Ben Fankhauser is currently making his Broadway debut in Disney’s NEWSIES. The show, featuring music by Academy Award winner Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and a book by Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein, opened on March 29th at the Nederlander Theater. Ben reprises the role of newsboy ‘Davey’ which he originated in the 2011 Paper Mill Playhouse production. NEWSIES is based on the 1992 Disney movie about the 1899 strike of New York City newsboys.
Before joining the production, Ben played the sensitive gay teen ‘Ernst’ in the first national tour of the Tony-winning musical SPRING AWAKENING. He is a recent graduate of Ithaca College where he received his BFA.
In a recent chat with BWW, Fankhauser spoke about why he believes NEWSIES is a timeless 'coming of age' tale of a group of boys who work together and make their voices heard.
What were some of your earliest theater experiences and at what point did you know this was something you wanted to pursue professionally?
Well I started doing theater as long as I can remember. I went to a theater day camp when I was a kid and we actually did an illegal production of NEWSIES at that time. It was an hour-long show with a bunch of kids running around, everyone had a couple of lines and all that. And I would say probably at that point, especially over the summer, making such good friends, doing theater and working together and becoming a community, I sort of latched on to that idea and knew there was something special about it, even at such an early age. I did theater all through middle school and high school and did community theater around town and I applied to colleges studying musical theater. I ended up going to Ithaca College in Upstate New York and having a great four years there. While I was at Ithaca I was auditioning for a bunch of things in New York and actually got cast in the first National Tour of Spring Awakening. It was summer of my sophomore year there.
It was. I took my junior year of college off and I toured the country with Spring Awakening. After being off the road, I took credits at a community college in the summer and I was able to finish my senior year on time to graduate which I was really glad about. I'm really happy I went back to school and got my degree because part of me was thinking 'I've done this show on the road, I think I'm ready to go to New York' even though I didn't know how I'd do there. But I'm also very glad that I went back to school. And after school I moved right to New York and started auditioning and I landed the Paper Mill production just a month after I got here. Very lucky.
Luck and a lot of talent as well as I would say!
Well yeah. I'm very grateful for that.
So by the time you got to the Paper Mill production you were already familiar with NEWSIES and I assume had seen the film.
Yes. Well that time period, in the early 90's was when I got to know the movie actually. When we found out at camp that we were doing it, we were so stoked. We were a bunch of nine year olds, you know, 5th and 6th graders, and that film was such a hit among our generation when it came out. We all knew NEWSIES like the back of our hand. And even after that summer it continued to be one of my favorites. I had 'King of New York' and 'Santa Fe' and 'Carrying the Banner' in my audition book at one point and I would always sing them. Even in High School I did choir and we did 'Seize the Day'. You know the music is so tuneful and the story is so heartfelt and exciting. I think it really might have been a little bit ahead of its time with the film and it might not have worked as well as they wanted it to with a big budget Hollywood action musical movie. I think it might have needed a different vehicle. But it's clear that the story prevails and I'm glad that we get to sort of try again in retelling it through a different media. So yes, I was a fan of the movie from very early on. Even when I did the illegal production of it!
It sounds like you were destined to be in it.
I know it's crazy right? There are so many stories among the company like that. It's really interesting that so many of us feel the same way about the show.