It’s Not Too Late, Newsies

4 Jan

Happy New Year, All! I hope you all are well and rested and well-caroled and figgy puddinged and ball dropped (well THAT sounded dirty) and ready for a happy and healthy new year. And what a new year we have in store in entertainment! All sorts of good stuff is coming down the pike, more than I can chuck a squee at.

One of those good things is the musical version of my beloved movie, Newsies. As I have discussed before on this here bloggedy blog, I have a special relationship with Newsies. As a young’un, I watched it enough that it’s possible part of my DNA has been rewritten with little tiny side hitch-kicks, and as an older’un, I still maintain a secret fondness for suspenders. Thus, it’s no surprise that when it was announced that they were finally going to do a stage version of the movie (FINALLY) out at Papermill, my friends and I piled into a train and went to get our Santa Fe on.

And now, Newsies is kickin’ its heels up and heading to the great white way. And I shall be there, with a cap on (well, not in my theater seat, obviously). But I’m warning you, Broadway production of Newsies, while I enjoyed your Papermill version quite a bit, there’s one glaring omission that I find it hard to forgive.

To put it simply, you missed a Spot.

You see, my favorite character in Newsies the movie was the tough Brooklyn Newsie Spot Conlon. Why? Because he was the awesomest.

As most of you reading this blog probably already know, in the movie version of Newsies, our hero Jack Kelly wants to send emissaries to the newsies of different boroughs, but is reluctant to find volunteers to go to Brooklyn because of Spot Conlon, who is scary. So Jack goes himself, out to the piers covered with older looking boys who are inexplicably swimming in white long johns (I know it’s probably historically accurate, but seriously, movie, having tough teenagers swim in white long johns is like having a mob boss appear wearing bunny slippers. Not. Scary.) Spot Conlon appears, and to our delight, far from being the biggest and toughest of all, he is tiny. However, he is certainly tough and has a delightful mouth shaped like an archer’s bow (what? It’s not pervy if I was tween at the time of the original crush, right?), and tells Jack that he won’t join until Jack proves he can fight back if things get rough. Jack goes back alone, but when a fight starts, Spot Conlon and his vicious slingshot and band of Brooklyn toughs save the day and join the fight.

To put it simply, Spot Conlon is an excellent character. So I was very much looking forward to seeing who they would cast when the show was first announced, only to see his name listed in amongst all the other newsies. How could this be? Spot Conlon and Specs are not equal, Newsies. My worry grew when I looked in the program and saw that Spot didn’t have a number in the first act. Well, okay, I thought, he does have one in the second, called ‘Brooklyn is Here’, so my fears were assuaged by thinking that maybe they saved Spot’s big moment for his save-the-day entrance.

Oh, readers, how wrong I was. Spot’s big scene in the first act was totally cut, and his number in the second was a lame refrain sung by a few Newsies walking in place on the set as though they were crossing the bridge, dressed in tight red outfits that made me wonder if maybe someone had misunderstood and thought that ‘Brooklyn’ was actually a leather bar in Jersey. And that was basically it for the character.

Now, I’m going to address you directly, Broadway production of Newsies. Because this is serious, and it’s not too late for you. Fix this. Bring back Spot Conlon.

You see, there are few things I know for sure in this world. But one of those things is that if Spot Conlon had a big number in the first act, it would stop the show (in a good way, not in a Miss Marmelstein ‘nothing else in this show can top that, so you might as well all go home’ way).

Here’s what you do, Newsies: simply put back in the scene in which Jack and David go out to Brooklyn. Keep, as it is in the movie, David’s convincing Spot, and Jack’s line about Davey being “a mouth with a brain,” because that will add back in a bit of coloring for David, a character who lost quite a bit of it in translation (I mean, I know Jack is the most important character, but one of the beauties of that movie is how fleshed-out a lot of the Newsies are, which really isn’t the case in the show). Then you have Spot say, basically, you’re in my town now, and here are my rules, and then, bam, you’re in the middle of a badass number in which Spot sings about Brooklyn and how this is his town (suggested song titles are either ‘Brooklyn’ or ‘It’s My Town’, for obvious reasons). It’s fierce, the amazing kid you get to take down the house makes everyone in the audience’s face melt with his talent and pure chutzpah (just cast Al Calderon. Seriously, just do that.), all the kids get another amazing number which Chris Gattelli will choreograph the crap out of, and everybody who lives in Brooklyn will come see the show and adopt the song as an anthem. And then, when Spot shows up in the second act, there will be great rejoicing. Oh, and for the love of god, cut those stupid red outfits – Spot in the movie carries a walking stick and a slingshot, because the movie understood that a true badass leader doesn’t wear a muscle tee, but rather has the kind of peculiar affectation that says “I must be truly scary, because I am a tiny newsie who carries a walking stick and yet everyone is scared of me.”

