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Disney's 'Newsies' Recoups in Record Time

Newsies Aaron Albano Jess LeProtto - H 2012
Deen van Meer

A surprise success story for the studio's stage division, the show has recovered its capitalization faster than any Broadway production in Disney Theatrical's history.

NEW YORK -- Odd as it seems to apply the definition "the little show that could" to an entry from a Broadway titan like Disney Theatrical Productions, that's essentially the story of Newsies.

The company announced on Wednesday that the $5 million musical, which was retooled from the 1992 big-screen flop that starred Christian Bale, has recouped its capitalization just nine months after opening. That marks the fastest-ever road to profit for a Disney show, joining the ranks of the division's other hits, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aida and Mary Poppins.

PHOTOS: Broadway Musicals That Have Sung Their Way to the Big Screen

While Newsies is a modestly budgeted production compared to those more elaborate spectacles, it's worth noting that the musical is playing at the Nederlander Theatre, a Broadway house roughly one third smaller than those where other Disney shows have opened. And unlike Disney's other stage successes, Newsies does not have the benefit of a universally beloved hit-movie brand, recognizable to both domestic and international tourist audiences.

After the commercial disappointments of Tarzan and The Little Mermaid on Broadway, the success of Newsies has been an interesting phenomenon.

Adapted by Harvey Fierstein, with a score by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman, expanded from the film's handful of songs, the show is a fictionalized account of the New York City newsboy strike of 1899. A scrappy band of orphans and runaways goes up against Pulitzer, Hearst and the other media giants of the day for a fair distribution deal.

Opening in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street movement and heightened national awareness of income disparity issues, the crowd-pleasing show has struck a chord. Audience affection also has been boosted by the rabid fan base that built around the Kenny Ortega movie in Disney Channel showings during the years since its failed theatrical release.

"We are thrilled that Broadway audiences have embraced the show as they have," said Thomas Schumacher, producer and president of Disney Theatrical Productions. "It’s a testament to the power of this story of young people uniting to fight for what’s right. We believed deeply in the show, but a year ago, we really didn't see this coming so quickly."

While Disney Theatrical conceived the stage version as a licensing property for regional and amateur productions, response to its premiere  in fall 2011 at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse was so buoyant that the division opted to bring it to Broadway for a limited 13-week engagement. Early box office following the March 29 opening prompted an immediate extension of that initial run, which was then switched to an open-ended engagement in May.

THEATER REVIEW: Newsies

Directed by Jeff Calhoun, the production won two Tony Awards in June, for Christopher Gattelli's dynamically airborne choreography, and for Menken and Feldman's rousing score. That Tony marked the first for eight-time Oscar winner Menken.

The show has frequently grossed over $1 million and landed among Broadway's top ten during its 41 weeks on the boards. Its cumulative box office total currently stands at $37 million.

Since opening, original lead Jeremy Jordan has departed the production for a role on NBC's Smash. The current principal cast includes Corey Cott, John Dossett, Kara Lindsay, John Fankhauser and Andrew Keenan-Bolger.