Grab your newsboy hat and get yourself to the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre to see Disney’s Newsies. Their main stage can barely hold all the dancing, singing and excitement of this play, not to forget the romance and comedy and family friendly to boot. Also, you may learn something as this remarkable play is all the more remarkable as it is based on the real-life Newsboy Strike of 1899.
The play opens in the tenements of New York City; where the main character, Irish-American Jack Kelly (played superbly by Aleks Knezevich), shills the New York World
The newsies of New York City were popularly admired as “little merchants” for unlike children working in factories, they were seen as business people who bought the newspapers and then resold them for a profit on the street. However, some of these business people happened to be 10 years old, (girls could be newsies as well, although they had to be 16 years old to sell papers on the street). Even though they were their own bosses, the newspaper owners controlled the prices and the newsies sometimes had to choose between food and a bed to sleep in for the night.
(Some background: Throughout most of U.S. history it was normal for children to work long hours at difficult and often dangerous jobs. It was the unions that helped end child labor in the U.S., culminating in the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act which regulated child labor on the federal level for the first time).
New York World publisher, Joseph Pulitzer, and William Randolph Hearst, who owned the New York Journal, seeing a downturn in their profits decided the best way to raise money was to increase the cost of the papers and do so without a word to the
The newsies did not take this update well and demanded that the owners roll back the prices. When they refused, the angry newsboys gathered and organized in City Hall Park on July 19, 1899. Instinctively realizing the power in numbers they reached out to all the newsies in New York City and then included in the protest all the children who worked in the factories, shined shoes and peddled gum and candy.
The Trolley Workers Strike in Brooklyn had been on the front page of the papers that the newsies were selling so it was in this context that they did the unthinkable and took on the powerful newspaper owners. When the newsies announced their strike due to the injustice of the two newspaper barons there was widespread public support; many newspaper writers were intrigued by their pluck, including journalist Katherine (played with sass and smarts by Ruthanne
After only three days into their work
To further their cause, the newsies took up a collection and had fliers printed, which they passed out to pedestrians to draw attention to their plight. This is a remarkable scene in the play where an outdated printing press in the basement of The New York World is pulled into action and the newsies, acting as a human chain get the flyers to the public. The flyers said, “Help us in our struggle to get fair pay by not buying the Journal or the World. Sympathizers threw small change at the newsies in support, which resulted in more flyers.
As the strike progressed the newsies and other children exploited by their employers marched 5,000 strong onto the Brooklyn Bridge, holding rallies that shut down traffic on both sides of the bridge, which inconvenienced not only the publishing world but the entire city.
The publishers hired “scabs” to sell the papers during the strike,
The uplifting play illustrates the determination, intelligence
The inspiring soundtrack is reason enough to attend Chanhassen’s rendition of Newsies, The World Will Know became the rallying cry of the newsies and will stay in your ear long after you leave the theatre, along with Seize the Day, which is likewise
Director Michael Brindisi has staged another winning musical that is fun, energetic and historical; the story is heartfelt and the dancing is spectacular. Newsies