Tonight I got to treat myself to a Broadway musical in the most amazing way possible. In a stroke of luck I had the evening off which gave me the opportunity to catch the last night of Fathom Events’ Newsies the Broadway Musical.
What makes this experience so unique is that I was able to see the full Broadway production of Newsies for a fraction of the price and in the comfort of my local movie theatre.
I was skeptical of the live theatre experience being translated into watching it all on the big screen but I left the theatre pleasantly surprised.
This was my first experience with the musical having only seen the original film version a la Christian Bale. I would love to be able to see it live but the opportunity hasn’t been there quite yet. The time I tried to see it in New York way back when, the show was dark and the tour showings in Orlando sold out like no one’s business.
So Fathom Events experience it was!
I spent the entire show with a stupid grin on my face. The amazing performances, particularly by Jeremy Jordan and Andrew Keenan-Bolger (aka my future husband), helped bring the experience to life. Honestly, Jeremy Jordan has amazed me in everything I’ve seen him in and the pure passion he brought to this production was awe-inspiring. Bolger’s Crutchy could have easily been a gimmick character but he brought such amazing heart to the character, I was moved to tears a number of times.
Let me tell you, there is nothing like the theatre. For over two hours I was transported to a whole new world unlike anything I am currently living in. I forgot all about Donald Trump, executive orders and even the loss of basic human rights by members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Yep. Forgot all about it.
Now, if you are not familiar with the story, please indulge me as I take you down the rabbit hole into the (SPOILER FILLED) story of the News Boy Strike of 1899.
The show opens on two young orphans, Jack Kelly and Crutchie, waking up to start their day selling papers, a job that barely puts food in their bellies and keeps a roof over their heads. More specifically, Crutchie has woken up extra early to get started on the day. His bum leg has been giving him trouble and he’s worried that his disability will give people the wrong idea on his being able to care for himself and may cause him to be locked away. Poor kid has to work twice as hard to survive.
Jack, a dreamer, promises himself a better life after seeing what the world did to his father. “Them streets down there, they sucked the life right outta my old man. Years a’ rotten jobs, starved on by bosses, and when they found him broken, they tossed him to the curb, just like yesterday’s paper, well they ain’t doin that to me!”
Jack wants to escape the reality he’s found himself in. Sick of being a nothing to those around him, he wants to escape. Dreaming of a faraway place. He offers to bring Crutchie, his friend, his brother along. “Hey, how’s about you come with me? No one cares about no gimp leg in Santa Fe!”
Crutchie allows himself to dream, just for a moment, that maybe in a different, new world he will be accepted despite being a little different. Reality quickly smacks him in the face as he realizes that, no matter what Jack says, nothing will change even if his location does.
We get past the prologue to the opening number, “Carrying the Banner” as the boys sing about the hardships of trying to hock papers in a time when nothing exciting is really happening.
“You wanna a move the next edition / give us an earthquake or a war”
“How ‘bout a crooked Politician?”
“Ya nitwit, that ain’t news no more!”
In line for papers, a new Newsie has joined the ranks, David along with his younger brother Les. Hard times have fallen on their family. David’s father was injured on the job and with no protection from his employer, the family is left to fend for themselves as he recovers. I can only assume that the medical bills alone are cause for major financial troubles.
With no other source of income, David and Les are forced to quit school and take any work they can to make ends meet until their father is well enough to return to the work force.
Cut to a swanky looking office occupied by a rich New York fat-cat, Joseph Pulitzer. An incredibly rich business man who feels he is the most powerful man in the world because, not only does he have the money, he has the means to control the narrative of the world around him. He is rich and powerful and large and in charge.
When dwindling circulation threatens to cut into his pockets, the almighty Pulitzer needs to come up with something that helps him make money without him having to make sacrifices to his way of life. It also seems like no one else in the office is willing to risk taking a salary cut. Rather than cut back on the daily, professional shaves, Pulitzer decides to increase the cost of newspapers for the Newsies.
“It’s gonna be awfully rough on those children.”
“They’re gonna be learning a real-life lesson in economics. I couldn’t offer them a better education if they were my own.”
Fun life lessons from Pulitzer University!
The Newsies come to work the next day and learn of the hike. Because of Pulitzer’s influence, all the newspapers have followed suit. Causing the Newsies, who already have to eat the cost of any unsold papers, to panic as they are pushed to a breaking point.
The boys quickly band together in an effort to rise up in protest against the unfair and unethical decisions being made by those in power who have no sense of what the weight of their executive orders are doing to the common people.
I mean strike. They go on strike.
Who said anything about parallels between the 1899 News Boys Strike and anything going on in 2017?
“Either they gives us our rights or we gives them a war. / We’ve been down too long, / and we paid our dues.”
The world will know.
The strike has begun. The boys retreat to a local deli to plan their next big move. They realize that their small band alone won’t have much of an impact. Sure, no news boys were selling papers but the carts still went out. They realize they have to go bigger and join together with others around the city to effect real change.
As they plan their next move a reporter joins them in the deli, a woman by the name of Katherine Plummer.
“A rag-tag gang of ragamuffins wants to take on the king makers of New York. Do you think you have a chance? … Will the richest and most powerful men in New York give the time of day to a gang of kids who haven’t got a nickel to their name?”
Jack is taken aback by the appearance of a female reporter and throws some sass her way, commenting on the lack of any such thing as a female doing any “real” news reporting.
“Wake up to the new century. The game’s changing.”
The two manage to settle their differences and agree to work together. Jack, trusting her to tell the story honestly and do right by his newsboys.
In a new number not found in the film, Katherine laments over her writers block in a song which has become my new anthem for my own writers block. In it, she also realizes that this one small decision that is currently affecting the newsies could have ripple effects into other communities within the working world of New York. “Watch What Happens” addresses this all including her struggles in a sexist workforce.
“Not only that, there’s a story behind the story: / Thousands of children, exploited, invisible. / Speak up, take a stand, and there’s someone to write about it. / That’s how things get better. / Give life’s little guys some ink, and when it dries just watch what happens. / Those kids will live and breathe right on the page / and once they’re center stage, you watch what happens.”
In just three minutes, she covers it all. More importantly she discovers for herself the power of a writer, a reporter, to help affect real change by reporting the truth and demanding justice.
“But all I know is nothing happens if you just give in. / It can’t be any worse than how it’s been. / And it just so happens that we just might win, / so whatever happens! Let’s begin!”
The moment of truth comes and the Newsies find themselves still a small band of wronged people. No one has moved to join them. The lack of support from the others causes the boys to waver in their cause and begin to questions whether or not they should just accept the fate they’ve been dealt and carry on.
David refuses to let them back down.
“Behold the brave battalion that stands side by side / Too few in number and too proud to hide / Then say to the others who did not follow through / You’re still our brothers, and we will fight for you”
Empowered the boys stand up to continue what they started. Scabs show up to work, replacing the striking boys and continuing the selling of papers. Jack sees through this as a devices move by the power players and for the first time begins to see the bigger picture of their call to arms. He moves to appeal to the scabs:
“Listen, fellas, I know someone put you’s up to this. They’re probably payin’ you some extra money too, yeah? Well it ain’t right! Pulitzer thinks we are gutter rats with no respect for nothin’, including each other. Is that what we are, huh? Well, we stab each other in the back and yeah, that’s who we are. But if we stand together, we change the whole game. It ain’t just about us. All across this city, there are boys and girls who should be out playin’, or goin’ to school but instead they are slavin’ to support themselves and their folks. Ain’t no problem in being poor, and not a one of us complains if the work we do is hard. All we ask is a square deal. Fellas, for the sake of all the kids in every sweatshop, factory, and slaughterhouse in this town, I beg you. Throw down your papers and join the strike.”
Sure enough, they scabs join the cause and soon a fight breaks out as reinforcements for the opposing side arrive in a show of force turned violence. Worse off is the police, those charged to serve and protect all people, throwing punches as the boys who are protesting.
Crutchie is brutally attacked in a way that made me sick to my stomach and caused me to audibly gasp in the silent theatre.
Jack, seeing all this pain, particularly his best friend and brother Crutchie being beaten, retreats alone. He laments fearing that he’s done more harm than good. He feels like he’s lost.
Unknown to Jack for the moment, the story has made the front page news, at least in one publication. Thanks to Katherine the voice of the small has been made large and the boys are on cloud nine. The first seeds have been sown and there’s a chance that they will make a real change in the world.
SMASH CUT TO Letter From the Refuge.
The ever-looming fear of the News Boys is committing the one slight that lands them in the jail-like atmosphere of the Refuge. We learn later that just about anything that makes the authorities mad will land you there including loitering.
Crutchie’s biggest fear has come to life as he writes to his friend from a bed that it looks like he’s sharing with at least one other inmate. The lower bunk seems to be sleeping three. The institution is overpopulated and it’s clear there are no regulations in place. Those running the show make more money the more kids they have locked up. Rather than providing a safe and comfortable environment, the money goes straight to their pockets.
The next day David hunts down Jack who had gone into hiding following he perceived failure. He shows Jack that even though he feels like he failed, the spark of change has been ignited.
“But then I saw this look on Weasel’s face. He was actually nervous! And I realized, this isn’t over. We got ‘em worried– really worried!– and I walked away. And lots of other kids did too, and that is what you call a beginning!”
The boys soon learn from Katherine that there has been a media blackout regarding the newsies strike. Pulitzer, unhappy with the smearing of his name, declared war on the free press, silencing them from saying anything bad about him.
“I’ve read your editorials, Mr. Pulitzer. How can you express so much sympathy for the trolley workers, and yet have none for the newsies?
“The trolley workers are striking for a fair contract. The newsies are striking against me!”
The boys soon realize that fighting for just their cause alone isn’t enough. In order to stand up to this oppression, they need to band together with all those who have been treated unfairly. And so they do. In a call to arms they bring together all those being wronged by those in power to raise their voices.
This is for kids shining shoes on the street with no shoes on their feet everyday
This is for guys sweating blood in the shops while their bosses and cops look away
I’m seeing kids standing tall, glaring and raring a brawl
Armies of guys who are sick of the lies getting ready to rise to the call!
Once and for all there’ll be blood on the wall if they doubt us
They think they’re running this town, but this town will shut down without us
PULITZER: I gave you the offer of a lifetime. Anyone who does not act in his own self-interest is a fool.
DAVEY: What does that make you? This all began because you wanted to sell more papers. But now your circulation is down 70%. Why didn’t you just come talk to us?
JACK: Because guys like Joe don’t talk to nobody like us. But a very wise reporter once told me bein’ a boss don’t mean you got all the answers, just the smarts enough to snatch the right one when you hear it.
The strike reaches its apex outside of Pulitzer’s office. The city is shut down, the fragile structure on which so many have built their empires, is crumbling and he is solely to blame. He relents and agrees to work with the Newsies in a way that is fair and beneficial to both. He finally listens.
Change begets change and the entire system is being looked at by none other than the governor who was forced to step into the situation.
“Each generation must, at the height of its power, step aside and invite the young to share the day. You have laid way to our world. Now, I believe the future, in your hands, will be bright and prosperous.”
So there it is. My evening with Newsies. A musical I have been a fan of since I was a kid and have a newfound love for it in its stage adaptation which has found the once-flop turned into a blueprint for revolution. Almost an instruction manual urging the seemlingly powerless to band together as one against powerful, corrupt government or other power.
Now is the time to seize the day
Stare down the odds and seize the day
Minute by minute that’s how you win it
We will find a way
But let us seize the day
Courage cannot erase our fear
Courage is when we face our fear
Tell those with power safe in their tower
We will not obey!