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September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Transposing a failed movie musical to the stage may seem like a fool’s errand, but Disney’s theatrical unit may have pulled it off in the case of Newsies, the company’s 1992 effort to revive the traditional live-action musical. Harvey Fierstein has rewritten the original screenplay by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White about an 1899 newsboy strike in New York, and Alan Menken and Jack Feldman have added several new songs to the ones they wrote for the film. And — surprise — the show, which opened Sunday in Millburn, NJ, is receiving outstanding reviews even from critics who hated the original movie version. One of them is David Rooney of the New York Times, who thought that the movie “suffers from sluggish storytelling, a vocally challenged cast … and poorly shot dance numbers.” The stage production, by contrast, elevates the music “into a story with characters worth rooting for,” he wrote. And while it “bulks up on galvanic anthems and slathers on the sentiment,” it does so in the “Disney tradition that connects with the embattled kid in all of us.” Peter Filichia in the Newark Star-Ledger was equally enthusiastic. Disney, he concluded, “will be rewarded by seeing Newsies endorsed by rabidly enthusiastic crowds that will applaud and holler.” That sentiment was echoed by Joe Dziemianowicz in the New York Daily News, who predicted that the show will eventually arrive on Broadway and lift the career of its “bright new star,” Jeremy Jordan. “Jordan and the rest of the company of Newsies will give you something to cheer for,” he wrote. And Frank Scheck in the New York Post also singled out Jordan for particular praise. (His role in the movie was played by Christian Bale.) “Jordan proves himself a star in the making,” he enthused. “He bursts with charisma, and his impassioned acting and soaring vocals give the show heart and soul.”