NEWSIES on Broadway: Behind the Scene’s Interview with Steve Fickinger

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I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Musicals and Broadway. I grew up watching Mary Poppins, Meet me in St. Lois, West Side Story and my absolute favorite the Wizard of Oz!  The first time I had a glimpse of “NEWSIES” the Broadway Musical was while watching television, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 2011.  Little did I know then that Disney would invite me to NYC for the War Horse Movie Premiere and I would get to sit in a live Mary Poppins Broadway Show and have the opportunity to meet and speak with Steve Flickinger who is the Vice President of Creative Development and Licensing for Newsies.  We were honored with an interview Q & A session to hear about how Newsies came to be.

Mr. Fickinger has such passionate and excitement along with being very animated and has so much want’s to share.  It’s all so wonderful and he keeps you on the edge of every word you can just feel the excitement and love that he has for Broadway, show business and Disney.  While we waited for Steve Fickinger to arrive we were given a preview of the Broadway Play Newsies.  This is not the clip that we saw but here’s a little sneak peak to give you a little glimpse.

I’m going to try and share what I can of the interview because it’s all really important. There are a few times that he’s really excited and goes on and on but I promise you’ll love it. I took out the vocal pauses just to make the reading easier skip out of a bit of this and that.

Steve Fickingers job in a nutshell: “If somebody says, Newsies, let’s make it a stage musical, my job is to get the writer, the lyricist, the composer, spend that period for “X” amount of time, which can be “XYZ” amount of time with doing readings, drafts, notes, workshops, and then we do the first production to actually get the director, choreographer, set designer, etc.”

Mr. Fickinger has worked with Disney 18 years and he’s been working on Newsies for the past 7 years. So seven years ago he picked up the phone and called Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, who did the original film, and also spoke with Bob Tzudicker and Noni White who wrote the original film. It was a year until he could even get the people in the room for the first time.  He said, “People’s schedules are very complicated and things just take time. And we probably worked for…I would say probably 2 years on a stage adaptation. Now Bob Tzudicker and Noni White are fantastic writers and wonderful people. ”

Mr. Fickinger goes onto share his thoughts on putting together a stage musicals: “It is a very specific skill set, which is very few people do it. The book for a musical. You have to understand the sort of shorthand in which people write in musicals. Scenes don’t tend to be long, the scene has to kind of ramp up to a song, the song is supposed to be the expression of the moment, it’s supposed to further the story, it’s supposed to crystallize what’s happening in that moment, and then you kind of have to get out what we call button the scene.

We’d been working a long time. I didn’t wanna throw the whole thing out, and a story that’s slightly more to a little bit, and becomes slightly apocryphal, but it’s a true story, is that composer Alan Menken, who I’m sure you all know from Beauty and the Beast and etc, Enchanted, Sister Act, many wonderful things, he happened to be at Leo’s Grocery Store. He lives kind of slightly upstate New York in some beautiful, leafy suburb where I’ll never be able to afford a home, and he happened to run into Harvey Fierstein, who you probably also know from Mrs. Doubtfire, he wrote the La Cage aux Folles, he wrote towards some trilogy. Harvey Fierstein.

They fell to talking, they’d never met before, and Harvey says, ‘what do you do? What are you working on?’ And Alan says, ‘I’m doing this, and I’m doing this, and I’m doing this’ and he happened to throw Newsies into the conversation, and Harvey said, “let’s talk more about that”. So they went over to Alan’s house, and as they talked more about it, Harvey watched the film, and Alan picked up the phone, and he said, you know, you’re never going to believe who actually is interested in writing the book for Newsies. Harvey Fierstein.

I said, “That’s amazing, you know, Harvey’s a four-time Tony Winner of great, contemporary man of the theater, etc. I said, well, that’s fantastic.”

How Newsies has changed from the Original movie to a Broadway Production: In his words: “The goal for the show was primarily to serve or service all those people out there who wanted to do for schools, community groups, maybe some professional productions, whatever that might be. Harvey quite early on, had some really unique ideas he brought to it, which are a little bit spoiler alert, as they say here, which is that, if you know the film or if you remember it all, the actor, Bill Pullman played Denton, who was the newspaper man, and no longer is there a newspaper man named Denton. There is a newspaper woman named Katherine, which is a little bit reminiscent of Nellie Bly from around the turn of that century.”

We got a good laugh out of this part because honestly if you think about it it’s very true: “And also we did things, you know, we love to kill parents at Disney, so, though we didn’t kill the parents, they’re nowhere to be found in the show. And so after a certain amount of and if their parents are going to survive, only one. So after quite some time of doing it again, for, more drafts, rewrites, we would read it around the table like this. Uh, several new songs were written, so it was really, now, let me digress for one moment….”

He goes on to share how he hadn’t seen Newsies and goes home to watch the movie and here are his first thoughts:
So I went home, and I put it in my DVD player, and when it started, I thought, oh, yeah, I get, this is going to be a great, to make a musical, terrific. About halfway through, you go, huh? Huh? The story really falls apart. It’s not a great movie. So I was firmly of the belief that what people remembered about it was songs, the emotion, sort of the bravado, that you didn’t really have to slavishly to the story, slavishly, except for the most diehard of …, the high affinity patrons, as we call them.

