In my mind, it would be an oddity for someone to deny the magic that comes from watching a live, onstage Broadway production. You’re talking talent beyond measure, music that transforms and transports, stories that connect with us face to face. However, is there any love lost when the splendor of a stage production comes to the big screen? Does the audience lose the energy or the sense of being involved in the production when a camera is capturing the action and delivering it to you versus seeing it with your own eyes firsthand?
When I found out around Christmas-time that Fathom Events and Disney Theatrical Productions were bringing one of Disney’s amazing performances to the big screen this February, it was a “no-brainer” that our family was going to attend one of the showings. I mean, what a great opportunity this would be to put the above questions to the test. Right? Not to mention, offer the boys the chance to become as much of a theater geek as their mom (lol). So, as a Christmas present, our nuclear family received tickets in our stockings to go see and experience Newsies The Musical!
First ~ a synopsis (without giving too many of the details).
For those of you not yet familiar with the story-line of Disney’s Newsies, the audience is taken back to 1899 and the real-life newsboys’ strike in New York City. When the working youth in the city are faced with a hike in the price of the “papes” they sell, they become outraged and form a “union” to battle the giant controlling their wages. With the brains of one, leadership of another and the camaraderie of them all, they bring their cause to the streets so “The World Will Know” they would not be bullied or treated as lesser individuals. Their story captures the intrigue of a young reporter, who does what she can to get the Newsies’ story out there and noticed ~ make the headlines, so to speak. The only problem is the man responsible for the price hike is vehemently standing in the way and attempting to thwart any opportunity for the Newsies or the reporter to succeed in their endeavors. The story is a true David and Goliath tale with a touch of romance sprinkled in and a lot of action that keeps you engaged throughout both Acts.
Let’s talk production of the performance…
Fathom Events and Disney Theatrical Productions were able to gather most of the original cast for the filming of this performance and did so on the stage of the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, California. A live audience was present so that the cameras could capture reaction that would, in turn, fuel ours (like it needed to be?). Here in the United States, the production was set to be shown in movie theaters for three days in the month of February – the 16th, 18th and 22nd ~ with plans to be shown in Canada between the 19th and 23rd and across the globe between the 19th and the 28th. Our family attended the February 18th showing, as did many, many others in our community. What was I thinking going on a Saturday?! It was a near packed theater and the excitement was electric. Even before the show began, people were testing their knowledge with the onscreen trivia, humming the tunes they already knew and geeking out when one of the cast would appear on the screen to share a personal moment. It even made me smile to see some showing off their “Newsie-bounding” attire (but I’ll share more about that later in the piece). It seemed like it was going to be a well-received event. But, once that proverbial curtain rose, did the excitement persist? Did we all feel the same involvement sitting in a movie theater that we would had we seen this production as a live theater audience.
Point blank? Abso-freaking-lutely! (Let’s just pretend that’s a word for the sake of effect). Once the production commenced, young and old tapped to the rhythm of each dance step, sang every song (whether they knew the lyrics or not) and felt the passion and drive of each Newsie fighting for the cause. I would say we may have even had one or two slight advantages over those sitting in the live theater audience in that I wonder if we had more intimacy with the characters. Okay – what do I mean by that? Let me explain.
When sitting in a live theater audience, your vision is fixed. You see things as they are and, if a cast member moves downstage, your ability to see them weakens. If something is happening in two separate areas on stage, it may be difficult, particularly if seeing it for the first time, to figure out where your focus should be. By sitting in a movie theater, we had the advantage of a camera directing our attention. It would come in for a close up, swing over to the left or the right, pan out to the audience ~ all dictating, in a way, where the story was. The camera angle even gave us the opportunity to see more of the connection between Jack Kelly (played by Jeremy Jordan) and Katherine Plummer (played by Kara Lindsay). Their duet, “Something to Believe In,” is no doubt captivating on stage, but, in this venue, we were able to see their eyes meet, their lips touch and sense the electricity perhaps a little stronger. We were even able to visualize more of the emotion on Crutchie’s face (played by Andrew Keenan-Bolger) when he was in the refuge writing his letter to his “brother.” It provided us the hint we needed to know what was going on and how we should feel about it in the moment.
