|T. Charles Erickson|
"The first thing I learned about producing is that nobody knows nothin'," says Thomas Schumacher with a chuckle. But there are indications that the self-deprecating Disney Theatrical honcho knows at least something: Disney's Tony-winning The Lion King and popular Mary Poppins are still raking in visitors after nearly 15 and 6 years on Broadway, respectively, and this month Schumacher opens his eighth show — an adaptation of the 1992 film musical Newsies. For this project, however, the Disney team has taken a rather unconventional (for them) route to the Rialto.
Newsies proved to be a box office bust when it opened in movie theatres two decades ago, costing Walt Disney Studios about $15 million to produce and grossing less than $3 million. But with a cult following of now-20-and-30-somethings, there seemed to be an unusual demand to give Newsies the full musical-theatre treatment.
"Newsies was originally a stage musical put on film," says Schumacher. "We were discovering that schools were transcribing selections from the Hal Leonard movie songbook and staging versions of the show and posting it on YouTube." In addition, over the years Newsies has become the most-requested title by amateur theatres across the country.
But could Newsies actually work on a stage? Schumacher organized a creative team made up of the movie's original songwriting team, Academy Award winner Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Sister Act) and Jack Feldman. He also brought in Tony-winning actor-writer Harvey Fierstein (La Cage aux Folles) to write the book and Jeff Calhoun (Grease) to stage the final product.
Based on a series of real events, the pro-union tale follows teenager Jack Kelly and his fellow newspaper boys as they revolt against publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst in turn-of-the-20th-century New York City. On film, a young Christian Bale played Kelly; on stage, Bonnie and Clyde's Jeremy Jordan dons the newsboy cap.
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