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Theatre / Newsies

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Now is the time to seize the day!

"There's change comin' once and for all, you makes the front page, and man, you is major news. Tomorrow they'll see who we are, and sure as a star, we ain't come this far to lose!"

Newsies is a 2012 stage musical produced by Disney. It is an adaptation of the critically-panned but beloved 1992 film that follows the story of a group of newsboys in New York City in 1899, who strike against the city's biggest newspapers and their publishers after the price of newspapers goes up. Led by Jack Kelly, a charismatic and brash 17-year-old with a hidden soft side, the boys fight to expand their movement with the help of a Katherine Plumber, a young, ambitious reporter. Even as he leads the striking newsboys alongside new friend Davey Jacobs, Jack longs to escape the weary life of industrial New York and dreams of the broad horizons of Santa Fe...

With an expanded score by original songwriters Alan Menken and Jack Feldman and a book by Harvey Fierstein, the production initially began as a regional production at the Papermill Playhouse, intended solely to polish the material and give it prestige for purposes of licensing for high school and regional productions. Instead, fan and critical response was positive enough to convince Disney to move it to Broadway for a limited run, which, following a wave of enthusiasm and positive press, turned into an open-ended run of over 1,000 performances. It garnered several Tony nominations and won two, for Best Original Score (Menken's first Tony) and Best Choreography.

Unlike most Broadway musicals adapted from Disney movies, Disney actually filmed Newsies for posterity, in 2016. This recording received a limited run in movie theaters, followed by digital distribution and streaming releases.

This musical provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Jack has a lot more angst over Crutchie getting captured and injured than he does in the movie.
  • Adaptational Wimp: The Brooklyn newsies don't carry slingshots or participate in any fights like their film counterparts.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Jack's brief time as a scab is tied in better to the plot, by making him realize how important he is to the strike as a leader everyone else can get behind.
  • Adults Are Useless: Unless one counts Katherine (who is barely older than the newsboys herself), the bulk of the work is done by the pre-teen and teenaged newsies themselves.
    • Downplayed. Some nuns give the boys free drinks; Mr. Jacobi lets them stay at his deli; Medda allows them to hide in her theater and use it to host their rally. She also offers to pay Jack for his paintings; and finally, Theodore Roosevelt shows up in full support of the newsboys and has Snyder arrested for abusing juvenile inmates. Even then, some Newsies express their exasperation:
      Finch: "Why do old people talk?"
      Race: "To prove they're still alive."
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Jack and Katherine have this from almost the moment they first meet in the show, their first kiss is in the middle of a shouting match.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Jack landed himself in juvie trying to provide food and clothes for his fellow newsboys.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Katherine gets a beautiful one when Jack continues their argument after they kiss.
    Katherine: Now would be a good time for you to shut up!
  • BSoD Song: The stage musical's version of "Santa Fe" might be this given that Jack is flipping out with guilt and angst over Crutchie being beaten up and arrested.
  • The Cavalry: Thrice.
    • Subverted by the police in the first riot: Romeo thinks they're there to help them, until the cop whacks him in the face.
    • Subverted again by the Brooklyn newsies. They arrive as reinforcements so late in Act 2 that they don't get to do anything heroic.
    • Played straight with Governor Roosevelt, who shows up to ensure that Pulitzer doesn't try to cheap out the newsies.
  • Character Development: Davey goes from being reluctant to join the strike to being one of its most ardent supporters.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The printing press the Delanceys force Jack to sleep on is later used to print the Newsies Banner in "Once and For All".
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • The man Katherine is walking with in "Carrying the Banner" is Darcy Reid, son of the owner of the New York Tribune, and returns in "Once and For All" to help print the Newsies Banner.
    • Spot Conlon is mentioned in the countermelody in "Carrying the Banner"; his importance is explained later in Jacobi's Deli and he appears in "Brooklyn's Here".
    • Teddy Roosevelt is mentioned once by Jack (Jack hitched a ride in the backseat of his carriage to escape the Refuge) and once by Pulitzer (who tried to prevent him from getting elected). The man himself shows up to help the Newsies.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Jack shamelessly flirts with Katherine, even after her initial rejection, but he fully trusts her journalism skills and outright says he would never hit a woman.
    • Romeo (and all the boys, to an extent) count as they clearly enjoy having a pretty girl around and are courteous towards her. Eventually, her gender becomes irrelevant to them.
  • Colorblind Casting: Happens fairly frequently when an actor gets replaced. One of the most blatant examples is Specs, who was played by the white and blonde Ryan Steele in the original Broadway cast, and by the black Jordan Samuels in the tour and the Live Recording.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Jack is the only newsie wearing blue from the beginning of the show, falling in line with his role as the protagonist and leader of the boys.
    • In Act II, Davey's costume gets a bit of blue as well (with his shirt changing from white to plaid), symbolizing his rise from one of the new kids to Jack's right hand man.
  • Composite Character: Katherine absorbs the roles of Sarah Jacobs and Bryan Denton from the movie.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Most of the cast. It's implied that some of them had this happen more recently than others.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Pulitzer doesn't care about much besides his "bottom line," and is all too happy to make life harder on a bunch of impoverished children just to increase his profits.
  • Dad the Veteran: Mr. Pulitzer is Katherine's father and makes a point of referencing his time at war.
  • Dark Reprise: The first time we hear "Santa Fe," it's a hopeful song of longing in the prologue. The second time, it's an angry, broken plea to just run away. The third time the tune is heard is the tour-only song "Letter from the Refuge", sung by Crutchie as he tries to write a letter to Jack from the Refuge, and is exactly as happy as it sounds.
  • David vs. Goliath: Poor child workers against newspaper tycoons. The original legend is referenced explicitly twice in songs: "Seize the Day": "Proud and defiant/We'll slay the giant!" and "Watch What Happens": "It's David and Goliath do or die/the fight is on and I can't watch what happens!"
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Race is the champion of dry wit since he gets at least one quip per scene.
    • Katherine is this whenever she's dealing with Jack.
    • Even Crutchie gets a zinger at Jack's expense in the prologue.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Two examples, in both genders:
    • Katherine starts out refusing to even give Jack the time of day, although she quickly warms up to them when writing the story. By the end, she and Jack have started a relationship.
    • Downplayed with Davey. He starts out not wanting anything to do with Jack or any of the Newsies, despite Les's enthusiasm. He eventually comes around and is quickly named co-leader of the Union, and by the beginning of Act II he has lost his tie and collar and exchanged his white shirt for a checkered one closer to the style the rest of the Newsies wear (although his is far cleaner). He even begins spitting in his hand for handshakes, a move he once derided as "disgusting".
  • Deliberately Cute Child: Jack teaches Les how to use his cute-little-boy charm to sell more papers; Les cons a woman by pretending to be an orphan.
  • Demoted to Extra: Spot Conlon. One scene he shared onscreen with Jack in the movie occurs offstage here.
  • Dirty Kid: Les really enjoys looking at the showgirls.
  • Disabled Snarker: Crutchie falls into this a couple times, notably when telling Jack he's "seeing stars." Part of "Letter to the Refuge" may also count.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Mr. Pulitzer might be a greedy businessman who tried to get Theodore Roosevelt removed from office, and he sure makes life hard for the newsies, but he supports his daughter's efforts to become a reporter.
  • Exact Words: Invoked when Jack helps Davey sell a paper.
    Jack: Extra, extra! Terrifying flight from burning inferno, you heard it right here!
    (A man buys the paper and exits)
    Davey: That's a lie.
    Jack: No it was not, I told him he heard it right here and he did.
  • Face–Heel Turn: A forced instance. When the strike looks like it's succeeding, Pulitzer hauls Jack in and offers him money in exchange for him giving up on the strike. Jack's not interested until Pulitzer threatens Jack's friends Crutchie and Davey, and Davey's brother Les; then he caves, and shows up at the newsies' rally to speak against continuing the strike and urge them to settle. One of Pulitzer's goons hands him money as he leaves. It doesn't last.
  • Fiery Redhead: Downplayed with Katherine. She's not particularly temperamental, but she is rather outspoken and sarcastic — especially when Jack or Romeo try to flirt with her.
  • Final Love Duet: Jack and Katherine sing "Something To Believe In" about two-thirds of the way through Act 2, finally admitting the feelings that have been developing throughout the story.
  • Funny Background Event: Happens often in the live recording.
    • Jack spends most of the last chorus of "Carrying the Banner" being chased by the Delanceys through the scenery.
    • During "That's Rich", Davey and Les's heads can be seen watching Medda perform from behind. When she says that "everything I touch seems to rise", Les looks confused and looks up at Davey for an explanation.
    • While Jack and Davey are arguing about the Union, the camera pans to show the Union "members". Les, who was standing next to Davey not five seconds earlier, has already moved back to join the rest of the Newsies.
  • Gender Flip: Given that Katherine is a composite of a male and female character from the film, the male character's role got this treatment. In a Real Life case of Truer to the Text though, Katherine (and the films' Denton) takes the role of the real life Annie Kelly, a newswoman rather than a journalist, but who like Katherine threw her support behind the Newsies and was embraced by them as something of a patron saint, so this is an odd case of a Gender Flip undoing a Gender Flip.
  • The Ghost: William Randolph Hearst is referred to several times, most noticeably in "The World Will Know", where the Newsies sing as if they have equal beef with Hearst and Pulitzer. Despite this, he never actually makes it onstage.
  • Good Parents: Several examples even when taking Adults Are Useless into account.
    • Implied with Mr. Kelly. Jack says he worked himself to an early grave and taught him not to starve.
    • Davey and Les think well enough of their parents to provide for them after their father sustained a work injury. Furthermore, their impromptu dinner invite to Jack suggests their parents have no problem with unexpected guests.
    • Mr. Pulitzer is fully supportive of Katherine’s career, even if he doesn’t understand why she wants one.
    • Averted with the Delancey brothers, one of whom claims their father never took care of them.
  • He's Back!:
    "We've got faith!"
    "We've got the plan!"
    "And we've got Jack!"
    "So just watch what happens...
    We're back!"
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Jack with Crutchie and Davey. It's more obvious with Davey, since Jack and Crutchie's only significant interaction is during the prologue.
  • Hidden Depths: Jack, the rough-and-tumble paperboy, is also a skilled artist, who gives Katherine an impromptu sketch he made during their second meeting, and also painted a couple of stage backdrops for Medda. In the end, Pulitzer, having seen his work, offers him a job as a political cartoonist.
  • Historical Domain Character: Pulitzer and Roosevelt.
  • Hollywood Nuns: Three of them show up once early in the show.
  • "I Am Great!" Song: "King of New York".
  • "I Am" Song: The newsies collectively get one in the opening number, "Carrying the Banner", which explains their working life:
    ''When the bell rings
    We goes where we wishes
    We's as free as fishes
    Sure beats washing dishes
    What a fine life
    Carrying the banner home-free all!''
  • I Choose to Stay: Jack has always dreamed of going to Santa Fe, but the offer of a job as a political cartoonist, combined with the persuasion of Davey, Crutchie, and Katherine, convinces him to stay.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: A variant. During "Letter From the Refuge," Crutchie interrupts the eponymous letter to Jack to clarify, "Oh yeah, Jack, this is Crutchie, by the way." It's unclear if he's trying to be funny or if he assumes Jack is trying to forget about him because he'll never leave the Refuge, so he's getting in one last reminder.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Played with. Crutchie is pretty determined not to be this, and he'll correct anyone who implies his disability sells papers, rather than his personality. However, he's also unafraid to admit he ["doesn't] walk so good" or that his disability puts him in more danger of Snyder and the Refuge than most. Additionally, Crutchie isn't opposed to letting other newsies carry him around on occasion, or take care of him in general. In one scene, Jack actually ties Crutchie's shoe.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Katherine Plumber becomes invested in the newsies' revolution and works hard to get their story out.
  • Invisible Parents: One has to wonder how Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs (Les and Davey's parents) feel about their sons joining a labor strike.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • When Jack first makes a deal to partner with Les, he spits in his hand and offers it to Davey, who says "that's disgusting". When he does it again to Pulitzer to settle the strike, Pulitzer has the same reaction.
