Like the dirty street urchins who drive the plot, Newsies seemed destined to flame out and disappear. Disney's sprawling mess of a movie musical flopped at the box office, and critics gave it a nearly unanimous thumbs down. The notionally true story about orphaned newsboys unionizing and striking when media baron Joseph Pulitzer docks their pay one-tenth of a cent landed in theaters at a time when organized labor was weak, newspapers were slashing budgets, and, in spite of the fact that most people were working longer hours and for less pay, nobody in America seemed to be feeling nostalgic for labor unions. What could have possibly inspired investors to back a Broadway musical and tour built around a film that seemed to have failed so badly on every front?
"It was the fans," says Joey Barreiro, who plays Jack Kelly, a role originated by a singing and dancing Christian Bale, six years before American Psycho launched the Batman star's journey to the dark side. "The fans demanded it. Newsies was the most fan-requested material to be turned into a Broadway musical."
Disney listened to the show's fans but proceeded with caution. Reviews of the musical were mixed, but a successful run at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse opened the door to a limited Broadway run that performed well past its planned expiration date.
"People are attracted to stories that are true and relevant," Barreiro says. "We're always going to be rooting for the underdogs. You can guarantee that 100 percent of the time the audience is going to be rooting for for the characters who aren't rich and exploiting the people below them to win."