By MARK KENNEDY, The Associated Press
NEW YORK -- Start spreading the news: The musical based on the film "Newsies" is striking a path to Broadway.
Disney Theatrical Productions said Tuesday that the show will begin a limited run at the Nederlander Theatre beginning in March. It had a critically acclaimed debut in September at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J.
"It just plays like a great, classic musical with this wonderful choreography," said Thomas Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Productions, the theatrical production arm of The Walt Disney Co. "It's fun."
The new musical is based on the 1899 true story of child newspaper sellers in turn-of-the-century New York who go on strike. The 1992 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.
Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman, who were responsible for the film score, teamed up again to transform "Newsies" into a musical for the stage, reworking the songs and collaborating with the new story writer, Harvey Fierstein, known for his work in "Hairspray," "La Cage aux folles" and "Torch Song Trilogy."
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.
The musical will play its first Broadway preview on March 15 and the final performance is scheduled for June 10. That translates into exactly 101 performances, something Disney has some familiarity with. "It's a convenient number but it has nothing to do with dogs or spots," said Schumacher. "It gives us a long enough run where we can put our stake in the ground."
While Disney executives might be happily inclined to extend the run, they've calculated that 101 performances will at least ensure that the venture breaks even. It also makes the brand more appealing: For years, schools and theater companies have asked Disney for a stage version of the film and a stint on Broadway only adds to the license's value.
Casting the Broadway version of "Newsies" has not been worked out yet, but will almost certainly not include Jeremy Jordan, who starred in the Paper Mill Playhouse production as Jack Kelly but is now playing Clyde in a Broadway version of "Bonnie and Clyde."
"Obviously no show hangs on one person," said Schumacher. "I love him to death and he's wonderful, but if you look at the track record we've had with almost everything we've done, it's the title and its material that always has to come first for us."
The jump to Broadway was widely expected and is aided by the fact that producers spent a little bit extra when the sets were being built for the Paper Mill to make them able to travel.
"The happy accident of that is that it also means that for a very small cost relative to mounting a Broadway show, we can get the physical production in," he said.
The $5 million musical, which is directed by Jeff Calhoun, comes at a time of economic strife and when people are rising up against social systems across the Arab world and here at home in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Schumacher says the "Newsies" musical has been in development for years and Disney isn't trying to piggyback off the moment. "We're not that smart," he said, laughing.
"Is there a resonance that happened? Yes. There's no question. But we're just making a sweet, fun musical where these kids triumph and make the world a little bit of a better place."
These are exciting days for Disney's theatrical arm. Besides "Newsies," its "Peter and the Starcatcher," a madcap look at Peter Pan's background based on the novel of the same name by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson – and Disney's first straight play – will open on Broadway this spring.
A new version of "The Little Mermaid" is being reworked by playwright Doug Wright and is set to open in Holland, and a stage adaptation of "Aladin" is on its way to Europe once it clears another round of development.
Director Bart Sher is also planning a stage version of "Father of the Bride" based on the novel and 1950 Spencer Tracy movie, and Disney plans a big stage musical version of "Dumbo" by "Billy Elliot" director Stephen Daldry.
The eclectic mix of projects hasn't been done by design, says Schumacher, but by necessity. "You have to follow the work," he said. ""What's normal? I don't know normal."
Check out a sneak peek of the show: