About the author:
Disney's Newsies will close on August 24 after more than 1,000 performances on Broadway. But while "fansies" are distraught by this news, director Jeff Calhoun isn't mourning loss of the hit musical—he's celebrating. The adaptation of the 1992 movie was initially intended to play a limited engagement at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse, but after being extended due to popular demand, the loveable newsboys headed to Broadway to carry the banner in New York. What was initially intended to be a 12-week engagement has turned into a two-year journey at the Nederlander Theatre, where more than 30 young actors have made their Broadway debuts to date. In a First Person essay for Broadway.com, Calhoun recounts his extraordinary journey with the Newsies company, from their humble beginnings in New Jersey to the bright lights of New York City.
Before Newsies takes its final bow on Broadway, I would like to reflect upon some of the improbable legacies of a regional production that nobody predicted would become a bona fide Broadway hit! A Broadway hit only happens when a confluence of disparate talents miraculously and inexplicably synthesize their best efforts into one cohesive thing that, against all odds, actually works. Newsies is no exception.
It began as a regional production at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Disney simply wanted to create a show that could be licensed to stock and amateur theaters. That was it—a “one-off,” as we say in the business. Nobody had anticipated what was about to happen.
We opened to positive reviews, the audiences were enthusiastic and tickets were difficult to come by. The next thing we knew, we were heading to Broadway for a 12-week limited run. Tom Schumacher, our producer, explained that those 12 weeks would help brand the title and increase demand for stock and amateur rights.
The cast, crew, designers and creative team didn't care how long or why we were booked, we were all just thrilled to be there. It soon became clear that the enthusiasm we experienced at Paper Mill was no fluke. Thanks to more good reviews and our fiercely devoted fans, lovingly referred to as “fansies,” our advertised run of 101 performances was about to become open-ended!
It is the genius of composer Alan Menken, lyricist Jack Feldman, book writer Harvey Fierstein and choreographer Chris Gattelli, expertly supported and nurtured by Tom Schumacher and everyone at Disney, that is responsible for helping create this musical that exceeded, by anyone's analysis, all expectations. A lion’s share of the credit also goes to our impeccable design team. However, as easy and justified as it would be to continue to talk about this first-class pedigree of collaborators, I feel compelled to talk about another group of artists who, long after the creative team departed the theater, return through the stage door six days a week: The cast of Newsies.
Since opening on Broadway on March 29, 2012, we have had 62 actors in the cast. I can tell you that in those two-and-a-half years, not one of them has been anything but dedicated, conscientious, collaborative and every inch a professional. There isn't a single person who I wouldn't be proud to work with again. In addition, one of Newsies’ lasting legacies will be that it gave 32 deserving young actors their Broadway debuts—literally introducing the world of theater to the next generation of elite Broadway dancers.
I will always remember the pure joy and adrenaline that permeated every rehearsal back at New 42nd Street Studios. Each day was filled with an infectious longing for discovery and creativity. There was an innocence and generosity of heart that directly reflected the youth of the cast. I noticed something beautiful and profound was happening. Our boys, like the Newsies they were portraying, were responsibly representing their generation and diligently working to help make the world a better place. Just to put into perspective exactly how young some of our Newsies are, in the spring of 2013, four of them celebrated their high school graduation with an onstage diploma presentation in front of the matinee audience!
There is also a very special club at Newsies that I want to single out for their unbelievable devotion and loyalty. A well-deserved THANK YOU to 15 actors and three stage managers who have been with the show from opening to closing: John Dossett, Ben Fankhauser, Andy Richardson, Aaron Albano, Mark Aldrich, Tommy Bracco, John Brady, Caitlyn Caughell, Tim Eaker, Michael Fatica, Becky Fleming, Thom Gates, Evan Kasprzak, Stuart Marland, Jack Scott, Brendon Stimson, Nick Sullivan and Stuart Zagnit.
One thing that every show has in common is that they close (except perhaps The Phantom of The Opera). Even Cats’ “now and forever” turned out to have an expiration date. I think this ephemeral quality is one reason we cherish the theater so much. It only resides in our elusive memories and can't be stored on a shelf or hard drive.
I believe people are remembered by what we leave behind in the hearts of others. If the same can be said of a show, then Newsies will leave a lifetime of memories in many of our hearts. Now that's “Something to Believe In.”