what, guys? After years of middle schools, high schools, and summer camps doing bootleg stage productions of the movie, Newsies has finally become an ACTUAL STAGE MUSICAL. And I have SEEN IT. And it is WONDERFUL. It’s also, however, a little different from the movie. How, you ask?I mean, besides the lack of Christian Bale? Well…
1) New Music and Lyrics.
The movie is actually pretty short—it’s only about an hour and a half long. The musical, however, got beefed up quite a bit—it’s two hours and 20 minutes long—so clearly, this isn’t just the movie slapped up onstage. Naturally, a beefed-up show means more scenes, bigger scenes, and new songs. Most of which are quite good, actually! Characters both old and new (new? Gasp! I’ll get to that in a moment) needed fleshing out, and the best way to do that in a musical is through song. Pulitzer, for example, has a charming little vaudeville ditty called “The News Is Getting Better” at the moment he comes up with his plan to start charging the newsies more for their papers.
Surprisingly, though, there are also a lot of changed lyrics in the songs that already existed—“Carryin’ the Banner,” “Santa Fe,” and so on. It’s possible that only obsessive people who know the movie soundtrack backwards and forwards (like, um, me) would notice these changes; but they didn’t bother me as much as I thought they would. How ‘bout that?
2) Crutchie and Jack Kelly Are Besties.
I mean, yeah, Crutchie and Jack were buddies in the movie, but they’re REALLY close friends here—closer, even, than Davey and Jack end up getting. So when Crutchie gets hauled off to the Refuge at the end of Act I, it hits Jack a lot more strongly than it does in the movie, which then makes a bigger deal of his actions in Act 2.
3) No Sarah.
Do you remember Sarah from the movie? No? That’s okay; it’s to be expected, because she was mostly pointless. Sarah was Davey’s sister, and she didn’t even get the dubious honor of being a plot device. She was just there because it was the easiest way to get a girl in the story, and of COURSE there has to be a girl, because every story needs at least a little bit of romance. Instead, though, the musical boasts someone better: Katherine Plumber, a plucky young female reporter. I know what you’re thinking: Plucky young female reporter? Blech! How annoying is THAT? But surprisingly, she manages to avoid being annoying; and in fact, she’s actually kind of cool. She’s more than a match for Jack, not just a pretty ornament to have hanging around. Also, she can tap dance in a floor-length skirt and shirtwaist. That’s impressive.
4) No Bill Pullman.
Of course, the upshot of having another journalist around is that the original journalist got the boot: Brian Denton, who was played in the movie by Bill Pullman, is no more. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was actually okay with this change. I liked Denton—don’t get me wrong, he was a nice guy—but his motivations were mostly, “Oh, I feel bad for you. I’ll help!” Not terribly compelling, amirite? Katherine, on the other hand, has more at stake: Her career. Hoorah for career women.
5) Jack Is Not An Enigma…
Jack is SUCH a loner in the movie. In fact, he’s SO much of a loner that he’s actually best described as very, very emo. He’s not really a loner in the musical, though, and he doesn’t play his cards as close to his chest—which, in many ways, makes him both a more satisfying and a more attractive character. We can see him struggle, and while family isn’t as important to him here as it is in the movie, everyone else around him—Crutchie, Katherine, etc.—are. Also, he’s cocky, but he’s not an asshole, which (let’s face it) he kind of was in the movie. Drama!