"Newsies" and the Arc of the Moral Universe
When the Christian Bale version of Newsies first came out in 1992, it was a box office failure, and reviews were mixed. It cost $15 million to make and grossed $3 million in ticket sales. When Disney hired Christian Bale to play the role of Jack Kelly, they didn’t even tell him it was a musical. When it didn’t yield the expected dividend, they put the reel on the shelf and forgot about it. Yet I loved it, so much so that I naively wrote to the Disney Company and asked if they’d allow me to write a stage version of the movie. I was convinced it was perfect for the stage! Apparently, so did many other theatre groups, as unauthorized and illegal stage versions kept cropping up all over the country. Newsies was gaining steam.
Well, just like you can’t keep a good newsie down, I guess you can’t keep a good story down! Disney finally decided that if there was a populist movement behind this story, maybe they should take another look. In 2011, the stage musical premiered at the New Jersey regional theatre, Paper Mill Playhouse, to popular acclaim, and it went on to Broadway in 2012 for a three-year run. It cost $5 million to stage, which was recouped in seven months, and became the fastest Disney musical on Broadway to make a profit. Walt, you should’ve listened to me…feels so good to be right!
Pushing personal validation aside, the larger question remains. What is so appealing about this story? Why are we drawn to it? Why did audiences come to their feet multiple times in the middle of scenes during Broadway performances? What are those toe-tapping newsies fighting for that makes their story so compelling? It’s a question I always ask my casts, so I asked them. What do the newsies want? “Justice.” “A chance at a better life.” “To be respected.” “To not feel powerless.” “To have some control over their own destiny.” “To love.” “To be loved.” “A community.” “A family.” “A home.”
And so, the question comes to you: what do all those answers have in common? We live in an age where we see not only young, mostly white and uniformly beautiful people dancing across a stage at Calvary University with these same needs, we see these desires in all colors and all ethnic groups across this globe. Refugee camps in Syria. Human trafficking in China. Detainment camps at the Mexican border. Clandestine schools for girls in Afghanistan. The corners of intersections outside your local Walmart. Marginalized, impoverished, powerless people are everywhere, all dreaming the same dream: Santa Fe.
Where does it say ya gotta live and die here? Where does it say a guy can’t catch a break?
Why should you only take what you’re given? Why should you spend your whole life livin’
Trapped where there ain’t no future, even at seventeen, Breakin’ your back for someone else’s sake?
If the life don’t seem to suit ya, how ‘bout a change of scene,
Far from the lousy headlines and the deadlines in between?
Santa Fe! My old friend, I can’t spend my whole life dreamin’
Though I know that’s all I seem inclined to do. I ain’t getting’ any younger,
And I wanna start brand new. I need space. And fresh air.
Let ‘em laugh in my face, I don’t care–save my place, I’ll be there…
Just be real is all I’m askin’, not some painting in my head
Cause I’m dead if I can’t count on you today.
I got nuthin’ if I ain’t got Santa Fe!
Jack personifies his dream of Santa Fe in Act One’s final defining moments, “Just be real is all I’m askin.’” So, what is it that fuels our dreams and weaves the common, connecting human thread? Hope. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This is our hope: God is not only just, He bends the arc. Newsies is a story about the bending power of hope.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand;
And we exult in hope of the glory of God.
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;
And perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;
And hope does not disappoint…
Newsies opens March 7 with an 11:00 a.m. matinee and continues on March 8, 9, 15, and 16 at 7:30 p.m. and March 10 and 17 at 2:00 p.m. For tickets, go to our box office: https://www.calvary.edu/theatre-box-office/