Saturday, March 4, 2017

Newsies: History vs. The Experience

{Beware of mild spoilers, folks.}

"In 1899, the streets of New York City echoed with the voices of newsies. Peddlin' the newspapers of Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, and other giants of the newspaper world. On every corner, you saw 'em carrying the banner... bringing you the news for a penny a pape..."
Okay, so we're almost all familiar with the fictionalized versions out there. But what was the real story behind the newsboys strike? What names will be familiar to us, and which won't be? Is it as empowering and heartbreaking as the film and Broadway show we've come to love so much? And how do those two things measure up... to history, and each other?

The Story Behind the Story

According to the film's special features (and several online sources), the whole thing really began a year or so earlier... with the Spanish-American War.

The price that the boys paid for their papers was raised, but since there were so many editions every day (new editions came every time there was new news), they didn't really care. After the war, however, was a different story. Most of the papers lowered the prices, but the two largest (Pulitzer's The New York World, and Hearst's The New York Journal) didn't. With circulation down and the papers going back to only two or three editions a day, the newsies really began to feel the pinch. Remember, most of these kids were poor, lived on the streets, and sold papers all day long. (Though, contrary to popular belief, a lot of them also had families and would only sell papers after a long day at school.) Their biggest issue with the people in charge was that they had to "eat" the papers they couldn't sell (aka absorb the loss) because the distribution centers would not buy them back. For the poorest of them, this was a huge deal because they depended on every cent to survive.

One day, a group that got their papers from a guy in a wagon on the bridge found out that he had been cheating them. And that was the last straw... they tipped over his wagon, and that incident sparked what became a citywide strike. Two weeks later... (This section contains spoilers for those who haven't seen the musical, highlight to read.)what ended up happening is that the strike ended in a compromise. The price would stay the same (60 cents per hundred papes), but the distribution centers would buy back every single unsold paper. Seeing as that was their biggest issue anyway, they took the deal and went back to work. So, I suppose in a sense they won? It was definitely the most successful newsboy strike in history because they used a union structure. And that's the gist of the real story. There are lots of interesting tidbits, especially about the boys, that I have left out to keep this as short as possible. But you can read about all of this in many places on the web (such as here), and in books. Good luck, and have fun!

As for the boys, I think that although a few of the leaders are unknown to you, you might recognize one name if you've seen the original film... Kid Blink. And as for other familiar names? Yes, Racetrack Higgins, Crutch (basically, Crutchie) Morris, Mush Meyers, Boots... and for all I know, a few others were real. Spot Conlon was real too, though I'm unsure if he was actually a newsie or not.

The ones that we've come to love that are fictional include: Jack Kelly (though he's probably a composite character based on a few real boys) and David and Les Jacobs.

The Film and Broadway Adaptations

Andrea's Thoughts

Although the film came out when I was eight years old, I didn't see it until I was around seventeen and a junior in high school. A lifelong musical theatre nerd, who had loved studying history since starting school, I completely fell in love with it that day in the choir room. I guess having the lead (Jack) be my age didn't hurt either. One likes being understood at that age. ;) I was inspired and began a fan fiction for it that nobody but myself has ever seen. At any rate, a deep longing for a stage version to exist (and for me to be involved) took hold.

one of my senior photos (taken junior year)
Ten or so years later, I learned there was finally to be one but was nervous to learn that they had changed quite a bit. Would I still like it? Three or four years go by, and I learn that the answer is a resounding yes, it was totally worth the wait! This may sound odd coming from the girl who had loved the film for fifteen years by this point, but I think I prefer the stage version! Alright, I'm getting ahead of myself. Short version is, I have a wonderful sister, with a fabulous ability to guess just what I would want whenever she buys me a present. The end of 2015 rolled around, and suddenly the two of us had tickets to the most anticipated show of the season at our local professional theatre. We went on its first night, January 19th, 2016, and I was ecstatic to finally be seeing it live on stage! She thought me crazy though, when before we even sat down, I exclaimed, "I want to come back!"

Admittedly, it was a bit weird, constantly comparing the two mediums in my head as we watched. But seeing it in this fresh new way rekindled my love for it, if that makes sense. Turns out, once I got used to them, the changes didn't bother me at all. And a week later on the 28th and 31st, I actually did get to go again! The final time being on its last day here, which also happened to be Ben Cook's last day as a newsie. It still feels surreal a year later that I got to go to the stage door afterwards those final two times. In part, because I got to meet him (His character, Race, has long been my favorite) and wish him the best on his adventure with (the sadly short-lived) Tuck Everlasting! (In which, he was the understudy for another former newsie: Andrew Keenan-Bolger!)

