Newsies: The Kings of New York (and everywhere else)

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

“Each generation must, at the height of its power, step aside and invite the young to share the day. You have laid claim to our world, and I believe the future, in your hands, will be bright and prosperous.” So proclaims New York governor Teddy Roosevelt at the end of Disney’s Newsies, perfectly summing up a central theme of the play: the power of a nation’s youth to take control of its future.

The play’s message struck a chord with audiences, and since hitting the stage in 2012 has inspired hundreds of “fansies” to stand up for what’s right. Newsies’ Broadway run was originally planned to last 12 weeks, but was extended because of its popularity. The show closed on August 24th, 2014, and is now on a national tour, which began in Schenectady, New York. It opened officially in Philadelphia on Thursday at the Academy of Music.

I was lucky enough to see Newsies on Broadway in June, and was devastated when it closed. So when I found out the national tour was coming so close to Swarthmore, I knew I had to go see it.

Newsies, based on the real-life New York City Newsboy strike of 1899, is a theater production adapted from the 1992 Disney live-action film of the same name. It follows the story of strike leader Jack Kelly, a charismatic dreamer based on the real strike’s leader, Kid Blink. Jack and his friends from Lower Manhattan join up with new boys David and Les Jacobs to fight against the price hikes instituted by Joseph Pulitzer and all of the other papers in the city. Pulitzer, who owned the New York World, increased the price of papers for the newsies from 50 cents per hundred papers to 60 cents per hundred (the equivalent of three dollars today). This meant that the newsboys needed to sell ten more papers just to earn the same amount as usual — the equivalent of one dollar today.

The play follows the ups and downs of the strike, including the arrest of Crutchie, a boy with a paralyzed leg, and the budding journalism career of Katherine Plumber, who relied on the story of the strike to help her out of the social pages and onto the front page (“above the fold”).

The cast of the show—the “toursies”—floored me with their skill and energy. They brought the story to life so well that, even knowing the story as well as I do, I still got sucked right into the action on stage. (They also rocked the Tony-winning choreography).

A few changes were made to the production in preparation for the tour. Most likely in an attempt to depict more accurately the accent of the boys on the street, this production changed the lyrics of the song “I Never Planned on You” from “I never planned on someone like you” to “I never planned on no one like you.”

There were also changes in acting style — Dan DeLuca played a much less tactile Jack than the two previous actors, Corey Cott and Jeremy Jordan. DeLuca’s Jack also seemed a bit sillier and friendlier than Jordan’s “angry Jack,” or Cott’s more serious interpretation. This lighter interpretation, coupled with a superb voice, made him my favorite Jack incarnation. Jacob Kemp’s portrayal of David Jacobs was also excellent. Where Ben Fankhauser portrayed David as more nervous and out-of-place in the original, Kemp made the character into an awkward, shy, dorky guy. His David had trouble communicating with the newsies, not out of a feeling that he did not belong, but because he felt too uncomfortable speaking in front of a crowd. He also gave David a lisp that became more pronounced the more worked up he got. Steve Blanchard, who played Pulitzer, portrayed a much more cruel, “evil” man than the version of his character that I saw on Broadway.

One of the best parts of attending the tour showing was seeing a new Crutchie solo added to the show. A letter written from Crutchie to Jack while Crutchie sits on a crowded bunk bed in the refuge, the new song, aptly titled “Letter from the Refuge,” gives details about what it might be like for the children in the refuge. Many of the negative things about the refuge detailed in the song are played for laughs, which suits Crutchie’s optimistic personality.

All in all, the tour is fantastic, and I can’t wait to hear about all of the rest of the great things they do as they continue “Carrying the Banner.”


Featured image courtesy of philly.com.

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