See, if you don’t believe me, watch this and tell me that line about having a brain, and not just half of one, isn’t a HUGE MUSICAL NUMBER CUE!!

I know, you’re probably thinking, eek, we have a lot of numbers, we don’t need another, but to that I say, pshaw. This is no mere number, this is a potential showstopper. And you can cut ‘Brooklyn is Here’ (I’d hate to waste that full five minutes of time it took Alan Menken to write that one, but you’ll want a brief reprise of ‘Brooklyn’ or ‘It’s My Town’, anyway), and, if you’re in a pinch, lose that ‘Mr. Cladwell’ number for Pulitzer. Done and done!

Just trust me on this one, Newsies. I’ll love you anyway, but do this, for yourself.


P.S. Do you know how many spot puns I refrained from making in this post? A lot. A whole lot. I just want credit for that.


3 Responses to “It’s Not Too Late, Newsies”

  1. Oliver Brownlow January 6, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    I don’t agree with everything you’ve said here. In particular, I’m not sure it’s necessary or desirable for Spot to have a number in the first act. But you’re the first person I’ve seen express a thought I do agree with: that Spot Conlon is and should be a major character in any version of NEWSIES, rather than the meaningless throwaway character he was in the Paper Mill production. Strangely, Disney has never seemed to recognize the importance or popularity of Spot Conlon — if you remember, he wasn’t even among the newsies profiled in the NEWSIES BANNER giveaway newspaper available at many theatres during the movie’s brief original run. To my mind, he was always the fourth most important character in the movie (after Jack, David, and Les). Others may place him higher or lower on the totem pole, but I think almost every serious NEWSIES fan would place him among the most important newsies, and I think all will be baffled by the short shrift he’s been given in the stage production, where he’s a character of so little importance that the actor who plays him actually plays one of the Manhattan newsies in other scenes, and even in that brief “crossing the Brooklyn Bridge” sequence with the other Brooklyn newsies, he’s so unexceptional and undifferentiated from his companions that I found it very difficult to guess which of them was supposed to be him. What makes Spot so interesting in the movie is the way he’s been cast against type. We hear first of his formidable city-wide reputation, which clearly intimidates most of the Manhattan newsies from afar. First time viewers of the movie may picture a typical Brooklyn tough, but when Spot actually appears, he’s something much more surprising: a willowy, vulnerable-looking youth with aggresive body language who holds mysterious but very real power and authority over a group of boys who seem to be bigger and physically stronger than he is. That power and authority clear does not derive from superior physical strength on his part, but from some kind of superior political or interpersonal skills. He has somehow gained the respect and loyalty of these other boys, and convinced them not just once, but over and over again, and every day on a continuing basis, that his leadership benefits all of them. Spot also clearly has a prior relationship with Jack on the basis of equality. Spot greets him not as an underling, but as a partner (note the spit-handshake between them, just like the one that seals the deal between Jack and David). And as you’ve referenced, there’s an important moment when Spot “names” David, calling him a “Walking Mouth” (just before the response of Jack’s that you’ve quoted above — at the end of the movie, Jack introduces David to Pulitzer as such: “my pal David, the Walking Mouth”). And of course, that moment when Brooklyn arrives to join the fight with the immortal words “Never fear — Brooklyn is here!” — with Spot swinging into the middle of the action on a rope like Douglas Fairbanks — is one of the iconic high points of the movie.

    Spot’s other scenes are very important as well, especially his dialogue with Jack during the newsies’ rally at Medda’s theatre, obviously pre-arranged between them to resolve tensions between factions among the newsies favoring violence and those favoring a more moderate approach — further evidence of the partnership and collaberation between Spot and Jack), and even Spot’s hilarious objection (and homage to Shakespeare) in court “on the grounds of Brooklyn.” I had hoped that in the stage version, the judge would overrule Spot’s objection by pointing out to him that he was not on the grounds of Brooklyn, but rather “on the grounds of Manhattan.” But this scene doesn’t even exist in the Paper Mill staging. Other scenes of Spot in the movie might have been improved in the stage version. In the movie, he reacts with simple rage when Jack turns scab, but it’s hard to believe that’s all he’d feel. Given their close relationship, I believe he would require Jack to give him a personal explanation.