Best portrayal of Racer, ever, by: this kid!
That summer, I learned that a performance would be filmed in September, a month before the tour would close for good. Filmed, guys! And, as you by now probably know, they showed it recently, on February 16th, 18th, and 22nd, 2017 in the USA. And starting on the 19th, it began to be shown worldwide. On the 23rd, it was announced that it had broken records and they were adding an encore showing in the States on March 4th! Sadly, a prior planned family commitment kept me away today. But at least I got to go on the 16th and 22nd! (I tried on the 18th, but it was sold out.) What do you mean, that's overkill? That's not possible when it comes to my newsies! Besides, just in my first week of owning the VHS of the original in high school, I saw more than I have of this altogether! I think we're good. :P

Before we move on, I wanted to say this: things have now come full circle. By which I mean that the rest of us who grew up with it (not unlike the famous Jeremy Jordan, who originated Jack on Broadway) finally have a shot to fulfill our dreams at becoming a newsie (or reporter, or Medda, or whoever). Because, you see, the whole reason the stage version was formed originally was so that the fans who had been clamoring for one to exist could be able to perform it. And when it became what it did, the people involved were a bit in shock, I'd imagine. Anyway, now that the tour has ended, that is finally happening! In fact, I'm giddy, because a local professional outdoor theatre is performing it in August. And you can bet I'll be there as much as I can during that week! Hopefully, I'll even get my own chance, someday!

What I love best about the 1992 film: Probably that it started me on this journey. I would never have known this fascinating incident in history without it because it wasn't in the history books my teachers used! Also, how can you not love those personalities? Also, the quotes, man... the quotes.

What I love best about the Broadway/Tour version(s): That they changed the ending to be more historically accurate. (Though a certain politician never actually helped in real life. Ahem.)

I also loved the added depth for characters like Jack Kelly and Crutchie (who, thanks to Zachary Sayle's portrayal, is now tied for the spot of my favorite), mourned the downsizing of Spot's characterization, and laughed as always at Race. I saw part of myself in new character Katherine (can I be like her someday?) and was generally just blown away by the whole thing. And the music, I especially loved that part. The new songs were brilliant in a way that I can't explain and fit the story so well. And the new lyrics mixed into the old familiar songs made them ten times better!

What I love best about the filmed performance: That I got to see everything as if I had a front row seat or was sitting on the stage! As much as I love the energy of seeing a show live, I'm usually sad that I miss all the subtle and minute things because I'm sitting far away. Here, I didn't have to miss those things! Is it possible that I could have fallen more in love with it? Because I think I have!

And I was ecstatic that they brought back so many cast members from the show's history to make one epic night happen and be immortalized. (Please, please, put it on DVD someday so I can watch this at home!) Seriously, there were people from almost every stage of it up there on that screen! When the credits were rolling during curtain call, I was holding back tears and screams of glee as I recognized name after name. Sure, there were some I missed terribly because they couldn't be included in this project for whatever reasons. But overall, I'm in heaven, guys.

Random Observations:

The Broadway version (filmed or live) reignited the spark to want to make a difference. I mean, these young people had the courage to stand up and not back down when up against the city's most powerful and influential men in order to bring about change in their lives. And they did it in a time without internet, folks. If one city could be brought to its knees by a bunch of kids in that era, what change could we bring about today when we do have that technology? Our communities and the world need us to start stepping up too. Lots of things need change, and we've all got to start somewhere.

We all have unique gifts to use in making this world better. One of mine is writing, and hopefully I can take the lessons from them to heart and make a difference with my words. And I will continue to spread their story, in hopes that someone else's heart will be inspired too. Thanks for reading!

Bethany's Thoughts

I first stumbled upon Newsies years ago when it was simply a debated cult film. Although some found it to be lacking in quality, I adored it. I became so obsessed with the story of poor newsboys trying to make a living that I wrote several stories of my own about it during the height of my fanfiction writing phase. I rarely (if ever) write fanfiction now, but one thing has never changed, and that is my love for Newsies.

I was still slamming the keyboard with tales of the film newsies I loved when I learned that a stage musical was being developed. I definitely got super excited and watched videos and anticipated the show going to Broadway. Then it did! I remember being disappointed to hear that some of my favorite Newsies like Mush and Kid Blink were being taken out or their parts minimalized, but I had no idea how much I would later love it. I also was a little iffy that they made some major changes. Sarah and Denton, characters from the film, were completely omitted, replaced by female reporter Katherine. I had no idea how much I would enjoy this character until later.

