It seems tough enough for a well-regarded film to make the successful transition from screen to stage. If you need evidence, take a look at the legendary flop musical version of “Gone with the Wind,” or the currently running Broadway production of “Ghost,” which has received less-than-positive reviews.
So the odds of a movie that was a flop being turned into a Broadway success? Many would say slim to none.
But the newsies – the young boys that sold newspapers back in the day – beat the odds once when they got newspaper titans to buy back their unsold papers in 1899, and it seems to be happening again with their musical on Broadway, “Newsies,” which is based off the 1992 critically savaged movie and which was nominated for 8 Tony Awards yesterday.
I’d seen the movie and, while I admit that some aspects of it are less than great, loved many of the songs in the film. (The movie also features Christian “Batman” Bale as teenage strike leader Jack Kelly, dancing and singing with a Brooklyn accent.) So I was glad to hear that it was making its way to the stage, happy when it got good reviews, and even more excited when I got to go see it at the Nederlander Theatre on Broadway.
Anyone who’s been to a stage show knows the etiquette. People sometimes applaud after the overture, applaud quietly after songs and dance numbers, and, if they’re really thrilled, stand up for a standing ovation at the end of the show.
So I was completely unprepared for the “Newsies” audience when I saw the show this weekend. I was sitting in the balcony, with people of various ages and genders around me, and with the clock having struck 8 p.m., the lights went down in the theater, as they will do when the show’s about to start.
And people started to scream. Nothing had happened yet, mind you. No one was on stage. People were THAT excited to see this show that the mere suggestion it was about to start prompted yells like we were at a Jonas Brothers concert.
It continued, too, throughout the show, which follows the teenage – and younger – newsboys who work for Joseph Pulitzer (John Dossett) who are aghast to find one morning that big bad Joe has raised the prices they have to pay to buy papers to sell to customers. Charismatic Jack Kelly (Jeremy Jordan), a newsie with a mysterious past who dreams of going to live in Santa Fe, manages to rally them together to stand up against some of the most powerful men in the city. The events are based on a real strike.
And in the show, after almost every number -- certainly every one that involved the ensemble of newsboys -- the screaming and applauding would go on for so long that after a while, the orchestra would start up, because I’m sure there was a tech crew backstage freaking out over the run time.
Not that the show didn’t justify some of the screaming. The stage adaptation (the book for which was written by Broadway vet Harvey Fierstein) drops the less useful subplots and characters, like newsie David’s sister, and adds in a firecracker of a character in intrepid female reporter Katherine, who replaces Bill Pullman’s role in the film version as the journalist who stumbles on the David and Goliath story of children taking on the newspaper titans. And the show keeps the movie’s strongest songs, including Jack Kelly’s song about his dream, “Santa Fe,” and the rallying strike songs, including “The World Will Know” and “Once And For All.”
And the dancing was phenomenal. The newsboys ensemble – and sometimes reporter Katherine – all participated in multiple large dance numbers with flips, other gymnastic moves, and one great trick involving dancing on newspapers.
Actor Jeremy Jordan was recently seen onscreen in the Queen Latifah-Dolly Parton movie “Joyful Noise,” about a choir entering a national competition, and he knocks it out of the park as Jack, with a great voice that justified “Santa Fe” being the act-one closer.
There were a couple of unnecessary numbers – “The Bottom Line,” Pulitzer’s villain song, could have been cut for a scene that’s already a little too long. And the subplot of Jack’s singer friend Medda Larkin, who gets a song of her own, still doesn’t seem to figure much into the main plot. But a new song added for Katherine, “Watch What Happens,” was pretty and gave her something to do as the female lead, and “Watch” blended seamlessly with the rest of the songs.
The screaming at curtain call, by the way, was even louder than before.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.