In 1992, Disney took a chance on a little story about scrappy newsboys who formed a union and changed the industry. The movie, Newsies, bombed in the theaters. But nearly two decades later, Disney adapted the movie to a live-action musical and began to reap the rewards of their hard work.
"[The movie] did not do well at all, it actually lost money," remembers Newsies lyricist Jack Feldman. Newsies was written off and forgotten about. That is, until the golden age of the Internet when online blogs devoted to the early 90s film started popping up and entire songs could be found via a simple YouTube search. High schools and amateur theater groups were even performing unauthorized versions of the production.
Could a once flop have amassed such a cult following that it merited a revival?
Feldman, who wrote the original lyrics for the film, explained that the primary reason Disney revisited Newsies was to cash in on those royalty fees. The idea was to put on a single performance of a stage version of the musical so Disney could collect. "We were only going to do one production of it to get it up on its feet and make sure that what we were sending out to the world was something that we were proud of and happy with and that worked," Feldman said. "But it turned out to be so much more."
The initial performance was in New Jersey back in 2011 and, to Feldman's surprise, it was a hit. The musical was immediately given a 12-week trial run on Broadway, then extended another three months. Disney finally decided to let it have an open-ended run.
Though the lyricist jokes that he's still not over the shock of Newsies' new-found success, he does comment on how much he enjoyed being able to come back to the songs he had written for the film and spend more time with them.
Adapting the film version to fit a stage production took some work, and Feldman says he made at least one change to each of his songs, calling them "necessary changes." "That was the most fun of all," Feldman said. "Getting the chance to revisit the songs and having no clue that it was going to end up anywhere but just being licensed off to schools and theater groups."
When Feldman wrote the original songs for the movie, he remembers writing them quickly. "We had to write the songs for the movie so fast because they had to be pre-recorded, so I have always wanted to have the chance to get my hands on them again and make changes here and there."
Though Feldman's love for the production is primarily the music, he also loves the fans. He uses term "fansies" to refer to fans of the musical, the composer says that they are the greatest thing to come from the revival. Young girls were watching the film on VHS when they were in high school, they grew up and started families, and now they're introducing their children to theater. It's a snowball effect, he says, making Newsies above all "an audience-driven show."
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Newsies will be at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts for a limited run starting Tuesday, February 3, until Sunday, February 8. Tickets start at $26.
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