I created a goal for myself. I was such a big Newsies fan that I wanted to see it on Broadway with the original Broadway cast. I had to make it happen. Funny how our plans never seem to go the way we think they should, right? I didn’t see the Broadway cast. In fact, I still haven’t seen a Broadway cast of anything, which makes me so sad, especially since I’m a theatre major. I remember the swelling disappointment I felt upon hearing that one of the original cast members was leaving the show.

Even though I never got to see the original Broadway cast and the show is now closed, I still held a dream of seeing it close to me. If I could make it happen… that would be a wonderful thing. When the show went on tour my fangirl heart looked at the dates it would be coming closest to me, and I dared to hope. I probably prayed, too. I’ve never had a lot of money, but surely I could see this show that I loved so much that I had seen developed from history to film to stage. It didn’t seem likely.

One day I received a message from my friend’s mom. For my friend’s birthday, her mother wanted to surprise her with tickets to see Newsies, and as her friends, she wanted my brother and I to go as well. Suddenly I had a palpable reason to go, not just for my own pleasure, but to make my friend’s night even greater. So we bought tickets.

I don’t know how to tell you about the joy I felt that night. This was around November of 2015, a fact that seems crazy to me now. I was so thrilled I had my brother take a photo of me with the marquee in the background.

We had seats pretty high up in the grand tier, but I didn’t care. Being there was all that mattered. During the production, I think I must have had chills. The voices were gorgeous, the dancing was phenomenal, and the acting wonderful. Though I really liked Jeremy Jordan’s voice on the original Broadway cast recording, I fell in love with Joey Barreiro’s Jack Kelly. Seeing one of my favorite musical films come to life was a dream come true, and I’m pretty sure I cried tears of joy. I loved every minute. Seeing the show live actually made one of the lesser-known songs of the show, “Brooklyn’s Here” become one of my favorites thanks to the acting and chilling (in a good way) harmonies.

I was floating on air, and after the show I got to meet two cast members! Since it was a matinee, or afternoon showing, many of the leads didn’t come out, but the entire cast was so hugely talented that it was okay. Here is a photo of me and the fabulous Stephen Hernandez (left) and Chaz Wolcott (right).

Seeing the show once was amazing. I wasn't able to see it more, but I would have loved to. Newsies is a beautiful story, and if you haven't gotten to know it yet, you definitely should! I hope you got the chance to see the film version that was in theaters, and if not, we can all hope for a release date outside of theaters. Carry the banner!

Sky's Thoughts

I first heard of Newsies quite a few years ago when my friend Pippin showed me the movie. I enjoyed it at the time, but as the years passed, I kind of forgot about it, sadly. Fast forward a few years later when another friend, Gianna, asked if I wanted to join a group of her friends to go see the Broadway tour of Newsies at a discounted price. Of course, I agreed. I didn’t know much about Newsies, but you don’t get a chance to see Broadway every day! After I spent the money, I worried a bit about whether I would enjoy it or not because I wasn't an absolutely huge fan at the time, but I can definitely say I'm a fan now! Hindsight is 20/20, and I’m 110% glad that I got a chance to see this musical. There’s nothing quite as magical as live musical theater, and Newsies itself is definitely something to behold. It’s an inspiring experience to watch the boys of New York overcome their differences and their struggles, and it’s something I think we can all learn from. There’s also something to be said about seeing it live. I’ve seen the movie, of course, and I’ve seen televised musical performances of other musicals, but watching the story unfold in front of you? That’s something else entirely. I may or may not be hooked on that concept and experience now. I can’t wait to see other musicals if the opportunity presents itself.

The musical itself was just amazing. It had such solid performances. I especially loved Jack Kelly, Katherine, and Crutchie. Medda was such an amusing character and definitely a highlight. Another highlight was the sets! The moving staircase was absolutely incredible. Another favorite of mine was the star backdrops. Speaking of, my favorite scene/song was “Something to Believe In,” though I greatly enjoyed Crutchie’s solo, “Seize the Day” and “The World Will Know” and all the ensemble moments. The dancing was incredible. I couldn’t get enough. Honestly? Everything was awesome. I loved it all.

Of course, the experience is best because of the people you share it with, and I’m grateful I got to see Newsies with Gianna. We had an adventure from the very moment our tires hit the road.

One of my favorite moments of the night was being in the city. We parked on the rooftop of the theater, and we were still on a high from seeing the show when we went out to the car after the musical, so seeing the lights of the city was just pure magic.

Everything about this night will go down in my mind as beautiful, exciting, and such an adventure. I’m grateful I got the chance to have this experience. More than that, I’m incredibly grateful I took the chance to seize the day!

Alright, you've heard our fansie stories! Now we want to hear yours, so leave us a comment below!


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