Newsies—An Oral History: How It All Happened
There was no reason it should have worked—but it did.
The musical adaptation of Newsies was a strange success for everyone involved, from executive to star to swing to usher. Somehow an underdog story of young people, fighting for their rights and livelihood, echoed true for the people behind the scenes who were desperate to share this story with larger audiences. It’s a story that had an emotional moral pull but lacked the familiar conventions of Disney’s proven successes like puppetry and princesses.What followed was a testament to the power of storytelling.
The journey to Newsies on Broadway was a long and winding road. To this day, most involved will tell you they had no idea what was coming next. While the first iteration, a movie musical, came out in 1992, the historically inspired story dates back to 1899 with a real-life group of young newspaper sellers who changed child labor laws in the US. Fast-forward to 2012 and their stories were being told eight times a week on a Broadway stage. Not only was this story being heard; it was selling out too. A regional production moves to Broadway, a limited run gets extended, an extension turns into two years, and it only grows exponentially from there.
Aaron J. Albano (Finch): It was the little show that could, even from its inception, from the movie that flopped, from the show that wasn’t even supposed to go to Broadway. It doesn’t have those aspects that customarily point toward commercial success.
Kara Lindsay (Katherine Plumber): There hadn’t been a Disney on Broadway show like this—without all of the sparkle. With the Newsies [the characters], and their choreography, and the storytelling, it just didn’t need that. Being different is good and that’s what this show is.
Tommy Bracco (Spot Conlon): In a way, it felt like the Newsies in the show were fighting for a place at the table and so were we in real life. The relationship that the Newsies had in the show, that the characters have, was reflective of the relationship that we had as people too. I think that’s why it translated so well on stage, because it was art imitating life.
It seems like pure luck that the little show that could did so at such a shocking rate.
Thanks to the recently adapted Newsies JR. and nearly 2,000 different productions worldwide, this story has become an evergreen, beloved musical. It was a game-changing production, not just for those involved, but for the evolution of American musical theatre and fandom as we once knew it. To celebrate 10 years since the show opened on Broadway, Theatrely spoke with over 50 cast members, creatives, and fans to compile this oral history—an incredible tale about carrying the banner.
Critical Dismay Creates an Obsessed Following
Alan Menken (Composer): The movie was an enormous flop. It did nothing at the box office.
Newsies, also known as The News Boys in the United Kingdom, was released on April 10, 1992. The film starred Christian Bale and Ann-Margret and was directed by Kenny Ortega, his first directing project. It was nominated for five Golden Raspberry Awards (“Razzies”), winning the title of “Worst Original Song” (for “High Times, Hard Times”...which, by the way, didn’t make it into the musical adaptation). The film was released to home video and aired on The Disney Channel, where it reached households nationwide.
Jeremy Jordan (Jack Kelly): I loved that movie as a kid. We had the VHS tape and just tore right through it, I mean, literally just wore it out.
Garett Hawe (Albert): I was completely obsessed with it. I had just started getting into theatre, and it was the first time I saw guys dancing and it was a cool thing. I remember thinking, “That’s what I want to do.”
Jordan: Growing up in Texas, I really liked musicals, but I was never super outward about it. I didn’t feel like I was allowed to have a connection with that art form. This movie really helped blur the lines for me. It was about strong young men, and you could be empowered to still be masculine, but at the same time, sing and dance. That was something that I think that I was looking for permission for at that young age.
Eduardo Castro (Company Manager): I was born and raised in Mexico, so I didn’t get a chance to grow up with [Newsies] as a kid. But I remember on my way to high school, learning about the movie and seeing it. For me it was a different connection. It was at that time when I was really a little bit of an outcast coming from a different country. English was my second language, and somehow, I just related to the film.
Nick Sullivan (Bunsen): I actually remember when I was going to grad school back in the ’90s. Some buddies and I went to the movies to see Glengarry Glen Ross, which is that hard-core Mamet movie. And next to Glengarry Glen Ross, there was a poster for Newsies. I remember all of us thinking, “What the hell is this?”
Sure Hope the Headline’s Hot
Castro: Newsies was not a blockbuster film when it came out. I think we all know that as much as we love Broadway and performing arts, in reality, Broadway is still a for-profit industry. You want to make sure that you have some sort of material or subject that is going to at least have a connection with audiences.
David R. Scott (Director of Theatrical Licensing, Disney Theatrical Productions): The reason that we started the development was because it really was the most requested title that we had received from blind submission. People would write in asking “When is Newsies going to be a musical? When is this going to happen?” The requests were unbelievable.
Lindsay: There were so many illegal productions of Newsies being done all over the place, including my middle school. [laughs]
Menken: A whole generation of kids discovered this movie on VHS and on cable, and they just adopted it. It became a passion thing. I go to my daughters’ [summer] camps and they go, “We want to do Newsies, and we’re transcribing the script and making our own musical out of it.”
Ben Fankhauser (Davey): I definitely did a stage production of it when I was a kid. Probably like 1998 or something like that at summer camp?
Tom Schumacher (President of Disney Theatrical Productions): I do a lot of college speaking, and somebody would always ask in the Q&A, “Why have you not done Newsies on stage?” And I would say, “I am happy to answer that question, but sing me a little bit of ‘Santa Fe’ first.”
Menken: We did a version, first with [writers] Bob [Tzudiker] and Noni [White], and we tried to bring in the turn of the [20th] century and the labor movement and all these themes and it wasn’t really working. We thought, you know, we have to just keep the spirit of the original movie.
Harvey Fierstein (Book Writer): Alan lives over there, out my window, and yet we’d never worked together. So I thought, well, we have to do something together...and I see this poster of Newsies on the wall. He said “Forget about Newsies. We worked on it for almost two years and couldn’t get it to work.” And I said, “I’ll fix it.”
