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Why ‘Newsies’ is more relevant than ever

Let me tell you about two remarkably similar instances of industrial action that took place in a drastically different time and place. Last year, in the United Kingdom, workers from many different fields (teaching, transport, and healthcare being among them) went on strike for the right to fair pay and equal treatment. More than a century earlier, in the U.S., underage workers did the same thing — and, most importantly, they won. Although it isn’t clear how the situation will play out in the UK yet, there is no better time to watch Newsies, a musical about striking newsboys currently being staged at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre.  

Newsies paints a vision of a better world being born

Newsies is a musical based on the 1992 musical film of the same name, which first premiered in 2011 and graduated to Broadway the following year. Inspired by the true story of the Newsboys Strike of 1899, the story focuses on a group of homeless newsboys growing up on the streets of New York City. After the price the Newsies pay to distribute the New York World increases, the scrappy crew forms a union and goes on strike. Despite facing many obstacles in the process, Newsies paints a vision of a better world being born and creates a sense of true hope as NYC enters the new century. The Broadway production won the Tony Award for Best Original Score, thanks to the music by Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin) (and lyrics by Jack Feldman), as well as a Tony for Best Choreography.   

A story of the masses standing up to exploitation has never been more relevant than in 2023, as different unions across the UK continue to strike for workers’ rights. Newsies also reflects on both the positive and the negative roles of the press during such conflicts – drawing a strict contrast between a philanthropic, upcoming journalist, Katherine Plumber, and a miserly, selfish Pulitzer. As well as delivering the modern classic successfully, the West End production innovates tired aspects of the show, making it a great watch by both new and old audiences. While my partner was a big fan of the show and I was watching it for the first time, we still enjoyed it in equal measure.  

The West End was not limited by the conventions of the show

Although the strengths of the original Broadway production remained, such as the tap-dancing choreography Newsies has become synonymous with, the West End was not limited by the conventions of the show. One of the most impressive aspects is the unconventional staging, which immerses the audience in the action seamlessly without feeling intrusive or overwhelming. As well as using a zip-line, the unusual shape of the stage and the seating (named after different boroughs of New York City) allowed the cast to perform around the audience. The choreographers also branched out from the same dances used in other runs, incorporating aerial dance in ‘King of New York’ and finally letting Katherine move around the stage in ‘Watch What Happens’.   

The casting was phenomenal, with Michael Ahomka-Lindsay perfectly capturing the rebellious (yet conflicted) spirit of Jack ‘Cowboy’ Kelly and having great chemistry with best friend ‘Crutchie’ (Matthew Duckett). All of the spirited, smart-talking Newsies succeeded in transporting the audience to 19th-century New York City, making you forget that you were watching a production in London – the maintenance of accents was an impressive feat in itself. The only real child role in the show is Les, who is played by four different actors on rotating schedules, and Nesim Adnan (who we saw) kept up incredibly with the adults of the show. One way the casting was noticeably modernised was by making the Spot Conlon and the Brooklyn branch of the Newsies all-girls, which was a fresh breath of air in a show dominated by male roles.   

Despite being set during the late 1800s, Newsies manages to remain as important as ever for audiences, especially since industrial action has become part of our regular lives, and the coming-of-age tale has a universal appeal for people of all ages. Rather than relying on the success of the iconic show to carry the production, the West End cast and crew have reimagined the show for a new era without taking away from the original story. Newsies not only proves why the production has become a modern classic but also makes sure that it will remain one by refusing to let it grow stale and outdated.   

Whether you’re a huge ‘fansie’ or know nothing about the show, it’s definitely worth a trip to London to watch before the extended run closes in July.  


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