Musical 'Newsies' thrives on second chance 

“Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Flop Disney movie becomes surprise musical hit!” might be the cry of a plucky paperboy about the touring production of “Newsies,” opening this week at the Orpheum Theatre.

Inspired by the New York City newsboys strike of 1899, the 1992 film boasted a score by hit maker Alan Menken (“Little Shop of Horrors,” “The Little Mermaid”) collaborating with lyricist Jack Feldman, and featured a cast led by Christian Bale, Bill Pullman and Ann-Margret. It became one of the lowest earning of Disney’s live-action film canon.

“It was a big failure,” agrees Feldman, who shared a Razzie Award for Worst Original Song with Menken for “Newsies” the same year Menken picked up an Oscar for Best Original Song for “A Whole New World” from “Aladdin.”

“Actually Alan got two Oscars and a Razzie,” recalls Feldman, who was as surprised as anyone when Disney’s theatrical arm put a stage version in motion a few years ago with an eye toward licensing the title for high school productions.

The film ultimately gained popularity thanks to home video and the Internet. “We realized that there was somewhat of a cult following for it. It was becoming one of the most requested titles at the licensing houses,” says Feldman, “and all before there ever was a stage version.”

A limited 2011 engagement was set for New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse.

“It was supposed to be just to get it on its feet, so that when we licensed it we would be confident that we were licensing something that worked. I didn’t even think of the possibility of coming into New York, else why open in New Jersey? If it doesn’t get great reviews, you’re sort of done,” says Feldman.

Revisions by Feldman and Menken included dumping the Razzie winner and expanding or reworking over half the score. Incoming librettist Harvey Fierstein fine-tuned the story and the production garnered reviews good enough to plant Broadway seeds.

Opening in 2012, the production made a Tony-nominated name for Jeremy Jordan, who left within a year to star in NBC’s “Smash.” Among the seven other Tony nominations was a win for Feldman and Menken’s heavily revised score.

“Talk about your dramatic arc,” laughs Feldman. “Going into it, there was no reason to even think about awards. After we were well open, the Tony people did research and they came back and said we qualified.”

Feldman calls his experience with the show “almost too good to be true. It’s a kind of case of, ‘Who’d a thunk that it would get this second chance?’”

IF YOU GO

Newsies

Presented by SHN

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, closes March 15

Tickets: $45 to $150

Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com

About The Author

Robert Sokol

Robert Sokol

Bio:
Robert Sokol is the editor at BAYSTAGES, the creative director at VIA MEDIA, and a lifelong arts supporter. Diva wrangler, cinefiler, and occasional saloon singer, he has been touching showbiz all his life. (So far no restraining orders have been issued!)... more
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