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Harvey Fierstein adds love to 'Newsies'

When Harvey Fierstein was asked to make the film "Newsies" work on stage, he realized that something was missing from the original.
/ Source: The Associated Press

When Harvey Fierstein was asked to make the film "Newsies" work on stage, he realized that something was missing from the original.

"In a musical, there's an old rule: You must follow the love story," the four-time Tony Award-winning actor and writer said Thursday. "It gives the audience somewhere to go and someplace to rest their hearts."

The trouble with the film "Newsies" was that it lacked that spark of passion.

So Fierstein rolled up his sleeves and put one in. It's among many changes made to the 1992 film musical that tells the story of child newspaper sellers in turn-of-the-century New York who go on strike.

The film, starring Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, Robert Duvall and Ann-Margret, did poorly at the box office but has become something of a cult hit of late. It's the top most requested stage adaptations from Disney films.

The Disney-backed stage musical will make its debut this month at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J. Performances begin Sept. 15, with an official opening set for Sept. 25.

The idea of putting it on stage began when Fierstein met with composer Alan Menken in his office decorated with posters of his hugely successful films, such as "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin" and "Pocahontas."

At one point, Fierstein pointed to a poster of "Newsies," and asked if he'd considered adapting the film. Menken said he and lyricist Jack Feldman had been wrestling with it for decades but couldn't make it work.

"I said, 'I'll make it work,'" recalled Fierstein.

Fierstein, known for his work in "Hairspray," "La Cage aux Folles" and "Torch Song Trilogy," remembers the film fondly, even if it did contain bad Brooklyn accents. He would show a video of the film to his nephews. "It was one of those baby-sitting tools for boys," he said. "It's very boy."

When he recently went back to the movie, Fierstein said he realized that it was a very old story — the next generation standing up for itself. "Whether it's Tiananmen Square or the Arab Spring or the American Revolution, there comes a time when the older generation must step aside for the new one."

In the stage musical, the lead role of Jack Kelly is played by Jeremy Jordan, who recently starred on Broadway in "West Side Story" and will be there again this winter in the musical "Bonnie and Clyde." The part of Davey went to Ben Fankhauser, who starred in the first national tour of "Spring Awakening."

The new musical retains the memorable songs "Santa Fe," "The World Will Know," "Carrying the Banner," "Seize the Day" and "King of New York," but adds a young female reporter to the story, played by Kara Lindsay.

Menken recalls being shocked initially when Fierstein suggested starting the show with the song "Santa Fe." Menken balked, saying that song was something the musical had to build up to.

In the end, Fierstein won.

"Just the boldness of that idea, of that moment at the top of the show, for me, was transformative. And the idea of Katherine — hugely transformative," Menken said. "So it's just great to have that infusion of new ideas and energy."