Jack Feldman (Lyricist): When Harvey Fierstein came in to write the book, his ideas were so fresh and made so much sense [for] doing it onstage rather than in a movie. In a movie, you can just show a close-up of somebody and know what they’re feeling. Onstage, that has to be translated into dialogue or song. His ability to craft that and the changes that he made—one of which literally elicited a gasp when it unfolded onstage—made the process so much smoother in terms of adapting.
Menken: I got in touch with Tom Schumacher at Disney. I said, “Harvey Fierstein thinks he knows how to do this.” And next thing you know, we’re working out an arrangement where Harvey is coming aboard to help adapt the book. And it just all came together by really embracing what was strongest about the movie, which was these boys and that energy and that enthusiasm and that idealism.
Fierstein: There’s an energy to that music. You can have a song in a show that picks up people’s spirits, you know, 76 trom-fucking-bones or whatever, you can do that. But this is an entire score that does that to an audience. This is a whole score that lifts you up, and it doesn’t talk down to you. It’s not told from the adults’ point of view. I made sure to tell the story from the kids’ point of view.
Schumacher: Harvey had some incredibly smart ideas about the Katherine character and how to adjust and really structure it as a musical, and he came and pitched them to me.
Fierstein: I said let’s have some role models for our young girls, so that not only boys love this show, maybe a girl might learn to love this show. I came up with the idea of Katherine, which I sort of based on Nellie Bly, a young female reporter. I thought, “Now we’ve got something here.” Now we have two people that are looking to make their lives different, which can work as a motor.
Lindsay: It’s just so genius in the way that he created her. I think he knew we needed a strong woman. Not often do you hear of successful journalists from the turn of the century and even now, women still working so hard to have their voices heard in political places. I think it was really important for audiences to see.
D. Scott: Having that dynamic between Jack and Katherine makes him more human because he has to make choices. Is he moving to Santa Fe? What does he actually stand for? She’s the one that actually asks him that personally.
Lindsay: She had her moments of insecurity as we all do, but she takes things into her own hands and decides to write about the newsboys strike. That’s a really, really big deal. She overcomes all of her own insecurities, and she is able to hone in on her own confidence and her intelligence and know that she has what it takes to make a difference with these boys.
Jordan: I did the very first reading of it, actually. There was no dancing. It was semi-staged, but it was a reading, we had our books, you know? This was two or three years before [the debut run at] Paper Mill Playhouse.
Castro: My first interaction was a workshop in 2010.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Crutchie): I remember our very first day, one of the conductors started teaching us “Carrying the Banner,” basically plunking it out. All of us were singing along, and he’s like, “Do you guys already know this?”
Castro: Everybody felt that this was something special. And for a lot of [the cast], they grew up with the film, so they had this crazy connection to the material. So when they started singing it, for them, it felt like, gosh, I’ve been waiting 10 years to say this.
Keenan-Bolger: They told us upfront that they were not setting their sights on a physical production, that this was mostly for licensing reasons.
Menken: I remember I was doing these stagings of Aladdin in Seattle and thinking, “Oh, poor Newsies, we’re going to do this workshop and I don’t know what’ll happen with it.” But this Newsies was the little engine that could.
Castro: There was just an intangible rush of energy that was happening in that room...it was enough for me to know that this had to have a bigger life. I had a number of conversations with the staff at Disney, like, “Oh my gosh, guess what happened today?” and “This is what it feels like to be in the room.” And Tom [Schumacher] was great. Tom reminded me, you know, when you are in a rehearsal room, and you’re sitting five feet from the cast, and they’re all singing their hearts out, of course you’re going to feel something. But it’s also very difficult to try to figure out if that energy will translate to a larger space. I think Tom was being very smart and trying to connect, and taper down, these ideas of taking this somewhere else because that was really not in the plan.
Schumacher: We knew we had to stage it to know whether we had it right, to determine if it was stageworthy. Because you can’t license a new show without trying it out—you need a director’s guide, etc., for licensing. Which is how it went out to Paper Mill—strictly as a pilot production.
Mark S. Hoebee (Producing Artistic Director, Paper Mill Playhouse): The project came to us in a bit of an odd way. I was working with Disney to secure the rights for High School Musical. During that, they started talking to me about a potential new project. And when they said it was Newsies, did I know what Newsies was? Of course. I had seen the movie many times and just loved the spirit of it.
Jeff Calhoun (Director): When I was invited in to see the reading, I just thought I was being asked as a guest of Tom’s, just to see what his new show was, but when it was over he asked me if I’d be interested in directing it. Even in that early inception, it had such heart and you cared so much about these characters.
Jeff Croiter (Lighting Designer): I think Disney always knew that this was a really great property, that they could license it, and if we collectively did it right at Paper Mill, every high school would want to do this show.
Newsies on a Mission
So where do you go next when you know you can’t follow a previously perfected recipe? Take a chance and cast primarily upcoming actors, many who hadn’t yet made their Broadway—or even stage—debuts. Create a jungle gym-like set, made of three massive steel towers weighing approximately two tons each. And most important, capitalize on a score by one of the greats with some of the most physically demanding choreography of the season. Once you have those, just step back and watch. Twitter interactions and street-filling ticket lotteries will take it from here.
Laurie Veldheer (Hannah): When they announced that they were doing [a musical], I literally said to my agents, “I have to audition for this. I have to be a part of it if I can.”
Caitlyn Caughell (Swing): Even during those early auditions, I just had the sense that I was meant to be a part of this. I’ve never had that experience before, or since.
Fankhauser: I was actually auditioning for another project. I wasn’t their choice for that project, but it happened to be the same casting office that was casting Newsies. And they said, “You know, there’s a part in Newsies that you’d be good for.” It’s like when one door closes, another one opens.
