This past weekend I was lucky to catch the last show of the world premiere stage adaptation of Newsies, at the Papermill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ. The stage show was the cult movie, with all the loveable characters, dance moves, and all of my favorite songs, but also with notable differences. There were changes to the details of the story, some new songs, and some lyric changes. My favorite change from the movie was the addition of a lady journalist, replacing the journalist Brian Denton. This change could have been a quick replacement of the same character, a Briana Denton if you will, but Katherine Plummer was so much more than a female Denton. Played by the charming Kara Lindsay, Katherine is a brand new character completely her own and perfectly placed in the world of Newsies.
Newsies is all about standing up for what you believe in, making a difference, having your voice be heard, seizing the day, hopefully you remember it. It’s a fun movie that makes me want to dream big, but Newsies the film has it's faults too. One reason it's imperfect is because it had no strong female characters, the only ones with speaking roles being David’s sister Sarah and Medda the burlesque dancer. Both of these characters were tiny roles, barely significant to the story at all. Hell, Sarah barely says a word the whole movie. I wonder if when she auditioned for the role they said all she’d have to do was make-out with Christian Bale, and then she said okay and never spoke again. The film was based on the real Newsboys Strike of 1899, but it basically left out the women of this time. The new stage show, with the addition of Katherine, fixes this problem without changing very much about the story. Like the Newsies, Katherine also wants to lend her voice for what she believes in, make a difference, and seize the day. It’s brilliant!
I know that when I watched this movie as a child, if Katherine Plummer had been in it then she would have been my hero. At the beginning when she offers to help the Newsies and write about their strike, they don’t give her a solid answer and evade her help. She immediately calls them out on their sexism, and demands they admit they’re hesitating because she’s a girl. She was an unapologetic feminist who knew she could help the Newsies, so she persisted unafraid and without delay. And she more than proves herself to them over and over again. It is Katherine who writes the killer article that gives the Newsies all the press power they need, and Katherine who also supplies the words for The Newsies Banner expose of unfair child labor conditions throughout New York City. At one point Jack is ready to give up the fight and quit as the leader of the strike, and Katherine swoops in to inspire him again. The Newsies wouldn’t have made progress in their fight against Pulitzer without Katherine; she totally saved the day and kicked ass.
Of course the addition of a strong and sassy female reporter helping the Newsies is also the addition of a romance between her and Jack Kelly. That was inevitable. She does also replace Sarah after all. But again, I loved how Katherine was such a crucial part of the story as well. You still get some of the cliche rules of romantic comedy, since at first she’s annoyed by his persistent flirting and thinks he’s an arrogant jerk. But once Jack adorably sketches her portrait while she yells at him to go away, then leaves it and runs off, of course she begins to melt. However for a Disney musical, it was very unlike typical Disney romance where the girl is rescued by the guy, then fulfills her only aspiration which is to “live happily ever after” with him. Katherine and Jack were on an equal plain, saving each other over and over again.
Historically it also made so much sense too, having Katherine woven into the story. Katherine’s character was inspired by Nellie Bly, a female journalist pioneer of that time who stood up to the men and wrote what she wanted to write. Similarly Katherine Plummer is a new journalist assigned to cover only flower shows and arts and entertainment, but she yearns to cover social issues and hard news. By covering the Newsies’ strike, they are helping her get on her feet as a journalist as much as she is helping them with their cause.
The addition of Katherine updated Newsies and made it fresh, while still keeping in time period and with the heart and message of the original. I really hope that the producers of Newsies aren’t afraid and don’t delay in making more “fansies” dreams come true by taking this show to Broadway, putting it on tour, and at the very least giving the rights to to high schools across the country, and then the world will know how great it is. I already want to see it again.
Now is the time to seize the day!
Photo: Paper Mill Playhouse