    • Race dismisses Crutchie's Strike sign as "pitiful". In "Finale", he can be seen carrying a larger version of the same sign, although not on a crutch.
    • The second song, which establishes most of the Newsies, is called "Carrying the Banner". The Children's Crusade pamphlet they print in "Once and For All" is entitled the "Newsies Banner".
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: This is how Pulitzer convinces Jack to betray the strike. When Jack visits his office, Pulitzer threatens to have Crutchie beaten, and have Les and Davey dragged off to the Refuge themselves.
  • Kid Hero: Most of the newsies are under eighteen.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • One highlight has Governor Roosevelt mock the show's nature as a musical: "Let's not keep those children out there singing...endlessly..."
    • Another one alludes to Jack's "Santa Fe" motif:
    Jack: With the strike settled, I should probably be hittin' the road.
    Davey: Don't you ever get tired of singing the same old tune?
  • "Leave Your Quest" Test: In the second act, Pulitzer and Snyder corner Jack and give him the option of either going back to Snyder's refuge, or getting paid off to disavow the strike and take the opportunity to leave New York behind and go to Santa Fe. Jack takes them up on their offer, but later changes his mind and gives Pulitzer his money back.
  • Left Hanging: The trolley strike is part of the inciting incident and various characters have personal connections to it, but it doesn't get any resolution.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Katherine is Pulitzer's daughter. Not a totally straight example, as both of them know it from the start, but the other protagonists sure don't.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Jack (and most of the Newsies) refers to his boss Weisel as Weasel.
  • Mouthy Kid: Les. The way he talks tough to a guard's face really sells it.
  • Movie Bonus Song: The touring production and subsequent filmed production added Crutchie's Act 2 solo, "Letter From the Refuge."
  • Neutral Female: Katherine runs away when the boys are attacked by the police, without doing anything to assist them, apart from comforting Specs. Justified by the time period and her own belief that violence is unladylike.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Jack had no real reason to go to Pulitzer's office except to rub the strike's success in his face. While he's there, in one scene, Jack realizes that Pulitzer is Katherine's father, that he knows the names and lives of all his close friends, that he knows Jack's criminal past, and is subsequently bribed to shut down the strike and rally.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: On the other hand, Jack and the Newsies wouldn't have been able to print the Newsies Banner if Pulitzer didn't pay his janitor low wages (for 20 years) and leave an old printing press in the cellar of his own building.
  • One of the Boys: "King of New York" spends a bit establishing Katherine becoming this, at least by the standards of a musical set in the late 1800s. She happily dances with them and joins in with some lyrics that make colourful jokes at Pulitzer and Hearst's expense, and while they'd already earned their approval for her support and reporting, this solidified her friendship with them. They even christen her 'King of New York'.
  • Out of Focus: Happens a bit.
    • Some of the newsboys have little-to-no dialogue, minimal impact on the plot, and even go unnamed, despite being present for the majority of the show. That said, it's not as extreme if their singing and dancing in accounted for.
    • Crutchie gets hit with this. Once the strike starts, Davey and Katherine become more prominent and he gets relegated to the background. It doesn't help that he’s arrested near the end of Act I and doesn’t reappear until the end of the play. The tour version and Live Recording mitigate this by giving him a solo early in Act II.
  • Parental Abandonment: Oscar and Morris, according to the back of their trading cards.
  • The Patriarch: Mr. Pulitzer is a war veteran, a businessman, a political writer, and Katherine's father.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: For a show about Newsies, the times that they actually sell papers can be counted on one hand. Justified, in that they're striking for most of the show.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Spot Conlon, the leader of the Brooklyn newsies who intimidates all of Manhattan, is among the shortest of the cast.
  • Plucky Girl: Now in female and male flavors.
    • Katherine works hard to become a journalist, helps to cheer up Jack, and defies Pulitzer's printing ban and parental ban on seeing Jack.
    • Crutchie is visibly upset about once in this show, and Jack quickly cheers him. The rest of the time he's smiling like crazy and is one of the most spirited supporters of the strike. The tour version even adds a scene depicting his time in jail, but he's as optimistic as ever.
  • Power Trio: Jack, Davey, and Katherine give off this vibe as strike leaders.
  • Really Gets Around: Medda Larkin, if her song "That's Rich" is to be believed: "I get brandy from Andy and candy from Scott/Oh, and Frank and Eduardo chipped in for a yacht/I get stares from the fellas and prayers from the pope/But I ran out my luck getting stuck on some dope!"
  • Serial Romeo: Romeo, fittingly enough. It's lampshaded in one scene.
  • She Is the King: Thanks to the Gender Flip above, "King of New York" ends up invoking this for Katherine's part.
    Race: Am-scray, punk, She's the king of New York!
    Katherine: Whod'a thunk! I'm the king of New York!
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Good Ol' Captain Jack." Oh, Disney ...
    • Also, it may be a coincidence, but "Is that even legal?" (said by Katherine during "Watch What Happens") is also a line from Kenny Ortega's later Disney musical High School Musical.
  • Sleeves Are for Wimps: Most of the Brooklyn newsies.
  • Spit Shake: Happens a few times.
  • Starving Artist: Jack is given shades of this.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: Twice for Jack: the first at the beginning of Act II, when he hides in the burlesque theater painting backdrops following the riot, and the second after Pulitzer threatens to hurt David, Les, Crutchie, and the other newsboys if Jack doesn't give up the strike. Both are ended fairly quickly: by David, Les, and Katherine the first time, and Katherine kissing him for the second.
  • True Companions: The newsboys are like this; they refer to each other as brothers several times throughout the narrative. When Crutchie writes a letter to Jack from behind bars, he stops himself to replace 'friend' with first 'best friend', and then 'brother'.
  • Truth in Television: Joseph Pulitzer actually did have a daughter named Katherine in real life. However, she died of pneumonia when she was a young child.
  • Tsundere: Katherine's solo has a whole verse devoted to her conflicting feelings for Jack.
  • Two Girls to a Team: Katherine and Medda are the only women who get involved in the strike.
    • Having said that, there are a couple of female newsies (AKA "girlsies") in the production, notably Smalls (she's the one with the "So's da Bronx!" line). Additionally, there are more girlsies in the "Brooklyn's Here" number; you can clearly hear female vocals in the second verse.
      • Some subsequent theater productions make Sniper and Smalls both girls, and at times, directors will either Gender Flip a newsie or have an actress play as a male.
  • Vague Age: Katherine's age is never stated, though she's old enough to be a reporter, but young enough to be an honorary member of a children's crusade (thereby playing Adults Are Useless straighter) and start a relationship with 17-year-old Jack. Given that much attention is given to the fact children and teenagers were making up the workforce of the time, it's not unlikely she was about the same age as Jack, if a bit older.
    • Thanks to the (in some cases) fairly extreme Dawson Casting, the majority of newsies fall under this trope. The only ones with their ages explicitly given in the show are Jack and Davey (both 17) and Les (10). Everyone else is assumed to be anywhere from 14-17, though good luck getting everyone to agree on specific ages for specific newsies...
  • Villain Song: "The Bottom Line" is sung as Pulitzer decides on increasing prices for the newsies, and its reprise is sung as he pressures Jack into taking his deal.
  • Wardens Are Evil: Snyder "The Spider" is the head of a rehabilitation facility called The Refuge. In theory, it's supposed to take criminally-inclined boys and young men, and turn them into acceptable members of society. In practice, Snyder will take any boy he can get and pockets the money that he's supposed to use to maintain the facility.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The man Katherine is seen arm-in-arm with (a romantic gesture for the late 19th century) when she's introduced is conveniently out of the picture by the next time Jack meets her, leaving her free to pursue a relationship with Jack. He returns in "Once And For All" as Darcy Reid, although any romantic past with Katherine is never brought up.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Snyder, so much. To the point of beating Crutchie ''with his own crutch.''
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Jack. When he's ticked-off at Katherine, he laments something along the lines of "Oh, if you weren't a girl ..."
  • Writer's Block: Katherine has a brief case of this during her solo.