Andy Richardson (Romeo): I was living in San Antonio, Texas, going to high school there. I flew up to audition, and throughout the whole process, I would just travel there and back. I’m very grateful for the help of my elementary school music teacher who let me use some of her miles.
Thayne Jasperson (Darcy): I actually was on the West Side Story tour, and I had heard everybody was auditioning for Newsies. And I was like, “Why am I not auditioning? I need to be in Newsies.”
Ken Cerniglia (Dramaturg): They ended up getting this whole cast of Newsies fans who left Broadway gigs to do this regional theatre show. We had some of the best dancers on Broadway in Newsies because they had to be in the show.
Christopher Gattelli (Choreographer): I did a[n audition] combination that was physical, but I wouldn’t say it was impossible. I put in a double tour, which is a ballet move where you jump and turn twice in the air. I put that in just to see who could do it…these guys just kept coming in and they all could do it. And then they took steps in the combination and did them better, higher…
Brendon Stimson (Oscar Delancey): I think it was 1,300 to 1,500 people auditioning for the tracks of the Newsies. There was a time when it was down to like 60 of us at Ballet Hispánico in this huge, gorgeous dance studio. You could have cast the show over so many times. Everybody in that room absolutely could have done it. I looked around like, “This is the crème de la crème. This is a really, really talented room.”
Gattelli: You could tell they all wanted it so bad. They were just feeding off of each other in the room; the energy was palpable.
Bracco: There were 60 boys in the room learning the dance combo and everyone was incredible...They were looking for 18 people.
Gattelli: They would look at each other and they would think they were great. It kind of had the same effect as when I was watching the movie when I was young. You’re in this room and you’re seeing all of your peers and they’re all just as amazing as the next one. You could feel this energy, like they all surprised themselves in the way they were dancing that day because it was just so electric.
Bracco: I felt like I belonged there, which doesn’t always happen in this industry. A lot of times you get self-conscious and you get worried and feel inadequate. But I was flying high on that day. I felt on top of the world.
Kyle Coffman (Henry): There was so much to learn in a way that it felt like an event just being at rehearsal…There were a lot of dance rehearsals and there was a lot of acting, a lot of singing, and a lot of moving set pieces.
We’ve Got Faith, We’ve Got the Plan
Tobin Ost (Scenic Designer): Tom Schumacher made it clear from the beginning—this show is not a cartoon. It doesn’t fall into the same language as a lot of other Disney shows. It was a film with real actors, so don’t feel like you have to make this look a certain way. Run with it, really go out there on a limb. So for me, I was trying to find the intersection of telling a turn-of-the-century story using that language, but making it feel contemporary and making it feel nimble and work for a modern sensibility. So I built these little towers and took them over to Jeff Calhoun’s and we sat there at his dining room table and moved them around.
Calhoun: And then we had these little people, to scale, that we made out of paper.
Ost: I think it was probably within five to ten minutes, we were like, “This is what it’s going to be like, this really supports the storytelling.”
Schumacher: They came back with the design that we obviously know and love. The problem was it was too expensive for a single production. Even though it looks simple, it’s very complicated in the way it moved. Anne Quart, my brilliant co-producer, said, “Instead of trying to cut the price of the set back, why don’t we just build Tobin’s set, but build it to tour so that we could rent it? It’ll pay for itself within a year and you get the version you want, but it’s also there if we want to go out and tour the show.”
Ost: We wanted the surprises. How can we be smart in the way [the towers] arrange and rearrange themselves? How do the screens come and go so that we’re always looking at something that is cohesive?
Sven Ortel (Projection Designer): The tools that I deal with are inherently modern and can look very digital and technologically advanced. So, one of the challenges was to hide all that and create a world in which the audience doesn’t even notice how it’s done. Integrating the projected imagery into the set in a way that doesn’t draw attention was a great design challenge.
Calhoun: We treated the three towers as if there were three more characters onstage. It was just an exhilarating process, moving everyone around on my kitchen table. So by the time we really got into rehearsal, we knew more than we didn’t know.
Gattelli: It was so amazing to go in with the plan and then build on it. You’re not getting stuck in a room problem solving, you’re getting time in the room creating. And that was the gift. I don’t think we would have gotten what we got out of everyone if we were just kind of figuring it out. We got to really squeeze the juice out of everyone because we went in with a plan.
Ortel: That collaboration…really was incredibly close. Which is how we managed to create a world onstage that looked totally unified, where you didn’t know what was lighting, what was projection, what was scenery. I use it as an example of what is possible when you collaborate that way.
Thomas J. Gates (Production Stage Manager): There was a lot of pre-production as far as how the towers moved and rotated and making sure they weren’t going to collide. I had eight production assistants and we were trying to figure out how they would shift up, and then rotate, and revolve...It’s kind of amazing. We tried to figure all that out as much as we could during the rehearsal process so that tech would be much easier because we had a limited amount of time to make it happen.
Ost: When you’re working with something that is not as traditional as a typical set, you’re really asking and requiring these actors to climb jungle gyms every night…we’d be remiss not to bring them into that process as early as possible. It’s one thing to look at a little model in a rehearsal hall and say, “This is what you’re going to be on.” But to really understand the magnitude of what these are and how they’re going to be used? It meant going and testing it out and getting their eyes on it.
Fankhauser: We had a day before we got into the theatre where we went up to the scene shop in Yonkers. It was this big warehouse and they had our towers there. We had a few hours to get a feel for how they were going to move and how we were going to run up and down stairs while they were spinning or, you know, moving up and downstage.
