Brief history: Newsies is released in theaters in 1992, directed by Kenny Ortega and starring Christian Bale. It bombs. Hard. As the years progress, it becomes uber-cult hit. After years of begging and pleading from fans, Disney Theatricals decides to create official stage version that can be used for licensing purposes by schools and community theaters. It premieres at the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey in 2011. It becomes a huge success, critics enjoyed it and fans are going bananas. It leads to the announcement of a limited Broadway run at the Nederlander Theatre in March of 2012. Its success in the limited run leads to the announcement of an open run. The show runs for a little over two years, wins two Tony Awards, recoups its initial investment in the fastest time for a Disney production, and closes in 2014 after 1,005 performances.
Last year, they announced the tour would close, which was a big 'ole bummer. I saw the Broadway production a month before closing and was floored by its pure theater magic. The spectacle of it was breath-taking. I then had the great chance to see the tour, which was equal to the Broadway production. Same set, same Tony Award-winning choreography, same incredible songs and characters. So, when the announcement of closing came, I was bummed, but lucky I had my time with the newsies of NYC in 1899.
Then, the big shock came. Disney would be filming the tour in Los Angeles with the original lead cast members rejoining the cast. They would release it in theaters as a Fathom Event. I freaked out, big time. One more time with the newsboys selling papers?! I am so in! On top of that, we will have a recorded version of the production with the killer original cast (whom I didn't see on Broadway), and will allow the show to live on for eternity. Theater history makes me happy, so this was big.
I had been waiting months to see it, so I had high expectations going in (including this tweet that further made me pumped for what was to come). I was also thrilled to see a large number of people in the theater. I had seen Singing in the Rain at the same theater (also a Fathom Event) in January and it was about half full. I had also seen Moonlight recently and was the only one in the theater. Not with a friend. Just me. So, I wasn't sure turn out wise. Yet, Newsies knows they have a ton of Fansies and packed them in!
Now, the recording was sublime. The performances were the best I had ever seen in the show. Jeremy Jordan, playing Jack Kelly, had the impeccable ability to play big enough for the audience in the theater, while simultaneously give the camera subtle and deep quirks to elevate his performance. It is the stuff of legend. Kara Lindsay, who played Katherine, added some deliciously new and entertaining sarcasm to the role that I hadn't seen before. (Yes, I know she created it, but there's even differences from her on the cast recording and this filmed version. CHILL.) Andrew Keenan-Bolger, as Crutchie, was superb as always. (Side note: If you have kids who enjoy theater, check out his middle-grade book series Jack and Louisa, written by him and Kate Wetherhead, the original Nemo in Finding Nemo: The Musical. They are delightful!)
Ben Cook, as Race, was the stand out for me, as far as someone I didn't expect to steal many scenes. I had seen him previously in the unfortunate flop musical Tuck Everlasting as an ensemble member, but he was phenomenal in a supporting role. Great voice, incredible dancing...SO FUN!
The star of the show, however, was the camera work. I got chills multiple times throughout the show (The climax of "Once and For All" always gets me, even more so on film. The finale of both "Santa Fe" performances, every 40 seconds of everything else...), but the camera work was a key part in the sheer expression of awe I had on my face throughout. I have seen some shows recorded professionally like this before. I grew up and began my love of theater thanks, in part, to the MTV filming of Legally Blonde: The Musical. However, this was like nothing I had ever seen before. They treated it like it was an actual movie. Stunning shots throughout. I can't begin to describe how detailed and how much care they put into this.
Now that we have this stunning piece of work, it brings up the often heard rumor of a full-fledged movie version of the stage show. If it's half as good as this, it will be splendid. I suggest making this ABC's first live musical. They would do so well if they took the time they did with this.
I am still in a state of shock and awe and I am inspired and dumbfounded at how anyone can't like this. Do yourself a favor and get to a theater for one of the next two showings (February 18th and 22nd in select theaters). You will not be sorry. Even if you aren't a Fansie, I promise you'll love it. Seize the day and enjoy! (Also enjoy my favorite Newsies-based video ever.)