The show just really caught fire in New Jersey and the National Press came. So when we received just sort of an avalanche of great press on Newsies from the New York Times, Give us a break, Mirror Times, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, New York Magazine, etc., their review were just terrific. You know, we weren’t necessarily, nothing’s ever perfection. You still see there’s more work to be done, but we had our run, which was a finite amount of time, and it was terrific. It was very, very exciting, and there was also just speculation, would we move to Broadway.

Fickinger on the age range of the Cast: In reality, this is based on an actual incident that happened around the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century, and newsboys, “Newsies” or were newsgirls, too, and newsies were young. They were kids. That’s fine if you’re going to do a wonderful show like Annie, where people made broad declarations and wise crack, and make one line, but if you actually have a story that’s going to have the level of choreography that we wanted, that’s going to really have the demands upon a performer that we wanted the show to have, it’s just not going to really happen if you have a bunch of twelve year olds.
Twelve year old’s are wonderful, but a cast full of them is not going to work. Not to mention the fact that the logistics behind it are a nightmare, in terms of traveling and getting the appropriate escorts, etc.. So our goal was to really get people that age would be kind of, if they were to come right out of college. Right out of college, you’re twenty-two, and as you know, if you’re our age, twenty-two looks younger and younger all the time. So I would say that aside from the two boys who were double cast to our kids, who I think one is eleven, and one is maybe, but twelve, I would say the cast ranges from sixteen, who is a kid who came and auditioned, I have to tell you a funny story, I shouldn’t tell you… ‘he would be loath for me to tell you this, probably our oldest newsie is twenty-eight, although he looks very young.

I would say to you, the median age is about twenty-three, and a lot of them were in this recent revival of West Side Story that was just on Broadway. We do have some of the kids who are in Spring Awakening, um, but Broadway, or the tour. So they are young, but if you see this show or when you see the show, their level of ability in terms of not just their singing, but their dancing, it is extraordinary. And just, I mean, dance is a young people’s art form anyway, but not just for young people, for anybody.

Newsies Wrap up: It is in the best sense of the word, I think, an old fashioned musical. It has tap dancing, it has dancing, it has soaring ballets, it’s got toe tapping tunes, and it’s got a story that is oddly, and fantastically timely, which is about the David versus Goliath and the little guy taking on the big sort of behemoth, and you won’t be surprised to hear winning.

Advance tickets are available as of  Monday, January 30th, previews begin on March 15th and opening night of the show on Broadway is March 29th. NEWSIES is currently scheduled to run until June 10th

Set in New York City at the turn of the century, Newsies is the rousing tale of 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 for what’s right.

Newsies is inspired by the real-life ‘Newsboy Strike of 1899,’ when newsboy Kid Blink led a band of orphan and runaway newsies on a two-week-long action against Pulitzer, Hearst and other powerful newspaper publishers.

Newsies has had an unexpected journey to Broadway. The stage adaptation had been developed for licensing to theatre groups and its Paper Mill run intended only as a pilot production for that market. The planned next step was to immediately release the title to the theatres and schools who had for many years made Newsies the single most requested title of all the Disney film musicals not yet adapted to the stage.

The stage version introduces several brand-new songs by the original team of Menken and Feldman while keeping many of the beloved songs from the film, including ‘Carrying the Banner, ‘Seize the Day,’ ‘King of New York’ and ‘Santa Fe.’

What Should You Expect Next on Broadway?
We are working on Alice in Wonderland right now, and that will be with Tim Burton, as well. There will be an Alice in Wonderland, and there will be a Nightmare before Christmas.

Steve Fickinger was an incredible interview. I could of gone on for days listening. He’s truly fully of knowledge and thoughts.  I loved all of his stories which is so much more than I can share in just one post.  His passion for Broadway and putting on a show that the public will love is endless.  I feel in my heart he goes above and beyond putting on a show that will spark interest and keep you entertained.  I hope I get a chance to see Newsies. I would love to take the whole family especially my Mom.  I think she would love it. It would be wonderful for it to go viral and really popular tour and make it here to Chicago!

Disclosure: Travel and lodging expenses and transcripts provided by Disney. Many thanks to Steve Fickinger and Disney and Marshall from Disney for allowing me to experience it all and share it with my family and with you!  I know I’m truly blessed to have these experience’s and I’m grateful for them every day.  Thoughts are 100% my own.

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4 Responses

  1. Stephen N. says:

    I was never really into Broadway shows. The only shows I am interested in are The Lion King, RENT, Beauty and the Beast and Wicked.

  2. Laurie says:

    Ive always wanted to see a Broadway show, and this looks so good!

  3. Marcie W. says:

    I remember Newsies the movie when I was a kid! I also remember how much I adored their hats back then. I would love to see them on Broadway now!

  4. Would that I lived in NYC. I would be so broke for Broadway shows!