Disney seizes the day on adapting film to stage
Extra! Extra! “Newsies” is coming to the boards.A stage version of the Mouse House pic has been in development at Disney Theatricals for years, as an impressive cult following grew behind the Gen Y-fave, which starred a young Christian Bale and bowed in 1992 to less-than-stellar B.O. The show will open at Milburn, N.J.’s, Paper Mill Playhouse with composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman returning to expand the score. Four-time Tony winner Harvey Fierstein will pen the book and Jeff Calhoun will helm, with previews starting Sept. 15 ahead of a Sept. 25 opening. “For some reason it was adopted by an entire generation, in many cases under the radar,” said Menken. He credited the resurrection of the property to fans who discovered and adopted the pic, in which Robert Duvall and Ann-Margaret had supporting roles. “Disney’s record is pretty good with promoting things — this had nothing to do with Disney promotion. It happened in phases: I’d walk into a mall and (kids) would just be there performing ‘Seize the Day.’ I went to my kids’ camp and they were performing a pirated version of ‘Newsies.’” With so many theatermakers either asking for rights and an official script (or simply performing the show without permission), Disney saw a potential revenue stream. The new version will appease theaters jonesing for a licenseable version, and hopefully redirect some cash from the pirated productions back to Disney Theatricals. Menken said Disney reps told him they’d be happy to hire someone else to flesh out his music for the longer stage show, but he was having none of it. “They said, ‘You know, there’s no money in this,’ and I said, ‘I don’t care. I’m doing it,’ ” Menken recalled. The composer called the original film “such a spectacular flop that it was practically a success coming back the other way,” but said he was always confident in the strength of the score. “I remember having breakfast with Jeffrey Katzenberg at the Four Seasons, which was to tell me that they weren’t put any more money into ‘Newsies,’” he recalled. “He said, ‘Menken, I could throw $10 million up in the air here on Doheny Boulevard and it would do no good. It’s DOA, baby.’ And he was right.” Returning to the show on the strength of its sleeper success, he said, was triumphant.The show will play through Oct. 16 at Milburn; Disney says that further dates are depending on the tuner’s b.o. at the Paper Mill.