The Disney Musical on Stage and Screen: Critical Approaches from Snow White to Frozen

Chapter 9: Dancing toward Masculinity: Newsies, Gender and Desire


Opening Section


As the story goes, the 1992 film Newsies, directed by Kenny Ortega and starring Christian Bale, was an attempt by Disney to revitalize the live-action movie-musical genre with a story based on real events from 1899. Impoverished orphan children selling newspapers in New York City went on strike when the price of the papers they were selling was raised by media moguls William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer during the Spanish–American War. The boys sing, dance and fight for organized labour, finally prevailing over the greed of their employers. Newsies was a resounding flop on the big screen – the New York Times’ Janet Maslin called it ‘joyless’, ‘pointless’ and ‘bungled’ – but the picture gained enormous popularity on the expanding Disney channel, which needed content it could air, and then later on home video, becoming a kind of cult classic. Nearly twenty years later, the movie was crafted into a stage musical by book writer Harvey Fierstein, original composer Alan Menken and original lyricist Jack Feldman. Directed by Jeff Calhoun, Newsies premiered at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. The production team claims that, fearing a repeat of the movie’s flop, they were not planning for the show to go to Broadway. But to Broadway it went: Newsies the Musical had its first preview on 15 March 2012 and ran until August 2014, clocking over 1,000 performances at the Nederlander Theatre on West 41st Street. The show was nominated for eight Tony awards and six Drama Desk awards, winning at both ceremonies in the categories of best choreography and best score.

A family-oriented show (almost all reviews of Newsies remark on this), perhaps the most notable thing about the cast of Newsies is the number of men it contains. There are two significant female characters in the show, young reporter Katherine Plumber and wise chanteuse Medda Larkin. The cast also includes two other women, and women play nuns and other ensemble roles. The entirety of the rest of the cast is male. But if its overwhelming maleness is what immediately strikes one about Newsies, what is most memorable about the show is its dancing.

The young men in the show – most spectacularly in the number ‘Seize the Day’ – outdo themselves, performing extraordinary feats of terpsichorean athleticism. In the first important review of Newsies at Paper Mill, the New York Times’ David Rooney was delighted by the company’s ‘spring-loaded backflips, airborne spins, rambunctious kicks and balletic pivots’, noting the ‘irrepressible physicality’ of ‘the athletic ensemble’. Just before the show opened on Broadway the New York Post reported that during previews ‘there were three midshow standing ovations, triggered in each case by Christopher Gattelli’s buoyant choreography’. In the Daily News, Joe Dziemianowicz praised the fact that ‘Gattelli’s awesome athletic choreography never quits. He keeps the young dancers flipping, tapping and twirling across the urban landscape’. More descriptively, perhaps, Wayman Wong described the ‘athletic and dynamic dances’ as ‘pay[ing] homage to [Kenny] Ortega, Michael Kidd and Gene Kelly’. …

Imagined Theatres: Writing for a Theoretical Stage

97811381220555 pieces edited by Daniel Sack


Dealing by W.B. Worthen – gloss by Aaron C. Thomas

Disappearing Act by Fintan Walsh – gloss by Aaron C. Thomas

A Happy Life by Aaron C. Thomas – gloss by Aaron C. Thomas

Music for Charlie Morel by Aaron C. Thomas – gloss by Joseph Cermatori

Remains by Andy Field – gloss by Aaron C. Thomas


From the back cover

What possible and impossible worlds might theatre imagine?

In what way is writing itself a performance?

How do we understand the relationship between real performances that engender imaginary reflections and imaginary conceptions that become real theatrical productions?

Imagined Theatres collects hypothetical performances written by nearly one hundred leading theorists and artists of the contemporary stage. These dramatic fragments, prose poems, and microfictions describe imaginary events that put theory itself onstage. Each no longer than a page, and accompanied by a reflective gloss, these texts consider what might be possible and impossible in the theatre.

From Joseph Cermatori’s gloss on Music for Charlie Morel

Vinteuil is a fictional composer, plucked from some lost time, the Lost Time of Proust. But his music, inaudible though it may be, refuses to stay within this text. It cannot be confined to the pages of Proust’s La Prisonnière, nor to those of Imagined Theatres. Neither does it exist only within the fiction established by Aaron C. Thomas’s writing, but “exerts itself” into the reader’s sensory world: “The music they hear—the music we hear—is unmistakable.” It takes on a life all its own: silently, from behind a fluttering curtain, it pulsates, “swelling, expanding, contracting.” Rising and falling, it brims with all the warmth and tenderness of a lover’s chest as one rests one’s head upon it in the earliest hours of the day, while the sun stretches its gauzy light through the humid morning air and the drapes of a bedroom window.

Theatre as Voyeurism: the Pleasure of Watching

Chapter 8: Viewing the Pornographic Theatre: Explicit Voyeurism, Artaud, and Ann Liv Young’s Cinderella


Editor’s Description (from p. 21 of George Rodosthenous’s Introduction)

The eighth chapter deals with approaches to the naked exhibited body and the pornographic in theatre. Aaron C. Thomas considers the work of Ann Liv Young in ‘Viewing the Pornographic Theatre: Explicit Voyeurism, Artaud and Ann Liv Young’s Cinderella’ and questions the ‘value of the pornographic in the theatre’ and ‘what pornography itself might make possible’. He interrogates Walter Kendrick’s important work on pornography The Secret Museum and invites the reader to imagine its pornographic utility. These theories are cast alongside Hunt’s and Bataille’s notions of gratuitousness and Artaud’s views on the pornographic theatre. He places the body of the viewer within the centre of this critical framework and summarizes Grosz’s proposal that this kind of theatre leads to a pleasure which is ‘kathartic – sexuality of release, orgasm, and ejaculation’. His discussion of Cinderella and its explicit pornographic content is linked to audience reception which can be ‘deep anger, frustration, and horror, as well as embarrassed fascination and lingering unsettlement’. Thomas stresses the significance of pornographic theatre and points out that ‘the most effective way for the theatre to defend itself from Artaud’s accusation that it is nothing more than a brothel, offering only momentary excitement, is, paradoxically, to move even closer towards the pornographic’.