On Stage: 'Newsies' Stops the Presses!

Published: Wednesday, April 17, 2019 By: Bruce Apar Source: TAP into Somers

There’s good news for Disney fans, musical theater fans, and just plain family-fun fans, at Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford. It’s “Newsies.” It’s there through May 26. And it’s well worth your pennies. (Well, that’s what newspapers cost in 1899, when this fact-based story takes place.)

In its original incarnation as a 1992 live-action movie musical, “Newsies” didn’t exactly stop the presses with movie critics or the movie-going public. The reviews read more like obituaries. But leave it to Disney’s ingenious imagineers (that’s a real word, coined by the Mouse House) to resurrect “Newsies” as a buoyant stage musical that has won a cult-like following.

In its heyday on Broadway, “Newsies” won the top theater awards (Tony and Drama Desk) for its thrilling, acrobatic choreography, as well as for its infectious score, with music by Disney veteran Alan Menken (“Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast”) and lyrics by Jack Feldman (whom, apropos of nothing, I remember as a classmate at Syracuse University). Fun fact: Jack wrote the lyrics for Barry Manilow’s conga-size hit, “Copacabana.”

Beyond the consistently enjoyable music, which is by turns triumphant and tantalizing, there is the superb book by Broadway master Harvey Fierstein. The storyline in many a musical—especially of the modern era—is often its weakest link. In “Newsies,” we instantly become enmeshed in the compelling, mostly true tale of newsboys at the turn of the 20th century. They were pavement-pounding entrepreneurs eking out a subsistence.

In the slanguage of the day, they were called “newsies,” and they called the product they hawked “the papes.” In a real sense, they were the original dead end kids, to recall an enduring Hollywood acting ensemble of the 1930s-50s (later branded The Eastside Kids and The Bowery Boys).