Coming Soon: Newsies: The Musical (Papermill Playhouse)

I have a soft spot in my heart for Disney's live action musical Newsies. Deep down, I know it's not a particularly good film. The story is poorly developed and many of the characters are just random. The choreography--while great for storytelling--is rather anachronistic with a story about early 20th Century newsboys. It's a mess, but it has a great score and a kernel of a good story. Disney is about to open a stage production of Newsies at the Papermill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ. The show will feature new music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, as well as all new choreography by Christopher Galleti and a new libretto by Harvey Fierstein. The show is playing fast and loose with the structure of the original film. They've cut horrible characters, expanded smaller roles, and even added new characters that actually fit with the story of the show. Songs are moved around and plot points are eliminated.

While I was excited for the stage adaptation of Newsies, the promotional videos (beyond that one) are giving me pause. The clips of the open press rehearsal are underwhelming. The cast--in street clothes mixed with a few props, hats, and set pieces--seem to be out of sync with what made the film enjoyable in site of all its flaws. The new music arrangements--again, condensed here--aren't thrilling me. I'm not even sure the lead (playing the Christian Bale role) is particularly suited to these songs. He's not quite belting the soaring melody of "Sante Fe" but it's almost all in his chest voice. It just sounds odd. What it feels like is the cast is comprised of highly trained young theater actors who aren't quite getting the pop score style right yet.

The biggest worry to me is the new song the debut in this video for the brand new character. The idea of a female reporter/love interest is a good one. It makes a lot more sense than the mousy little girl in the film and the (mercifully cut) showgirl. It's just that song is a series of puns that don't seem to hit right at all. Maybe they'll still tweak the words a little bit. I'm not holding my breath. We are dealing with people who think eliminating the American Dream/cowboy obsession angle is an improvement.

Here's the thing. I trust Harvey Fierstein. The man is responsible for or has had his fingers heavily in some of the more entertaining musicals of recent memory. He was brought in to fix the book of Hairspray. He wrote the compelling yet ultimately flawed A Catered Affair that honestly just needed some more development before its Broadway run to hammer out the transitions from exposition and commentary to live action. That's not even getting into La Cage aux Folles or Torch Song Trilogy. Some of his ideas are strange on paper and work brilliantly on stage. That could be the case here. The music might not get much better, but the book can and will be improved until Harvey is satisfied.

Any thoughts on the show? I'm going to try and get tickets for this, but I'm not guaranteeing anything. It's only running from 15 September to 16 October and that's right in the middle of me working on a big theater job. Sound off with your own ideas below.

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