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

By Michael Gioia
29 Mar 2012

Fankhauser at media day
photo by Monica Simoes
Talk to me about the dancing. You're not doing tumbling passes in "Seize the Day," but you do have a significant amount of choreography. Were you a dancer?
BF: I danced a little bit in college. When I got my audition for Newsies, I heard that the dance call was pretty rigorous, so I got my butt into dance class. I took about two classes a day for a week leading up to the audition — not knowing that I was going to get a callback or anything, but just in case! When I ended up going in, that had really paid off. Being with these guys every day and rehearsing this choreography has been like a dance class that I get paid to take. [Laughs.] To have that kind of talent around pushes me further as a dancer. I think that I've grown miles since I started. And, I even do a little bit more dancing now in the Broadway production than I used to do at Paper Mill. I've always done the tap dance in "King of New York" and I've always done the paper dance in "Seize the Day," but now I dance a little bit more in "Seize the Day," and we've added some new things to "King of New York" that I get to take part in.

The tap dancing in "King of New York" — it's a huge number!
BF: That is the most fun in the whole show! I love doing that number. We've kicked it up a notch, which is hard to believe because I thought it was so amazing back at Paper Mill, but Chris Gattelli is an absolute genius, and we've really stepped it up.

What other changes are being put in place for Broadway?
BF: We're just fleshing out some of the moments that were a little choppy at Paper Mill. [Book writer] Harvey [Fierstein] added some great new dialogue and a great flow to the show, so we've been working on making the storytelling more cohesive and tighter. Chris has been amping up the choreography, and at the same time, making it more character-driven — connecting the story a bit more to the choreography. And, Jeff is really amping up the acting. We're working on the relationships and the characters and making sure that every single [action] on that stage is motivated by something else.

Have you done any research on the time period?
BF: Yeah. I've done a little bit of research, looking into the actual newsboys strike of 1899, but, at the core of this show, it's not about newsboys or selling newspapers. It's really about a young generation finding its voice and taking a stance. Using my own coming-of-age has been the main core of my research.



Did you go back to the film for a base?
BF: When I first booked the job at Paper Mill, I did watch the film to remind myself of the plot, but I knew I wanted to take Davey in a bit of different direction because it's me and not David Moscow.

Did you get to talk to David Moscow at all at the earlier Paper Mill Fan Day?
BF: I did! I think it was more exciting for me than it was for him because it was a while ago for him, and, for me, it's all happening right now. I think he was in awe of us telling this story in the course of two hours as opposed to filming the movie over the course of six months. He was very impressed.

Can you tell me about working with director Jeff Calhoun and coming back to the show for Broadway?
BF: I'm lucky enough that I get to work with masters. Jeff is so experienced and, at the same time, so open. He has a motto that he works by, which is, "The best idea wins." In the rehearsal room, he's open to all ideas to make it work, and that is a pleasure. Chris Gattelli is also so kind and so generous as a choreographer. They're not selfish artists. They use ideas that work on their actors. They don't force anything that's uncomfortable, and they cater to our strengths.

What about the cast? You seem like such a tight-knit group.
BF: We are like a band of brothers. It's not any different on stage than it is backstage. I think we are so passionate about this project because we've all loved the movie at some point in our lives and still do, so to be able to bring this project to Broadway together is such an amazing gift. It's like a party every day at work.

As of this chat, you're about to record the cast album. Have you mentally prepared yourself?
BF: You know, it's weird. [Laughs.] There's not too much time to think about it because we're in work everyday from 10 AM-6 PM, so all you're energy is spent on the show and getting the blocking right and remembering your new lyrics and lines, so there hasn't been much time to stress or get excited. Obviously, I'm so very, very excited to be doing this. I think this is a cast album that's been 20-years-coming. It's something that people are really looking forward to.

(Michael Gioia's work frequently appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Write to him at mgioia@playbill.com.)

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