Stimson: There was definitely a phobia that I had to get over. I’m scared of heights, and I start the show on the top tower, stage left, to meet Specs up there. We went up [to the shop] for a day just to get used to the towers before we went into rehearsals. Now in that place, there’s a very, very high ceiling and there are no stage lights. You see everything. The magic thing about theatre…it’s kind of dark, you don’t really see much. The first time we ran down the towers, just like shaking left to right. I’m thinking, “How are we going to do this?” So that was fun to get over. Repetition after repetition. I mean, we were flying through the towers by previews.
John E. Brady (Wiesel/Mr. Jacobi): We [the Oldsies, who played the adult characters] never saw the choreography as it was happening, because we weren’t in those numbers until the fight scene. So [the Newsies] came in and did “Seize the Day.” My character is on top of the second level of the set for most of that number, so I watched them dancing from above. And that was the moment everybody knew. The entire room, jaws on the floor. And that was the moment I went, wow, this is not just any normal show.
Sullivan: I remember watching the end of [it] when all the towers were there, right before the big dust up. Tears came into my eyes at the end…I don’t think I’ve ever teared up at a dance number. It was just so spectacular. You could feel the electricity.
Brady: And that was the first time I’d heard Jeremy do “Santa Fe.” I wept like a baby. I couldn't believe it. I mean, it was like, “Wow, this is good.”
The Road to New Jersey
Newsies ran at Paper Mill Playhouse from September 25 to October 16, 2011. In a review for the New York Times, David Rooney wrote that the musical “connects with the embattled kid in all of us” and had a “stirring, old-school sincerity that’s hard to resist.”
Hoebee: We had gone through a tough time in 2007-2008 when [Paper Mill] had a financial crisis. I took over the reins shortly after that, and my focus artistically for the theatre was to create a home for intergenerational programming. That’s what we were calling it. You could bring your grandparents and your kids to see at least one or two shows a year and enjoy that kind of family experience…We started talking about Newsies, and I knew we had an audience for the show because we had built that family base. I didn’t know how wild it was going to get.
D. Scott: Once it got to Paper Mill, I basically became a cheerleader who would go to the show as much as possible and just yell at the curtain call, “Bring it to Broadway!”
Kevin Carolan (Roosevelt): People were coming from around the world to come to Paper Mill. This [was] a regional production and they’re from Australia, Japan...I was like, “OK, there’s something big happening here.”
Hoebee: I think everybody hoped that it would be successful here, but no one expected—and people think I’m lying—that it was going to make the leap across the river. That was an important move for the show, but it was also equally as important for Paper Mill. It was a really pivotal moment in Paper Mill’s growth and notoriety as a home for new musicals.
Keenan-Bolger: I knew it was a hit from the dress rehearsal at Paper Mill. I had never been a performer onstage and received that kind of audience response.
Veldheer: A lot of people think we had secret information about our show, but when we were at Paper Mill, we were just at Paper Mill. We really didn’t have any inclination that this show was going to be moving forward.
Albano: After every night, every single person in the vans to go back to New York would all just be silent, on our phones, checking Twitter, and thinking, “What are people saying?” It had never happened before. There was a fan presence where fans were sort of gagging about this regional production in New Jersey. That was the moment that we were like, this could be bigger.
Hawe: We did a Newsies fan day where we dedicated an entire performance at Paper Mill to fans of the original movie. It was insane. I mean, it sold out so fast and the audience reception was out of control. Like a ten-minute standing ovation after “Seize the Day.” We had cast members from the movie come and do a talkback. And we were like, “There’s really something here…this can’t just end.”
Hoebee: It was a wild performance, but at the end, we invited those people onstage to acknowledge them, and it was like a rock concert [with all of the] screaming.
Ryan Breslin (Race): We didn’t want to get our hopes up because we didn’t sign a contract for a regional production and a Broadway production. We signed a contract for a regional production. There could be changes that are made that remove people from the production. There could be a million things that happen.
Man, You Is Major News
October 16, 2011: Newsies at Paper Mill Playhouse closes
Albano: At our closing party in New Jersey, Tom Schumacher announced that we were going to be performing at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And of course, all of us were like, “Yay, wonderful!” Everyone was so excited, but in the back of my head I was like, “Hold on, what’s happening?” In no world is there a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day performance where Disney says, “Hey, look at this show that you just missed that was in New Jersey that you can’t see anymore.”
Lindsay: I did not care why, I was just excited to do it. But my agents were curious. They’re thinking, “Why are we doing this if they’re not going to Broadway, and if they are going to Broadway, will you be a part of it?”
Bracco: Our company manager gave me a call and he said, “Tommy, you’re going to be announcing that Newsies is going to Broadway on The View and you can’t tell anyone.” I took it so seriously. I really didn’t tell a soul, except for my immediate family.
November 16, 2011: Tommy Bracco appears on The View
Fankhauser: A week or two before the parade [and before The View], we had found the website NewsiesTheMusical.com and we were like, “Oh something’s really brewing. This is crazy.” And then the offers came in…it all felt there was no opportunity to really take for granted anything because it was all supposed to be for a short, finite period of time.
Cerniglia: And then it just became a frenzy.
Veldheer: Everything happened really fast.
November 24, 2011: The cast of Newsies perform at The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Castro: When we finally got the opportunity to go on the parade, it was thrilling, because in my heart, I felt this was going to go national. Even for just one number, it was going to be like a train that could not be stopped. I still remember being on the bus with the cast members, going down to Macy’s in Herald Square. We were all young and had that energy that we all knew that this was going to be something. It was palpable.
Breslin: It was like being shot out of a cannon. I don’t think I understood the magnitude of it and that made it easier to have fun and just let loose and experience it.