    As for a song for Spot, for a long time I believed that “Seize the Day” ought to become the centerpiece of the newsies’ rally, with Spot leading the song as a sing-along with the audience, thus fulfilling the dream of every NEWSIES fan to become a newsie — the whole audience would become the packed theatre full of striking newsies. In the movie, the number always seemed shoehorned in, a less particularized, more pop-oriented version of “The World Will Know” intended mainly as a “step-out” number that could be performed by pop artists and school choirs outside the context of the show. As the center of the rally, I thought it would work better, because its different, more pop-oriented energy could be taken to represent the different, wilder, stronger energy of the all newsies united together, and Spot seems to me the ideal conduit for that energy. I still think it’s a pretty good idea, though the Paper Mill production did a good job of making “Seize the Day” seem more natural in its original position by adding a quieter, more gradual lead-in, and also by adding a subtle rock beat to “The World Will Know” that made the heavier rock beat of “Seize the Day” seem less jarring.

    I have larger beefs with the Paper Mill NEWSIES, happy as I was to see the thing on stage at all. The insertion of a love interest for Jack, “Katherine Plumber” (who is the sort of character who would *never* fall in love with the Jack of the movie) has caused the authors to replace our “Cowboy” with a totally different conception of Jack as an artist. He’s simply not the same guy. David’s importance is greatly reduced due to the story now being really only about “Artist” Jack and Katherine Plumber. His mother, father, and sister no longer exist except as offstage characters, thus eliminating the motivation and the original opening lines of the movie’s greatest set piece, Jack’s “Santa Fe.” “Artist” Jack still sings about “Santa Fe,” but one wonders why, since he doesn’t have the “Cowboy” fantasy that was so central to the original Jack’s personality. As an artist, shouldn’t he sing about “Paris, France” instead? Hey, it’s the same number of syllables. Les has been transformed from a hero-worshipping innocent to a wise-cracking Lothario, and along with Spot, the fleshed-out personalities of most of the other newsies we remember so vividly from the movie — Racetrack, Boots, Mush, etc. — have been totally obliterated. Some of their names and some of their lines remain (often in garbled form), but they have basically been reduced to interchangeable dancers in a uniformly 20-something chorus line. They’re excellent dancers, but they are not individual characters.

    I love NEWSIES and I always will, and I’ve longed to see it on stage for 20 years. The movie certainly has its own shortcomings, and I never expected every moment of the movie to be reproduced precisely on stage. I hoped there would be changes that would solve the problems of the movie and make it a popular hit that both true believers who have loved the movie from the beginning and new audiences who encountered it for the first time on stage could love and enjoy. But to me it seems that far too much of the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. And I wish this thing wasn’t being rushed to Broadway so quickly, after which I presume its deeply disappointing script will become set in stone as the only script available to regional and amateur theatres, and my friends, the real newsies whom I love (Spot Conlon included), who I hoped to visit all over the country in many of those productions in years to come, will be confined permanently to the 1992 movie version alone. I wish they’d delay the Broadway opening by at least a year, reconsider what they’ve done, do a couple more regional tryouts, and put the newsies back in it.

  2. Alyssa February 11, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    I totally 100% agree with this article! I also saw Newsies at Papermill and was looking forward to Spot (my favorite character as well) and his classic one-liners that were just completely omitted from the play. I would like to go see the Broadway production, but if Spot’s role is still downplayed I don’t want to see it. That was my biggest disappointment. While Never fear Brooklyn’s here makes sense for a musical number, There was something special about the spotlight being just on Spot during that infamous phrase. His personality as the tough kid who acted like he knew everything and beamed confidence even though every word out of his mouth was something kinda dumb and hilarious is completely lost in the stage version. It ruined the play for me. I couldn’t stop talking about that the whole 2 hour ride home. That scene was my favorite in the movie. They could have made a musical number about it, and the tough Brooklyn boys. And my favorite line: “What is this Jackie Boy some kinda walkin mouth?” To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with the new love interest either. I wish they just kept it exactly the same as the movie. its considered a cult classic and thats what the fans truly wanted to see.

  3. Alyssa February 11, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    To follow up, I also agree with the previous commenter about Jack’s Cowboy image being lost. They changed way too much for the stage version and I just wish they would have kept it the same.

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