Newsies: The Broadway Musical was only supposed to run for 105 performances, but with the amazing feedback and love for the show, it was extended to 1,005. Inspired by the Newsboy Strike of 1899, the musical takes place in New York and follows Jack Kelly as he rounds up the newsboy forces to fight for what is right. Disney Theatrical Productions and Fathom Events teamed up to bring this Broadway musical to cinemas around the nation. Filmed on stage at the Pantages Theatre in LA, the production brought together many of the original cast (Jeremy Jordan, Kara Lindsey, Ben Fankhauser, and Andrew Keenan-Bolger), as well as the national tour (Steve Blanchard, Aisha de Haas). Combining the ensembles made it bigger and better than ever before.
There is nothing quite like live theatre. The energy. The constant give and take between the audience and the performers. Sitting in a theatre with hundreds of other people, all revved up to watch magic happen on stage is a unique experience. But when a show is taken, filmed, and put in theatres, a lot of that is lost. You do not get filled with the same tension and wonder that you do when you see a play or musical live. That was an issue with bringing Newsies to theatres. There was a loss of energy exchange between the actors and audience because they were not all in a room together. The performance seemed less charged because of the involvement of a screen.
When the movie first started, it was jarring. There is a difference between acting for the theatre and acting for the screen. In this instance, the audience was seeing theatre acting on the screen. Everything was big: the movements, the expressions, the inflections of voice. Sitting in the audience, I was thinking, “Okay, I can see it. No need to be that big about it.” And that is just the unfortunate occurrence of filming people acting on the stage. But after a little while, the jarring quality of it lessened and the audience was able to accept it as it was and watch without feeling overwhelmed.
Probably my biggest issue with taking the theatre and putting it on screen is that what you are seeing is decided for you. In the theatre you can see the entire stage for the entirety of the show and so you get to pick what you focus on. But, on screen, the camera would focus on certain characters or certain dance moves and you would miss what was happening around them. That was probably where some of the energy was lost. Some of these moments, though, were intensified by being brought into a more intimate light. For instance, the scene where Davey is trying to get Jack to return to the strike, or when Jack was finally winning against Pulitzer. The audience could feel more involved in these moments because the close-ups on the characters allowed for emotion to be seen easily.
But, with the good, there is the bad. Stage fighting does not translate to the screen and personally caused me to be taken out of the moment. During the strike, a fight breaks out between The World employees and police versus the Newsies. There were a lot of fight choreography happening and on the stage, but on the screen, it is easy to tell that the punches are not actually landing.
Despite being on the stage for as many years at it has been, the dancing still holds up. Its intoxicating, high-energy movement was amped up even more for this special production of the show.
The vocal performances were flawless. They were not live but recorded in a studio and then synced to the video. Because of this, I did notice a few syncing problems but overall, it was done very, very well. The singing is incredible and songs like “Seize the Day” and “The World Will Know” makes it hard for the audience not to want to join in the Newsies fight. That aspect of the show is not lost in its change from stage to screen.
Despite the negatives mentioned, there is no way to prevent that from happening when you take a high-energy musical and film it for the screen. Nothing at all was wrong with the performances or the quality. It was all in the overall experience. At the end of the day, the audience in the movie theater was able to see a Broadway musical for $20. That is about a fifth of the price of theatre tickets (for a decent seat) and to many people, much more affordable. I would urge anyone to go see this limited time filmed version of Newsies because the show is wonderful. It is a family. I would say you should go see any sort of event like this, because even if you are missing the live theatre experience, the spectacle is still spectacular.