New Song for ‘Newsies’ As Musical Hits the Road

Newsies close Broadway

When the North American tour of Disney Theatrical Prods.’ stage musical “Newsies” opens in Philadelphia tonight, it’ll have something its Broadway audience didn’t see during the show’s two-and-a-half-year run in New York: A brand new song.

It’s not all that unusual for a road production to incorporate minor changes that creatives had wanted to make in the Broadway version but never got the chance. But the new tune in “Newsies,” “Letter from the Refuge,” wasn’t one of those. It originated in an off-the-cuff brainstorming session that unexpectedly yielded an idea that was a keeper — a year after the musical opened on the Main Stem.

In a March 2013 episode of the American Theater Wing series “Working in the Theater,” shown at the time on public access cable (and now available digitally), DTP president and producer Thomas Schumacher challenged “Newsies” collaborators Alan Menken and Jack Feldman to write an additional song for the show. It was just an exercise, intended solely as a way to illustrate how new tunes are created.

Feldman came up with an idea for a new song for Crutchie, the disabled newsboy who halfway through the show is snatched away to a juvenile detention center. The song would depict Crutchie in the refuge writing a letter to his friend Jack, the musical’s protagonist. In the “Working in the Theater” episode, called “The Anatomy of a Song,” Feldman riffs on a few lines and lyrics that occurred to him while Menken noodles away at some underscoring.

Feldman recalled, “When we were done, both Alan and Tom said to me, ‘Let’s do it for real!'” Part of the appeal was the fact that the addition would turn a second-act spotlight on a central character who, once he’s sent away, isn’t otherwise seen until the end.

For his part, Menken — currently at work on Disney’s retooled stage version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” — said the music he ended up with doesn’t sound a whole lot like that initial underscoring he tried out, but the tone is the same.

“Crutchie as a character would never be self-pitying, and he’s not used to writing letters, so that defined the pace and the tone of the song,” Menken said. “It’s tentative, emotional but guarded, with a sense of false bravado and a tenderness underneath. For other songs in the show, for instance,  I wanted to give ‘Carrying the Banner’ kind of a honkytonk feel, and ‘Seize the Day’ has a military sound. But this one is really just the music of the heart, so we wanted to keep it quiet and tender.”

Feldman aimed to keep the tune simple, a solo song with minimal set requirements, thereby making it easy to fold in to the preexisting second act. “There’s a bed,” he said of the furniture the number ended up requiring. “Although I honestly don’t know what’s under the sheet. It could be a printing press, for all I know!”

The song debuted Oct. 11 at the tour’s first stop in Schenectacy, which over a full week pulled in more than $1 million at the B.O. The touring production officially opens tonight in Philadelphia, with stops to follow in Chicago, Miami, L.A. and Vegas, among other cities.

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  1. cadavra says:

    I’ve never understood the need to revamp a show when it goes on the road. I resaw “The Addams Family” when it was at the Pantages and it barely resembled what I saw on Broadway. Afterwards, my date said, “You told me this was great!” I replied, “This isn’t the same show. They totally rewrote the second act and even cut my favorite song.” Why can’t they leave well enough alone?

    • CMarks says:

      Retooling a show for the road is done for a variety of reasons. Most tours travel with a smaller cast so some numbers are scaled back, some scenes need tweaking because there are characters missing due to the smaller cast, some scenes need changed because the original sets are often too large to travel with and sometimes songs are added (or removed) to accomidate the performers or orchestra. I too saw “Addams Family” in Chicago but didn’t much care for it, yes it was changed before Broadway but I didn’t find the changes to be improvements. However, when the show hit the road for the national tour it was tightened (and lightened- or maybe just better cast) and was the best of the three incarnations I saw. That said the never to reach Broadway touring revival of “Best Little Whorehouse In Texas”, which was reimagined to showcase Ann Margret, so badly destroyed the concept of the show as to make one wonder how it have ever originally been a hit on Broadway. In the case of “Newsies” I’m just glad they added a new song rather than removing any of the originals which work so well.

  2. 4nessj says:

    This is so cool. When I read the headline I thought “Oh no, what song are they replacing to make things simpler” but that wasn’t what they did at all. Crutchie is getting a song!!! I did feel like he kind of disappear in the show, and this is such a surprising, yet ultimately genius way to keep Crutchie in audiences’ hearts during the second act.

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