REVIEW: Newsies – The Broadway Musical (film)

Newsies_ The Broadway MusicalDisney’s Newsies: The Broadway Musical is a recording of the hit Broadway musical Newsies filmed live at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, CA during the last leg of the musical’s national tour. This filmed version features the return of many of the original Broadway cast – including Jeremy Jordan, Kara Lindsay, Ben Fankhauser, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Kevin Carolan, Mark Aldrich, Tommy Bracco, and John E. Brady – as well as the final national tour cast – including Steve Blanchard, Aisha de Haas, Ethan Steiner, Iain Young, Michael Gorman, Michael Rios, Devin Lewis, and Anthony Norman, among others – combined into one large cast to permanently capture this award-winning musical. As per Fathom Events: Newsies Jack Kelly, a charismatic newsboy, and leader of a ragged band of teenaged ‘newsies,’ who dreams only of a better life far from the hardship of the streets. But when publishing titans Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raise distribution prices at the newsboys’ expense, Jack finds a cause to fight for and rallies newsies from across the city to strike and take a stand for what’s right. 


Jack Kelly (Jeremy Jordan) and Crutchie (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) during Santa Fey.

I’m not really gonna review the musical as much in this review – there are plenty of other reviewers that have done an adequate job at this already – and the verdict is in! Yes, it’s a good musical. A really good one, might I add, and I will spend a bit of time talking about that a little bit later on. But, rather than waste this whole review on the quality of the musical, I’m gonna spend my time discussing whether or not this is a good recording of the musical because isn’t that really the most important question here? Sure, nobody’s gonna buy a DVD/Digital Download of a crappy musical, but people also aren’t gonna wanna buy a crappy recording of a good musical. We’ve established – and will establish a bit more in a moment – that Newsies is a good musical, so, is this a good recording of Newsies? Short answer: yeah, it’s a good recording. Long answer: it’s a superb recording, and here’s why:


Davey (Ben Fankhauser), Les (Ethan Steiner) and Jack (Jeremy Jordan) meet Medda Larkin (Aisha de Haas).

The musical itself is good. I know I said I wouldn’t really review the musical, and I’m still not going to, but I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t talk about the material at all. It’s a strong musical, with a book expertly written by award-winning playwright Harvey Fierstein and a score by Alan Menken with lyrics by Jack Feldman, and based on the Disney musical film of the same name from 1992 (starring Christian Bale; written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White, directed by Kenny Ortega, and featuring music by Alan Menken). Menken and Feldman’s songs shine brightly in the musical, as does Christopher Gattelli’s choreography (which really gives the ensemble cast plenty of time in the spotlight). The story, while simple, is heartwarming, engaging, and well paced. The characters are well-defined, three-dimensional, and easily relatable. It’s family friendly, though does include some tough subjects – such as child abuse in prisons. But, by the end of it, it will leave you feeling good, which is really what you want from a musical like this.


Footage captured onstage during one of the fight sequences.

The camerawork is stunning. Oftentimes, recording of live events fall into one of two categories: filled with only a few static camera shots or stuffed to the brink with angles and edited so haphazardly that it feels nearly sickening to try and follow it. Thankfully, Newsies doesn’t fall into either of these categories. It finds the perfect balance between fluid, interesting camera angles and spending enough time on an angle to be able to clearly and concisely follow the action that’s happening on stage. Not only that, they’re able to achieve a sense of urgency not often found in recordings of live events, primarily due to the way this particular event was filmed. They spent a week with various cameras – including Steadicams – filming lots of action onstage and then later mixed that footage in with a recording of an entire run of the show in front of an audience. By doing this, film director Brett Sullivan is able to bring the audience right into the action on the stage. Normally, you’d be stuck with some cameras situated through the audience, and maybe a crane or two, but by filming from the stage as well, you’re really able to capture the urgency of what’s going on. Fight scenes are incredible to watch as the cameras get down and dirty with the actors and make the audience really feel the brutality of the scene. It’s really an incredible feat, and it’s great that Sullivan – and Disney – put so much care into making sure this film looked impressive. They’ve set a high bar for future filmed versions of musicals to hit, and it’s a bar that filmed musicals should definitely strive for. Cinematographer Clayton Jacobsen should be proud of the work he, and all his camera operators and assistants – especially Steadicam operator Martyn Porter – did on this production.


The newsies waiting outside the paper distribution plant.

The recording sounds remarkable. Again, oftentimes when stage musicals get filmed, not much care is put into the sound mix. It seems to be that as long as you can hear everything, that’s good enough. And it’s really not good enough, especially if you’re going to release that recording into movie theaters (which Disney did with this recording of Newsies). This recording definitely benefited from the expectations that come with a theatrical release as the sound mix honestly sounds incredible. The orchestra – which is usually the part of musicals that get the short end of the stick in recordings – was given the gift a strong, full sound. I don’t know if maybe there was a bigger pit orchestra for the recording, or if they were just mixed in well, but either way, hearing the orchestrations so loud and clear and well mixed with the singing goes a long way to making this recording as good as it is. Add in the expertise in which the actors’ voices are mixed in with the orchestrations, and you have yourself one damn good sounding recording. The mixing of the actors is done especially well in the group numbers; none of the leads overshadow the ensemble in terms of volume, but you can also still pick out the leads of the song. It’s really well done, and I applaud Paul Gatehouse and Lee McCutcheon (the film audio mixer and producer, respectively) for their hard work in this.


The newsies enter the offices of Mr. Pulitzer.

This particular production of the musical itself was good. It featured most of the same set  – likely somewhat simplified, as is the case with most touring shows – and costumes from the Broadway run. The actors, many of whom originated their roles on Broadway – bring their all to these performances. Jeremey Jordan sings his heart out as Jack Kelly. He’s performing like there’s no tomorrow; like there’s no point in living unless he pulls off this role again. Kara Lindsay, Ben Fankhauser, and Andrew Keenan-Bolger are as good as they were on Broadway, if not better since they’ve had the time and direction to really make sure they nail these roles one last time. The touring cast is equally as good as the originals; there’s no distinction in talent. It doesn’t feel like “the Broadway cast and friends”, but it feels like the original cast and the touring cast really mixed together well and all egos were left at the door. Special praise has to go to the ensemble cast of this show. It’s a demanding show for an ensemble, especially in the dance department. They have to be so skilled with their dancing and be able to sing the music expertly at the same time, and the entire ensemble makes it look easy. They do it with such ease, conviction, and passion that even though you’re sitting alone in your house watching this on a computer or TV, you still want to applaud them. Speaking of applause, the audience in this recording was electric. They knew they were there for the filming of this movie, and they brought the energy. Every stage actor knows just how important an audience is to the overall quality of the piece, and this audience did not disappoint. It was that perfect mix of actors wanting to share a story and audiences ready and eager to hear it.

Newsies: The Broadway  Musical sets the new gold standard for what filmed versions of musicals should look and sound like. It’s a great musical captured brilliantly by a talented group of actors, cameramen, audio tech, and various other crew members. It’s the perfect way to remember this unique musical, and hopefully, it ushers in the release of more filmed versions of theatre shows.

I give Newsies: The Broadway Musicai five out of five wands.

Newsies: The Broadway Musical is available to purchase now on all major digital movie providers.

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