PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Newsies — Headlines and Breadlines

By Harry Haun
30 Mar 2012

Director Jeff Calhoun was in a similarly dreamy state of mind at the after-party held a half-block from the theatre on 41st Street at shell of the old Liberty Theatre, a former grind house functioning as a handsome, spacious party haven these days.

Tommy Tune and Jeff Calhoun
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

"This is probably the best time I've had at an opening of any of my shows," he said. "I'm very proud of this show. We are introducing 12 actors who are making their Broadway debuts in this show, and that's why the show works. It's infectious. It's the new generation claiming their stake on Broadway. And you can thank Chris Gattelli. This show, I hope, is going to change his life. His work is superlative!"

Heretofore, Calhoun choreographed as well as directed, but this time he had no problem un-hyphenating himself. "I've had four knee operations and a back surgery, and, when they asked me to do this show, I knew I needed a choreographer who can do what I can't do anymore," he explained. "I saw Chris' work in South Pacific at Lincoln Center, and I went, 'I don't know who that guy is, but I want the guy who did that choreography because it was such smart storytelling.'

"Eventually, we met in San Diego. I was doing a show at the Old Globe called Emma, and he was doing one with James Lapine at La Jolla. I invited him to see opening night of Emma because I wanted to meet him, and, in five minutes, I offered him the job. I just knew he was the one for this show."

Menken, ever hoping for a Tony to punctuate his monotonous line of eight Oscars, was already "moving on" at the after-party. With Newsies firmly in place at the Nederlander and Sister Act at the Broadway, he is on the brink of "pulling an Andrew Lloyd Webber" — having three shows running simultaneously on Broadway (a remarkable feat that the Lord Lloyd Webber is currently repeating).

Coming soon, Menken takes an all-the-way Leap of Faith, which will open the last day of Tony eligibility. "This season," he said, "I'm my own rival, which is kinda weird. God knows, we'll see how that one does. I'm really excited about that show, too. Leap of Faith started rehearsals the same day as Newsies."

Lyricist Feldman was pleased with the work done on the show since the Paper Mill launching. He and Menken wrote a snappy number for Capathia Jenkins' Music Hall headliner ("That's Rich"), a comic villainy number for John Dossett's Pulitzer ("The Bottom Line") and a new love duet ("Something To Believe In"). "The book has undergone revision," he said. "It's basically the same show, but I think we've improved some things. I've had the best time of my life. I have to tell you those kids are so phenomenally talented. Our choreographer helped them become a family off stage, and they brought it on stage. When they get that applause, I just lose it."

Jeremy Jordan
Photo by Monica Simoes

Jordan, who gets a curtain call all by himself ("I certainly didn't ask for it, but I didn't say no"), is comfortable in the head hero slot. "I love that he's layered," the actor said. "Underneath it all, he's this romantic dreamer, and then he's got all this fear on top of that, and on top of that he has the charm and the boyishness that he shows everybody. As the show progresses, you slowly sorta see that deeper side of him."

The character has been with him an awfully long time. "I was in love with the movie as a kid. I grew up with it so to be the one to lead it on the stage is pretty incredible. The young me would probably be freaking out if he heard."

He's the happy half-recipient of the love-song addition. "It's a joy to originate a great, new, quintessential Disney love song. It feels like it's our version of 'A Whole New World' or something."

The object of his vocal ardor is a feisty news-hen of the period, played by a properly feisty Kara Lindsay. She makes her way in this man's world with confidence and fits in perfectly with the boy-dominated dancing. "That's one of my favorite moments because that was a fear I had at first, tapping with all these so-you-think-you-can-dance guys. I'm not that. I used to competition-dance when I was growing up. I hadn't done it in a while, but getting back into my tapping shoes was interesting at first. It was like riding a bike. It's so fun — the camaraderie and the excitement. To get to feel what they feel in all those group numbers — that's the coolest."

The inevitable, sympathy-pulling disabled urchin of the lot — "Crutchie," of course — is played by Andrew Keenan-Bolger, and with forethought: "I have a very specific musculature with my leg. I really wanted to honor the disability and place it somewhere when Crutchie is suddenly able to dance. Everything that I do in the show, I never bear weight on my right leg. I dance a little in the show — I'm given a little bit of movement — but all of it is sorta based around what I can physically do. As far as how difficult it is, I think I get off pretty easy. The rest of the boys are some of the most athletic, insane dancers I've ever seen so being able to bow out of a few of those crazy specialty tracks is okay with me."

The standout among the dancers is a bespectacled tall-drink-of-water named Specs and played by a super-gifted Ryan Steele. "It's funny," he mused, "I have 20/20 vision, so it's sort of ironic that I need specs. There were lenses at the beginning, but during tech all the lights made a glare and they were hard to dance in."

Ashley Brown Broadway's first Mary Poppins, levitated into the celebrity trenches which were filled with the likes of Ashley Spencer, Tommy Tune, Pixar creator John Lasseter, composer Mary Rodgers, director Jack O'Brien, Bare's Michael Arden (who's on F/X now, supporting Charlie Sheen's "Anger Management"), Claybourne Elder and Melissa van der Schyff from the recently disbanded Bonnie and Clyde gang, Max Casella from the "Newsies" film, Andy Cohen, actress Orfeh, Paper Mill Playhouse's Mark Hoebee, Tony-winning director-choreographers Rob Ashford and Casey Nicholaw, Marilu Henner and her teenage sons, Joey and Nick Lieberman.

Playbill Video visits the first-nighters: