Toon Talk: Newsies
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So it was with great joy that I watched this DVD (a special collector's edition that would not have been done without Newsies' obvious enduring appeal), reliving the memories of this largely-unsung musical underdog. Presented in widescreen format from a pristine, crisp print that puts the VHS version to shame, this high-quality disc is packed with extras that delve deep into the making of this 'labor of love'.
While watching, I was struck by how the evolution of Newsies, from production to the actual film to it's fan-based longevity, consistently repeated the same theme along it's path. From it's gestation from a simple blurb in a history book into an idea for a movie that had everyone involved in making it committing to it with such passion, to the plot of the film itself, wherein a small group of misfit street children were able to bring the mighty of New York to their knees, to that one Newsies fan long ago who told a friend that "they've gotta see this movie!", thereby setting in motion a word-of-mouth popularity juggernaut that continues to this day.
It is that 'indomitable spirit' that made Newsies to begin with, that pervades Newsies the movie throughout through song, dance and story, and that has generated such overwhelming enthusiasm by it's fans for this "little movie musical that could".
David Jacobs (David Moscow, center) and the newsboys sing "The World Will Know".
DVD Bonus Features
Provided by director/co-choreographer Kenny Ortega, producer Michael Finnell, screenwriters Bob Tzudiker and Noni White and co-choreographer Peggy Holmes, this is where the love begins. In their overwhelming praise for all involved with the film , it's not hard to see how much they cared for this project. For example, discussing the "King of New York" scene, you can hear it in their voices how proud they are of their newsies, most of whom had never even seen a movie musical, let alone sung or danced before. Far from an over-the-top "we're all wonderful!" love fest, the commentary reveals the inside scoop on the making and history of Newsies, such as ...
The Top Then Things We Learn From This Commentary:
A lot of the real newsies who participated in the strike went on to Hollywood and became movie moguls. Some of the characters in the film were named after the actual newsboys.
There were girl newsies at the time as well, and one was in the script at one point, but she was eventually cut.
The film was not a musical at first, but a drama. When it was decided to turn it into a musical, composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman had only four months to write all the songs.
"The World Will Know" and "King of New York" (which was amazingly shot in one day!) were musical numbers added after the film began production. They were inserted to help musicalize some of the action in the story.
The first cut of the film was three hours long. Some cuts were necessary, including a complete version of Ann-Margret's song, "Lovey Dovey Baby", which can be heard on the soundtrack. (Unfortunately, unlike Ortega's hope in the commentary, no deleted scenes are included on this disc.)
Most of the exterior shots for the film were done on the Universal backlot, with additional work at Warners and Disney. Pulitzer's offices were filmed in a real mansion in Pasadena, and Medda's theater was a refurbished movie house in Los Angeles.
The producers got a call during filming from Steven Spielberg: he wanted Luke Edwards (Les Jacobs) for a key role in his movie Hook. They graciously declined.
Ironically, due to cost-consciousness, several methods used to create the classic musicals of the past were employed while making Newsies, including matte paintings and Moviolas.
Ele Keats' Sarah Jacobs (the film's 'Juliet') originally had a musical number, but with the exception of Ann-Margret's Medda, the songs ended up mostly for the boys.
The original ending had Christian Bale's jack departing with Teddy Roosevelt in a steam train, but budget issues warranted the simpler finale in the final version.
There is a factual error in the commentary: Max Casella (Racetrack) was not nominated for a Tony Award for his role as Timon in Broadway's The Lion King.