THE LEADING MEN: Newsies Sidekicks Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Ben Fankhauser

By Michael Gioia
29 Mar 2012

Ben Fankhauser

A NEWSIE NEWBIE

Ben Fankhauser, whose character, Davey, is the last to join the band of brothers in Newsies, was also the last actor to join the cast. Following a run as Ernst in the first national tour of Spring Awakening, Fankhauser landed an audition for the Paper Mill Playhouse staging of Newsies. After a successful run at Paper Mill, Disney announced that the production would "Carry the Banner" to Broadway — and Fankhauser would reprise his role.

In the final days of rehearsals leading up to Broadway, we spoke to the fresh-faced performer about making his Broadway debut as bookish Davey (whose little brother, Les, is always at his side), working with the cast and creative team and fine-tuning the musical for Broadway. Read more about it.



In Newsies you play Davey, the new kid in town, and you're making your Broadway debut. Do you feel a strong connection with your character?
BF: Yes — exactly for those reasons. I start as a fish-out-of-water, and I can relate to that because I felt like a fish-out-of-water for the first couple of months that I was in New York… trying to find an agent, going on auditions and getting used to the grind. I'm making my Broadway debut with people that have been working on Broadway for years and years, so I do feel like the "new kid in town." That parallel alone is interesting and helped a lot when trying to figure out my character.

Can you talk about how your character has evolved throughout the process? At the final dress rehearsal at Paper Mill Playhouse there was a scene with Davey and his mother. When I went back to the Fan Day performance, the scene had been cut.
BF: Well, Davey isn't like the other newsies. He was raised with a family and he's educated. I think the team wanted to humanize him by adding his mother into the show. Ultimately, what ended up happening was that it wasn't reading. It became extraneous. The woman who played my mother at the time [is ensemble member] Julie Foldesi, who is amazing and has been rolling with the punches. But we found with the Paper Mill production that we didn't need to humanize him that much. It sort of happened on its own, so that's why you saw the differences. Now [his family] is just referenced.

Because Davey is so different from the newsies, can you tell me about how you've developed your character? All of the other boys are very tough, and Davey has a soft side to him, especially when it comes to his younger brother, Les.
BF: That's actually the most exciting thing about doing the show every night. I get to play this really satisfying arc. I start the show as a timid kid. He's bookish and timid. By the end of the show, he grows into a young adult, who finds a sense of belonging. He finds meaning in his life, and he finds a reason to take a stand. It's amazing to see that growth and to play that growth — it's satisfying as an actor. The rehearsal process has been so much fun. To start, I'm not as much of a dancer as our ensemble boys, so it's almost automatic — when I look around and see them doing this amazing choreography — that I feel like a fish-out-of-water. And, having these little guys [the alternating Lewis Grosso and Matthew J. Schechter] playing my brother makes it so easy, too. I almost feel like an older brother to them in rehearsals — we hang out during breaks. Developing the character — the whole process — has been a dream come true.

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