Why Disney Decided Newsies Was Ready for the Big Screen

News   Why Disney Decided Newsies Was Ready for the Big Screen After initially resisting the idea of preserving the stage show on film, Disney Theatrical’s Thomas Schumacher realized how to do it right.

Newsies is not just an American story. It’s the story of how Europe and England changed America,” says Disney Theatrical Group President Thomas Schumacher. “They’re all first-generation immigrants.”

The David and Goliath story of a group of ragtag paperboys who go on strike at the turn of the last century returns to the big screen with new resonance when Disney’s Newsies: The Broadway Musical! is screened in cinemas around the U.S. by Fathom Events February 16, 18, and 22.

The original 1992 film musical was not a critical or box office success, but it amassed a dedicated cult following among young viewers who grew up watching it on VHS and DVD.

In the years that followed, theatres across the U.S. regularly inquired about stage rights to the property, and in 2011 they got their wish.

Backstage at the filming of <i>Newsies </i>at Los Angeles’ Pantages Theatre
Backstage at the filming of Newsies at Los Angeles’ Pantages Theatre Courtesy of Disney Theatrical Productions

Disney piloted a stage production of Newsies, which featured a book by Tony winner Harvey Fierstein, direction by Jeff Calhoun, and choreography by Tony Award winner Christopher Gattelli. The production premiered at Paper Mill Playhouse, in Millburn, New Jersey, and was originally intended for release straight into the amateur and professional licensing markets following its run.

Fans flocked to the stage premiere, which was so well received that Disney changed course and swiftly transferred Newsies to Broadway, where it played 1,005 performances before ending its hit run in summer 2014 at the Nederlander Theatre.

Returning to its screen roots, the Newsies phenomenon will now reach a whole new generation in its latest incarnation—a live capture of the Broadway musical that was filmed in Los Angeles during the show’s national tour last September.

Reassembling original Broadway stars Jeremy Jordan, Kara Lindsay, Ben Fankhauser, and Andrew Keenan-Bolger, the filmed production is dazzling, making use of cinematic storytelling techniques to capture the live stage experience, while still delivering something completely new.

Schumacher says he initially resisted the idea of filming Newsies onstage, until he saw the 2014 filmed West End production of Billy Elliot The Musical, which convinced him there was a way to blend live theatre and film. Schumacher tapped Brett Sullivan, who also directed the Billy Elliot live capture, to bring Newsies back to the big screen.

“I wanted to make sure it was great,” Schumacher says. “One of the things that makes Newsies work well in this environment is that it’s a show that does not have a huge fantasy or magic component. Most of our shows in close-up wouldn’t look that great. This wouldn’t work with Lion King or Beauty and the Beast, but when that camera pushes in on Jeremy Jordan, you’ll be moved.”

The show’s message of unity, and rising up to fight for what is right, as the newsies sing, “One for all and all for one,” is something that the creative team touches upon time and again.

Gattelli, who won a Tony Award for the show’s choreography, thinks that audiences in 2017, especially younger viewers, will connect with Newsies in a new way. “I think especially now, it couldn’t be more timely,” he says. “There’s something about this new generation coming up. They are more aware of things. They have access to everything. They know exactly what’s going on in the world. Kids now are just way more aware of life. They all want to fight for what they believe in.”

Calhoun adds, “Americans love an underdog story. So to see these kids on stage triumph over Goliath is beautiful.”

Both Calhoun and Gattelli have their own favorite moments in the production, but there is one they share. “My favorite moment has to be in ‘Seize the Day’ when the boys have scaled the towers, and they all start coming downstage,” Calhoun says. “It’s a perfect marriage between the set, the music, the staging, and the climax of the show.”

“Even though it’s not choreographic, it still a moment that moves me,” Gattelli adds.

Backstage at the filming of <i>Newsies </i>at Los Angeles’ Pantages Theatre
Backstage at the filming of Newsies at Los Angeles’ Pantages Theatre Courtesy of Disney Theatrical Productions

Newsies was a special project for Gattelli, who grew up dancing in a world with very few male role models. “To be a male dancer is a hard thing. There’s a lot more you have to deal with socially, personally. There was something that I wanted to say with the show that would show these boys off, that would say these individual dancers are special, and celebrate how hard they worked to get here.”

Disney’s Newsies: The Broadway Musical! has several treats in store for fans and first-timers.

“We had the great good fortune to get the original principals back for the film,” Schumacher says, adding, “Then we brought in some more of the boys, so we didn’t have to do as much doubling in the film.” That’s right, the cast of dancers was expanded for the live capture.

Also included in the filmed production is “Letter from the Refuge,” a new song for Crutchie (played by Keenan-Bolger) that was added to Newsies when it launched its national tour. For many, it will be the first chance to hear the song, which is not included on the show’s original Broadway cast album.

“It’s a culmination of a lot of artists at the top of their game,” Calhoun says of Newsies and the work the team preserved on film. He adds, “I love the curtain call when I get to see each of our cast members taking the bow that they deserve because each time one of them bows, I remember their audition and how it began.”

Click here for showtimes, locations and tickets to Disney’s Newsies: The Broadway Musical!

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