Of course, the camera did not provide the only magic. The cast itself and the chemistry among them carried the story directly to our hearts. Jeremy Jordan delivered both the strength and apprehension of being a leader that was Jack Kelly. Kara Lindsay was witty and snarky, not to mention courageous and unyielding, as Katherine Plummer. Steve Blanchard stood his ground as Pulitzer and made the audience want to rebel against him just as much as the Newsies did. Andrew Keenan-Bolger captivated as the ever-trusting, always endearing Crutchie, whose loyalty and love for his friends were second to none. Of course, who can NOT include a comment on little Ethan Steiner (not one of the original cast, but so darn cute!) who took on the charismatic role of Les Jacobs. His energy was contagious and compelling. He was adorable and spunky all at the same time. This is a kid with a bright future ahead of him. Now, in keeping with the question of whether this was more potent on stage or on the big screen, I think the big screen allowed us to see every expression just a little bigger than a live audience could.
Let’s talk about the dancing!! The choreography for this performance was stellar! The tap, flips, splits and fancy foot work of the Newsies cast had the entire audience moving along in our seats! This particular production puts out a lot of choreographed numbers and it was nice to see the talent spread throughout the cast. Not one person is highlighted more than the other, keeping the sense of community and family about them. They are all in this together. Each one of them delivered such energy, strength and passion in their movement and added so much to every piece.
And the music – oh, my gosh! The music!!! The rhythms were contagious and words inspiring. From the slow verses of “Sante Fe” to the foot-stomping beat of “Seize the Day,” I don’t think a single person in that audience left without singing some sort of tune from the show. Even before we left our seats, my oldest was already downloading the album from iTunes and begging to play it on the way home.
In the end, did we find this kind of theater-going experience worth it? Yes, it was. But I admit, it was a different kind of energy, a different kind of involvement, but the ultimate goal of being immersed in the story was accomplished. We all felt the plight of the Newsies and we all wanted to see justice prevail. Some would say history continues to repeat itself when we look at today’s hot topics and see some of the same things still happening….but that’s a dramatic story for another time.
So, to answer the question left up top – does a Broadway performance lose its ability to stir an audience if taken from the stage to the big screen? When done in this fashion, I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing quite like watching a professional production such as this in real-time on stage. I just think this venue provided those who cannot get to the theater in New York City or see a production on tour as easily as another the much-needed opportunity to experience the magic that is Broadway. I wholeheartedly believe we would do it again in a heartbeat! So – what’s next, Disney?
Oh – before I go…I have to share this! Among my wonderful family of Disney geeks, we have this phrase called “Disney-bounding,” where one dresses in a way that resembles (but does not portray) a Disney character, particularly when visiting one of the Disney Parks. Well, I had mentioned above how there were some attending the performance who were dressed in such a way that reflected their love for the musical. I would say these “fansies” (as so eloquently labeled by some of the actual cast) were “Newsie-bounding” in their suspenders and Newsie caps. I just so happened to catch them snapping pictures outside the movie theater and I gathered up enough courage to ask one of the moms if I could be so bold as to snap one of them, too, to share in this post. Fortunately, the mom and group of friends from school and beyond were kind enough to oblige and I was able to capture this timeless photograph of friends with a common interest and shared passion, making a moment in history together at a very special theatrical event. Good luck in all your endeavors, girls!!
Until the next set of footprints are made ~ T
If you love Broadway, check out my review of Disney’s Aladdin: The Hit Broadway Musical.
Other Disney reviews found on the blog include:
Note: Credit for performance photos used above go solely to Deen Van Meer and were published on Broadway.com.