41st and 7th Avenue
Schumacher: All of a sudden, we’re out in Paper Mill, and we have an opportunity to come to Broadway because Nick Scandalios [Executive Vice President of the Nederlander Organization] has a theatre. And everyone thinks, of course, that we just transferred the show in exactly as it played at Paper Mill. But we radically re-worked it; we reinvented the Medda character and gave her a different song. We wrote a new love song [for Jack and Katherine] and a new song for Pultizer. We changed all the transitions, Chris added more dance. I mean, we did so much to it before it came into the Nederlander.
Castro: We knew that the film had reached a connection with a whole different generation, but it had not really been monetized. The film had not made a lot of money and it had been two decades since it came out. Whether or not someone who loved having their VHS tape, whether or not that person would actually become a ticket buyer, that was still a big question.
Gates: All of a sudden, it just came right up. It was a quick tech, less than two weeks, and then we were right into previews.
Cerniglia: To be at that first preview? At the Nederlander Theatre? It was stunning and I’ve never seen anything like it. There was a five-minute standing ovation at the end of the opening number, people were so friggin’ excited. And the cast was just holding for all this applause. All these Broadway debuts at the same time, half of them were crying, because of the overwhelming experience.
Jasperson: Maybe people were nervous, but I think most of us were all just rambunctious, ready to go, roaring out of the gates. We were all really excited. We felt like a full unit together.
Castro: Early on during [the ticket] lotteries, we had hundreds of people crowded outside on 41st Street. I was at the office, which is right behind the Nederlander and you could hear the cheers.
Jess LeProtto (Buttons): The demand was so intense. And I think Disney might have expected it. But the fact that these fans were here to stay and they were going to see the show endless times? Of course they extended it.
Newsies was scheduled at the Nederlander Theatre for a limited engagement of 101 performances, with previews beginning March 15, 2012.
On March 19, the production was extended, with plans to perform through August.
On May 16, 2012, due to high demand, Newsies officially announced an open-ended run at the Nederlander Theatre.
Jesse White (House Manager): There was a deep well of goodwill for the project. It was just this beautiful thing that had washed ashore and everyone was like, “Wow, look at this!”
Castro: The house crew loved the cast and that made it so much more special. All the ushers that every day had to deal with a lot of fans who were ravenous over at the stage door. It was just unique and it really felt like everybody wanted to be there.
White: One of the strange physical setups of the Nederlander is that there is an alleyway where the stage door is. You have to walk through the theatre to exit and then walk through an alley to get to the stage door. [Historically] it had to do with bringing the horses through. Because of that layout, the performers walk through the house to get out of the building. So the cast members who are leaving are always saying goodbye or goodnight or hello to all the front of house staff. That isn’t always the case. At Newsies, people just had occasion to be friendlier and closer because they saw each other constantly, walking in and walking out. It was nice.
Geoff Quart (Technical Supervisor): Even all the crew that were out on the road [touring] still talk about the show. There was an energy to that show and I couldn’t ever quite place it...that show is a special part of people’s careers.
Choreography That Counts
Jasperson: Newsies was a very hard show to do. I loved it, but we’re leaping and singing high— B flats, A flats, all while you’re doing these jumps and leaps. That was super challenging. And then a lot of tumbling! I came forward in “Seize the Day” and had a little moment where I did a standing back tuck and ripped the newspaper and even some days doing that, I was like, “Can I just do a back handspring walkout instead?” We would try to find alternatives because it was so hard.
LeProtto: There were constant battles about our safety and injury. It came to be an ongoing issue for the sake of sustainability, longevity, and the consistency of doing eight shows a week.
Quart: When the show was conceived at Paper Mill, and then sort of shifted to Broadway, I don’t think anyone really clocked the realities of actually how much dancing and actually how much acrobatics were happening. The injuries were starting to mount up, so we got together with Hudson Scenic Studio and sort of said, “We want to give this a more dancer-friendly deck.”
LeProtto: We were willing to go to the extremes to make that choreography jump. And that’s credit to the dance team, to Chris Gattelli, to Lou Castro [associate choreographer], and everyone else who kept us safe and who kept us so amped up, just to kind of make sure that we did them proud.
Fankhauser: We had a day that we called Circus McGurkus, which was when we all came in and showed Chris [Gattelli] all our tricks. I say we—it was not me. I don’t have any tricks. [laughs]
Gattelli: I’m looking at this group going, “These are our next stars. This is literally the next generation of stars right in this room…I want to tailor this to them.” It was like, “Let me see what you can do,” and they would come out and do certain tricks that they had trained years trying to perfect. I wanted to put that in the DNA of the show so that it was them, so I wove that into the choreography.
Fankhauser: I remember Ryan Steele [who played Specs] messing around on a lunch break doing those iconic figure-skating turns that he did on those papers and Chris happened to see. And he said, “Oop careful because I might just put that in the show,” and wouldn’t you know it…
Coffman: Chris Gattelli was one of the best parts of that whole experience. Even from the very first audition, you could just tell he got the same kind of joy from the material that we did. You could just tell.
Newsies received eight nominations for the 66th Tony Awards. The production won the awards for Best Original Score (Menken and Feldman) and Best Choreography (Gattelli).
Gattelli: Some people joke about this, but I don’t think it’s a joke: it really is an honor just to be nominated, to be recognized by your peers. Sitting in that room with all of those people alone is humbling. To have gone in that year with a show like Newsies was really special because it didn’t matter, win or lose. I really felt that I contributed something to the community. I tried to give back in a way...inspire people the way that I’ve been inspired. I left it all on the floor, so just to really put it all out there and be acknowledged for that was amazing.
Hawe: People always ask me, what was your favorite moment of Newsies? There’s obviously so many, but we were about to perform “Seize the Day” and they did Best Choreography right before. We were huddled in the waiting room and we got to watch [Gattelli] win; there’s a video online where you can see us erupt. Getting to watch him win, I mean, we just have so much love for that man. And then to go out and perform his Tony Award-winning choreography? It’s a very special moment.
