The first Broadway Show my parents ever took me to see was Peter Pan. I remember this fluttery feeling in my stomach as the orchestra started to play the overture, and a few years later I was surprised to experience that same feeling as I waited off stage to make my entrance during a summer camp production of "Charlotte's Web" (I played the Narrator). Of course I soon grew up, got training and also got critical and even though I still love performing in and attending shows, it's rare that I feel the butterflies. But last week, at Paper Mill Playhouse's production of Newsie's the Musical, I could feel them....and they were fluttering around inside my seven-year-old daughter's tummy as she sat beside me!
It was definitely a "pass the torch moment" for me as I watched my daughter take in the show. She was thrilled by the full, Broadway sound emanating from the orchestra pit and blown away by the stunning gymnastics during the highly choreographed group numbers. And who wouldn't be interested in such a display of triple-threat testosterone? She might be young, but we're talking a cast of 18 uber-talented young men who are young enough to be my...um, kids' babysitter?
I'm not sure if my daughter truly understood the plot although she was able to tell me the basic story during our forty minute drive back to New York after the show. Unlike me, my daughter had not seen the 1992 Disney film on which the musical is based. She didn't know the back story: the history of of the newsboy strike of 1889, a youth-lead revolt that forced newspaper moguls Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst to improve compensation practices for their child labor force. She didn't understand that there was a period in our nation's history when child labor was legal and unregulated, or that in a time without TV or internet, the newspaper was the most powerful media tool society knew.
But she did understand some of the more basic, human themes found in Newsies: A lesson in bullying, and how the underdog can triumph if his cause is just and his resolve is strong. How believing in yourself is as important as believing in the cause you fight for. All of this is embodied in the journey taken by the show's lead character and leader of the newsboy strike, Jack Kelly.
We noticed a few interesting theatrical moments: how the lines between rich and poor were so clearly drawn with costume choices and (my favorite) how the talented, athletic female dancers were gorgeous and exciting to watch without looking like walking, starving skeletons. (Yes, even at age seven, girls notice.) And that classic New York accent, which my daughter found hard to understand at first but after a few minutes she developed an ear for it and was able to soak in the show without straining to understand words.
All of which added up to some nice teaching moments. We discussed the newsboy strike, what a labor union is and why there are laws about child labor. We talked about the newspaper and what it meant to people who didn't have computers, how it must have felt back then to be poor and alone as a child and what happens to kids now who find themselves in similar circumstances. We discovered together that even though a lot has changed, in some ways our world has very much stayed the same.
I'm always excited to discover a family-friendly piece of theatre that parents can also enjoy. Not that I don't get a thrill out of bringing my three year old to a show geared towards the preschool set, it's just such a treat to see something that both my child and I can truly enjoy and even discuss after. I'd recommend Newsies for kids over age six. And I'd also recommend that parents take a moment to fill their kids in on the history of the newsboy strike of 1889 before seeing the show. In retrospect, I wish I had.
If you don't have time to catch Newsies at Paper Mill Playhouse before it closes on October 16, word on the street is that you'll get a chance to see it on Broadway this coming Spring. If that does happen, we definitely plan on going back.