Kenny Ortega, David Moscow and Veterans of "Newsies" Film Reunite at Paper Mill Fan Day
By Michael Gioia
"Fansies," as they are known by the cast and creative team of Paper Mill Playhouse's stage adaptation of Newsies, flooded the lobby of the New Jersey theatre Oct. 2 for a Fan Day event that offered the opportunity to meet the stars and creators of the cult-classic Disney movie at a performance of the world-premiere stage production. Playbill.com was there.
Kenny Ortega, original director and choreographer of the 1992 feature film — not to mention director of Disney's "High School Musical," which was also given a first professional staging at the Paper Mill — reunited with original movie cast members David Sidoni, Arvie Lowe, Jr., Gabriel Damon, David Sheinkopf, Kevin Stea, Shon Greenblatt, Luke Edwards, David Moscow, screenwriter Noni White and lyricist Jack Feldman. The Sunday evening gathering concluded Newsies' first official week at Paper Mill (opening night was Sept. 25).
"I guess it's true that there really is a following for this piece, which is just astounding to me," said lyricist Feldman, as his eyes scanned the massive number of fans crowding both the original and current newsboys. "It wasn't until about ten years ago that we began to realize that there were people who were really enjoying the movie in its second life as a video and DVD. It's still kind of shocking. It's not surprising anymore, but it's still shocking."
However, it was no shock to original movie director Ortega, who acted as the link between the fans, the movie stars and the up-and-coming performers of the stage adaptation. "The movie had a tough opening, but I believed in the movie regardless," Ortega explained to the fans at the pre-show talkback, which featured the two Newsies casts. "I knew that there was something there special, and I'm so thankful that all of you discovered it."
The movie-musical, by screenwriters White and Bob Tzudiker, featuring a score by Academy Award winner Alan Menken and Feldman, stars Christian Bale as street-smart newsboy Jack Kelly and centers around the true story of the newsboys strike of 1899. Although the film was not a hit at the box office, it rapidly gained a cult following and became a Disney classic after its release on VHS and broadcasts on the Disney Channel. Musical numbers including "King of New York," "Santa Fe" and the anthemic "Seize the Day" became favorites, but would only have a life on screen — until now.
In 2010, Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein was enlisted by Disney Theatricals to patch the holes in the story, Menken and Feldman would reunite to elaborate on the pop-rock score, and Tony nominee Jeff Calhoun stepped in to direct the newsboys in their adventures in and around Newsies Square. With major rearrangements to the storyline, fresh choreography by Christopher Gattelli and the addition of a love story, Newsies would "Carry the Banner" to New Jersey for a test that would prefigure the show's expected life as a licensable property for school, stock and amateur markets. (In recent days, there has been talk of a Broadway transfer of the show.) Performances began Sept. 15 at the Paper Mill, in Millburn, NJ.
Between the matinee and evening performances on Oct. 2, the stars and creatives of both versions of the property signed posters, posed for pictures and reminisced about their favorite Newsies memory.
"This is an opportunity to actually see what effect our work has had out there in the world, and it's phenomenal," said Kevin Stea, who played Swifty in the '92 film. "I can't believe how many people have been touched and inspired by Newsies."
Shon Greenblatt, who played Oscar Delancey, added that the work was born to transfer to the stage. "It seems like it is the most natural thing — Alan Menken, Disney… and now Harvey [Fierstein] is involved, so I think it will do great."
Kara Lindsay, who stars as the newly created ingénue Katherine Plumber, admitted, "They are huge celebrities to me — more than Brad Pitt! When you grow up with the film and you idolize these people, they become even bigger in your mind. I think I'm a little nervous, but I hope they are very inviting."
Vincent Agnello, who alternates the role of Les and performed at Fan Day, also shared his thoughts on performing for the movie stars. "It's going to be kind of nerve-wracking because the show is a little bit different from the movie," he said. "I'm curious to see what their reactions are."
To Lindsay's relief, the cast members were more than inviting. Applause erupted before, during and after each musical number that was also seen in the film. Following the curtain call, which immediately received a standing ovation from the packed house, all of the invited movie stars took the stage to join the Newsies for a final bow.
"The new stuff was really neat. I liked a lot of the new songs," the original Davey, David Moscow, told Playbill.com. "Every now and then you would see the film up there. It was like déjà vu. It was so surreal in moments where you are watching from the outside, [remembering] memories that you had 20 years ago. I feel like the movie has such a following because of how much love and talent we put into that first one, and you're seeing it come to fruition 20 years later. I think this is going to go to Broadway... I hope I get invited to the opening."
As for a life on Broadway, the Newsies cast, very much like the character of Katherine Plumber, is eager to "Watch What Happens." If it happens, it would mark the Broadway debut for some of the actors, including leading lady Lindsay. After two consecutive let downs with the Broadway-aimed (but stalled) Lone Star Love and Little House on the Prairie, the actress is not banking on the transfer, but is keeping her fingers crossed — as are the show's other actors.
Ryan Steele, who plays Specs, said, "We're so in the dark, but all of our fingers and toes are crossed. It's going to be hard to say goodbye if there is not future for it. The cast is wonderful. It's one of the only casts that I've been in that I look forward to seeing as soon as I leave. My day off, I miss everyone."
In the meantime, while the musical continues its limited engagement through Oct. 16, with no plans of extending, the cast is just soaking it all in. Cast members said that "Fansies" are coming out from all parts of the world including Hawaii and Canada just to catch a glimpse of the production while they still can. For the Fansies, every performance is Fan Day. Paper Mill artistic director Mark S. Hoebee said that each night is like a "rock concert," and that audience members are "fanatic for the piece."
The cast is all about having fun on and off the stage. Mike Faist, who plays Morris Delancey, said that the newsboys' "camaraderie really shows on stage." Lindsay said that when cast members have down time during their performance, they gather in the wings to watch certain musical numbers, including the "Seize the Day" dance-break and Jeremy Jordan's rendition of "Santa Fe."
Lindsay said, "Usually when you settle into a show you go back to your dressing room and just do your thing, but we are always like, 'I want to watch this today,' and there is a group of us backstage that are just watching."
Up next for Jordan, the show's leading man, is Broadway's upcoming Bonnie & Clyde, where he will step into the role of Clyde Barrow. There is speculation that if Newsies did make the leap to Broadway, it would wait until after Jordan's Bonnie & Clyde contract ends. There is no official Broadway announcement, just high hopes. Or, as Hoebee exclaimed at the musical's Oct. 2 curtain call, "Newsies forever!"
To watch highlights from the show, look below:
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