Gattelli: I get emotional when I talk about it because I remember mentioning them in my speech and I could hear them cheering backstage. It was so emotional because I knew...it’s not a win for me. It’s a win for all of us...it felt really, really special that they were acknowledged. And then they were about to go out there and do a number, doing what they do. And that alone was just really, really special. They were literally back there when I walked off and that was just, I mean, I can’t even, it’s so hard to describe.
A Shared Experience
Throughout its run, 32 performers made their Broadway debut with Newsies.
Hoebee: They were youngsters. Some of them got their Equity cards here at Paper Mill. In fact, I think some of them were non-union and had to get their Equity card when the show moved to New York. They were just starting out in their career.
Alex Wong (Sniper): I always knew I wanted to do Broadway at some point, but I didn’t think it was going to be at that moment. Newsies kind of fell into my lap.
Mark Aldrich (Seitz): It was such an interesting way for this to begin, because even though some people were at the beginning of their careers, we all experienced it together. We all went through the butterflies of New Jersey, to the wondering moments in between, and then the excitement of the first audiences and the standing ovations. Even though we were all at different places in our careers, it felt like we had bonded through this common experience.
Capathia Jenkins (Medda Larkin): I remember the day we moved into the Nederlander. To see [the Newsies’] faces looking up at the marquee, and walking into the alleyway, and then into the stage door...I could remember my younger self right when I did my first Broadway show and how exciting and scary and exhilarating it all was.
Jordan: When I got this job, [I] was sort of thrust into a leadership position. It’s something that I really tried to take ownership of in a big way because I could immediately feel these guys sort of looking to me not for guidance, but as an example of how to act and how to be…it was only natural because my character was the leader in the show too.
Fankhauser: I myself am a little brother, so that bond with Davey and Les was always really special to me. I think I went through around nine [Les’s] over the years, because after they get tall, it's time for them to go back to school and be a real kid. It was always really fun getting to know those kids and getting to know their interests.
Joshua Colley (Les): I was looking up to these guys who felt a lot older than me, but they didn’t treat me any differently because we were all just this big family...they were all so welcoming of me. It felt like a big age difference then, but now that I’m older, it seems like we’re all the same age.
Hawe: It’s no surprise to me that people have flourished in this sense and have gone on to such incredible careers because it really was just the most hardworking, positive, happy, fun group of people. I’m just so proud of everyone and feel lucky to be included with that group of people still to this day.
Albano: Coming into the show, I definitely was one of the more experienced Newsies in terms of how long [I’d] been in the industry. The whole reason the show works is because it’s a brotherhood, it’s a family. At that point, I thought, if there's anything that I can do to help guide either in life or in this industry, then I’m going to do my best to do that. That is one of my biggest prides. We as a company can be proud of how we have instilled this professional work ethic and etiquette. And now, every time I see or hear about one of the original Newsies cast members working now, I’m proud of what they’re doing. They’ve turned into fine professional, upstanding gentlemen. It takes a village, man.
The world of Newsies has continued to grow, thanks to renewed interest and enthusiasm from fans. Fansies, a nickname for super fans of the property, saw the show time and time again, continuing to drive ticket (and merchandise) sales. Some had been supporters since the ’90s while others just happened to stumble across effective social media marketing. These fans knew every song by heart and made an effort to know each cast member who came into the company. Ask a Fansie who their favorite stage-door security guard was and they probably knew them too. This devoted following, along with a spirited willingness to try something new, encouraged the team behind Newsies to forge a new path for fan engagement on Broadway.
LeProtto: One thing for sure is that you can never underestimate the power of the fans. Generations of people, students and theatre lovers alike, have fallen in love with this show.
Lindsay: We were just so happy that they loved it as much as we did. The Fansies were the reason that we came to Broadway. They were demanding and begging the bigwigs at Disney, saying, “You must bring the show to Broadway.” We were this underdog, and it was their voices that brought us to Broadway, so we were grateful for them. And honestly, it felt like we were all a team because obviously we wanted that, but we could only say so much.
Jenkins: The fans were like nothing I had ever seen or experienced in any other Broadway show.
Coffman: I could easily relate to what they [Fansies] were going through because of how much I loved the original movie. I understood the draw of what makes the music special.
Hawe: I’ll never forget, right before our first preview on Broadway, our company manager sat [the ensemble] down and gave us each a Sharpie with our name on it. He was like, “This is for each of you, when you go out and sign autographs...this show is the Newsies. It’s about you guys. There are people out there who are going to see themselves in each one of you.”
Jack Scott (Swing): Getting to the stage door was just so overwhelming, especially as a swing. It’s a job that you don’t necessarily grow up hearing about so people even knowing my name as someone who was a swing? Or being excited to take a picture with me? It was this amazing feeling that we were all a part of this beautiful thing.
Keenan-Bolger: I do remember someone had me write “Seize the Day” on a piece of paper and then they came back and had a tattoo of it. That was sort of terrifying. It was like, “Oh God, I didn’t know that’s what it was going to be!” [laughs] Whoever that person is, send me an Instagram, do you still have that?
Caughell: On the closing of the show, I received this beautiful scrapbook of photos and notes that all of the Fansies had gotten together and they divvied us up among themselves. It had photos of us with Fansies at the stage door, photos from our social media feeds, and it had specific, thoughtful notes that were written about how much the show had impacted them. That’s something that is unlike any closing gift I’ve ever received.
Breslin: I have a shoebox of memorabilia from the fans that I take with me everywhere. It weighs like 20 pounds. It has an entire notebook of notes and pictures. And honestly, it’s a lot of the memories that I have, like that and the videos that Andrew made are a huge part of my memory.
Calhoun: Every time I would go back to the Nederlander, I would just be so heartened, but surprised, at all the people waiting at the stage door in whatever the weather was. It was my first experience with that kind of passionate fan. And thank God for them. Now I’m sure they existed before Newsies, but back in the day when I was performing, you had fans, but it was very different. Of course, that was prior to social media, which was a whole game changer.
J. Scott: It was this perfect storm where social media was becoming such a tool for people to connect. Especially subcultures of theatre kids and people from small towns, like me, who maybe didn’t necessarily have the same interests as the people in their schools.
Fankhauser: Kids all of a sudden weren’t just fandoms out of their own bedroom. They had a community of people online that they could chat with on the daily. I think Instagram, and social media in general, was really just in its ramp-up.
Greg Josken (Senior Manager, Content Marketing and Community Engagement, Disney Theatrical Productions): I was telling my boss at the time, this is way different than what we’re seeing on other shows right now. And it was great. Everyone [at Disney] really allowed us to lean into the Fansies perspective and really go create things that mattered to them.
Fankhauser: It was not just about doing Newsies, this beloved property; it was about creating an experience that people have been waiting months or years for. When I was a kid growing up in Ohio, I waited after the touring productions that came through my town to meet the actors. I was often the only one, but it was really important to me to get to interact with the actors on that level. That was sacred for me. And to get to pass that down, to keep that interaction going…that was really special.
Breslin: People would tweet at you and you would see it because we’re not celebrities; we’re just normal people who do theatre and have a little bit of reach.
Hawe: I remember one time I tweeted, like, “I would love a bag of Sour Patch Kids” and within 30 minutes, there was a whole box of Sour Patch Kids waiting for me at the station. It was kind of wild.
J. Scott: It created this extreme closeness with our fan base. We would know at least their handles by name backstage and we’d be like, “Did you see what [username] posted today?” Or getting to read different fanfictions. [laughs]
Cerniglia: Using the cast and their relative youth and proficiency with social media, they could start relationships with the fans. Newsies was a big tipping point in really launching fan access to the cast or creatives.
Keenan-Bolger: I had been vlogging since I graduated college with every show that I had done. I didn’t think anyone, especially the higher-ups, were really taking notice. When we were doing the out-of-town [production] of Aladdin, I filmed a random video for my channel that was not branded by the show, or honestly approved, or anything. And I got an email from the marketing people at Disney basically saying, “We love this.”
Josken: I had been familiar with Andrew and his vlog style. We reached out to him and said, “Would you like to create content on behalf of the show?” And that really became the core of our content. I sit here at the New Amsterdam Theatre Office, but I was very aware that I couldn't always get into places cast members were. As soon as I would leave the office, all the cool stuff would happen. I thought, we need boots on the ground. We need someone in the cast who can capture these moments and these stories then turn them into something.
Breslin: I’m so thankful for those videos because they provide me with most of my Newsies memories. Anytime I’m downplaying how much fun that that experience was, if [I] put on those videos, I’m immediately reminded that it was the craziest couple of years.
Breslin: The “Newsies Got Swag” thing. [laughs] I did like a little rap at the end of Paper Mill and I think I was doing a rap during tech? Andrew had the idea to rap over the “Seize the Day” instrumental break. It was also something I didn’t expect to happen because we were using Disney property to make a video. Even though it was under the Newsies umbrella, I just thought, are they even going to go for this? And they did. It was so fun to see the video that we made that day. Just running around Hell’s Kitchen on a day off. We were just having a good time.
Josken: Social at that time was a little bit more like the Wild West. We knew moments like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, opening night, the Tony Awards—of course, we have to share those moments. Then when we got through that first year, that's when it started to become a little bit more about the next level of stories. That really started to be driven by the stories that Andrew was able to tell and we started to spin it back around on the Fansies and they became the story.
Josken: This was something that everybody who touched the production was aware of. To see folks like Alan Menken referring to Fansies was very cool.
Newsies played 1,005 performances at the Nederlander Theatre, closing on August 24, 2014—nearly two years after its original closing date. More than one million people attended the Broadway run before the show began touring the United States.
A Brand-New Century
Albano: I remember writing in a Facebook post, “Am I sad to see this show close? Yes. Am I happy to know that now other people get to experience this show? 100 percent. It’s time for this show to go with other people playing these roles...the power and legacy of Newsies will live in that way.” I was fortunate enough to originate the role of Finch, but Finch has now seen so many people and so many have now made their mark on the guy with the slingshot. He might not even have a slingshot in other productions. [laughs]
D. Scott: Once the show was on Broadway, and even at Paper Mill, people were calling off the hook, asking, “When can we do this?” And I’m so glad that we put out Newsies JR. because the demand for the middle school age group is there too. We started licensing in March 2018, and there’s been over 1,900 productions since we released the title for the amateur market.
Calhoun: To Tom’s credit, he always asked more of [us] to make each incarnation better. Especially for the tour, he said, “Here’s your opportunity to do the definitive production; what did you always want to do?” And that’s when Crutchie got his second song.
D. Scott: Tom, Alan, and Jack did a piece for the American Theatre Wing all about songwriting. In that piece, the exercise that Tom sort of gave to them was: if you had to write an additional song for Newsies, what would it be? They said, “Well, we would write a song for Crutchie.” And they ended up writing “Letter From the Refuge,” a song that was in the tour, and is now in the licensing version…that song wasn’t in the show 10 years ago when it opened on Broadway, but it is part of the creative evolution of Newsies.
Albano: I think as times have progressed and the culture has progressed, everyone wants to feel like they’re a part of the show in the ways that they identify. There is room for that. The Newsies, historically as well as in our show, may have been presented initially as all boys, but that’s not true. There is room for everyone in this show.
D. Scott: My hope is that Newsies continues to inspire all of us—but especially young people—to find their voices, to raise their voices, and to do it through kinship and solidarity. The theme of Newsies, of speaking truth to power and fighting for something that you believe in, is invaluable.
The Newsies North American tour began on October 11, 2014, and played 784 performances in 65 cities, before closing in October of 2016.
In September 2016, the production rehearsed and performed at the Hollywood Pantages in California. The special performance was professionally filmed and later shown in movie theatres nationwide. Once again, the film was intended to be shown only on three different evenings, yet received six total viewings due to high demand. The film is currently available to stream through Disney+.
And the Torch Is Passed
Late in Act 2, as the unionized newsboys share their demands for a fair shake, they are met with a payment compromise, and most important, a seat at the table. In comes Theodore Roosevelt, who shares his hope that the future for the Newsies will be “bright and prosperous.” Maybe it was for the real-life kids selling newspapers, it’s hard to tell, but it has been proven time and time again that those near the show found exactly that. A future that was, and still is, bright and prosperous because they believed that it could be. Careers forged, friendships made, and audiences inspired to tell their own stories. Newsies radicalized an entire young generation of theatre-goers, asking, “What can we accomplish when we stand together?”
Menken: When I look at my career, Newsies occupies a very unique place. It was a live-action movie in the midst of all these animated movie musicals I was working on. It was a new collaboration for me. It’s a vocabulary of music that is hard for me to define, but I know it’s really iconic. So for me, Newsies is a unique jewel in my box of treasures and one that I would feel very incomplete without having. It’s my wild child.
Feldman: From a Razzie to a Tony should be the title of my autobiography.
Calhoun: It was one of the best chapters so far in my life. I feel about it the way I feel about my parents or my husband or a best friend—it’s a relationship you develop. I put Newsies into that kind of a category: a wonderful, successful relationship that I will always cherish.
Richardson: We started when I was 16. I had my 17th birthday in rehearsals...I turned 18 with that show and everybody celebrated with lottery tickets, scratch-offs, and everything. There are times when I think back and I’m just like, “Oh, I was such an awkward little bean,” but I truly could not imagine my life without it.
Brady: I’ve been doing this since I was about 20 and I’m now 60, so for the last 40 years, I have never been in a show where I kept friends. I mean, there are acquaintances I know whom I could text, but the Oldsies still hang out. I talk to these people every day.
Aldrich: I think I’m the only person who did Paper Mill, all of Broadway, and all of the tour. And I did two regional productions of it after that. The first time we did a sing-through of the first regional production I did—which was one of the, if not absolute, first regional productions anywhere—I remember seeing the Newsies with their printed scores, which didn’t exist when we started. I was feeling a real sense of connectedness that I had the tiniest of tiny parts in shaping the story and then putting it out into the world.
Breslin: It’s such a core memory for a theatre when you do Newsies. You can always feel the energy around people when they’re doing it, how excited they are to do it, and how much the show means to them. There’s something so visceral about doing those numbers…it feels really powerful.
Jordan: Everywhere, at any given time, there’s a school, community theatre, or regional theatre doing Newsies. It’s incredible to know that a lot of the things that I did and contributed are what made it into the final piece and made it what it was. There’s definitely a sense of pride and a sense of gratitude.
Coffman: There’s just always a mutual respect from a distance and being able to really bond and really create a magical piece of art. It’s kind of why we do it.
Hawe: It’s so interesting. I’ve done many projects with many Newsies over the years and it takes you right back to that moment. Doing [the] West Side Story [film], we were on set with Steven Spielberg, and it was like, 10 years ago we were doing Newsies together. Look at how far we’ve come and what we’ve all accomplished together.
Carolan: Newsies was one of the most amazing theatrical experiences I’ve ever had in my life. And I’ve had a lot of really amazing experiences, but to feel that? It really felt like we were in the eye of a wonderful hurricane.
Fierstein: The speech that I wrote for Roosevelt to say to the kids, it’s a message I wanted so badly to say. I’m thinking, “Who’s sitting in that audience? I want them to know: this is your world, you take it now.”
Lindsay: I also think it’s so important that we were speaking on an actual historical event in New York City. This isn’t fiction. It felt like we were feeling their victory from so many years ago in the exact city that we were performing in.
Hoebee: A penny or two pennies per paper seems like nothing, right? But it was life and death to these kids and the same to Pulitzer and the newspaper industry. It’s this incredible David-and-Goliath story where you think, “Here are these kids that live on the street and live moment to moment on pennies supporting their families, and they are going up against this giant of media. How are they ever going to win that battle?” They both win because they realize that they need to work together. That kind of joyful message of collaboration and the spirit of finding a way to work together, that just works across time. The same battles and the same conversations and the same arguments and the same fights are happening today.
Cerniglia: It’s just so cool that Newsies is about paradigm shifts. In its stage life, [Newsies] has acted as a catalyst to try new things, to shift the paradigm, just to practice what it preaches. I love that about Newsies.
Special Thanks: Eric Emch, Caley Beretta, James Bruenger-Arreguin, Tori Loepp, Kerry McGrath, Molly Jobe, Lauren Calder, Greg Boilard, Stuart Marland, Ken Cerniglia, Eduardo Castro, Aaron J. Albano, The Nederlander Organization, Disney Theatrical Productions, Paper Mill Playhouse, TOFT.
In honor of the anniversary, members of the Newsies company are currently raising money for Covenant House, an organization that provides shelter and care for young people facing homelessness in 31 cities across the U.S., Canada, and Latin America. Learn more about Covenant House and their Newsies fundraiser here.