By now, the story of Newsies is Disney folklore. Kenny Ortega’s directing debut was this 1992 movie musical depicting the newsboy strike of 1899 in New York City. There was dancing, there was singing, there was Ann-Margaret, for some reason. The film had a budget of $15 million and made less than a fifth of that at the box office. It is highly regarded as one of the most notorious movie flops of all-time, Disney or otherwise.
Then, something weird happened. It was released on VHS, and from there, its cult status was born. Newsies’ fan base is rabid and large. They made the film into one of Disney’s most highly regarded musicals even though it was a complete and total bomb. So, after requests from hundreds of thousands, Disney Theatricals decided to bring the cult film to the stage. Their plan was simple, they put up the show at the Papermill Playhouse in beautiful Millburn, NJ (Thomas Schumacher has joked that they did the production there as it was the shortest drive possible from the city) for strictly licensing purposes. They’d do an initial production, make it available for regional productions and high schools, then profit off the licensing.
And yet, because the story of Newsies is bizarre, it was crazy successful at Papermill and the reviews were good enough to warrant a move to Broadway, but just for a limited run. BUT THEN, it was so successful on Broadway that it ran for over two years, 1005 performances, and was the fastest Disney production on Broadway to recoup its initial investment. Oh, and picked up two Tony Awards along the way. It closed in August of 2014 to move right into a National Tour that was also crazy successful, going to 65 cities and having over 700 performances. The success of both led to this year’s Newsies Fathom Event in theaters, breaking records and warranting a special encore presentation only a few weeks later.
I have seen the stage production once on Broadway, once on tour, and once on screen. It never gets old. The energy in a Newsies audience is unmatched by any other. The show has taken the theatre and musical worlds by storm and has now become a classic musical. It really shows how a bad box office doesn’t mean the end of something, as this film has become, arguably, one of Disney strongest franchises.
Disney has also taken Newsies and tried to incorporate it into other aspects of the company. The Festival of Fantasy parade has costumes for the Lost Boys inspired by the film. The Red Car News Boy show at California Adventure is the most Newsies thing in the world that isn’t flat out called Newsies. Disney has finally grown to appreciate its failure and allowed it to work its way into all branches of the company.
On this 25th anniversary of the film’s initial release, the property has never been more popular. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear of a Newsies remake film being announced using the score and book from the stage musical. With the right cast, it would be money-making machine. I am a proud member of the Fansies and salute Newsies. Here’s to carrying the banner for another 25 years!
(P.S. I’m including this video again, because I laugh at it every time.)
Here is a 1992 interview with the cast from GMA: