The Newsies musical was never destined to be a worldwide hit. Adapted from the 1992 film of the same name, which flopped, it took the dedication and belief of both cast and creatives to produce the show that is now loved by critics and audiences alike. But how was it turned around? We take a look at the creative process behind the Newsies play.
Adapting a film for the stage takes careful writing, and it was when writer Harvey Fierstein approached Alan Menken, the composer of the film’s score, that stage magic began to happen. Fierstein brought fresh ideas to the table that enabled the team to take the strongest elements of the film and create something that would work in the theatre. He also introduced the character of Katherine Plumber, who was absent from the movie, thus providing appeal to a young female audience.
Early readings and casting
The first readings had no choreography and were simply a group of actors with their scripts reading through the parts. In time, the cast learned the songs and piloted a production at the Paper Mill Playhouse to see if they could translate the story effectively to the stage.
When the casting call went out, talented actors, singers and dancers flocked to the auditions. Choreographer Christopher Gattelli created an audition routine that was physical but achievable, and watched as hopeful after hopeful executed it with precision. From 60 candidates, just 18 had to be selected, many of whom were up-and-coming actors making their Broadway debuts.
While casting progressed, scenic designer Tobin Ost was tasked with creating a set that helped to tell a turn-of-the-century story while being contemporary. He came up with the idea of three towers and a set of screens that could be arranged according to the production’s needs. The production team worked so closely that when the lighting and projection were added, the world looked completely unified - on stage it’s almost impossible to tell the separate elements apart.
Then it was time for the cast members to get used to the set. They had just a few hours to practise running up and down the stairways of the huge towers as they moved and spun before the set was transported to the theatre for rehearsals.
Going to Broadway
After a hugely successful run at the Paper Mill Playhouse, Newsies landed a spot on Broadway - but it wasn’t simply a case of transferring the production to a bigger stage. The musical was reworked: Medda’s character was reinvented, a new love song was written for Jack and Katherine, and dance numbers were revised. The resulting show was a runaway success on Broadway, and received no fewer than eight Tony Award nominations, winning two of the awards.
Disney’s Newsies is currently playing at the Troubadour Wembley Park. Don’t miss out - get your musical tickets today and experience this fantastic show for yourself.