" TOTO, WE'RE still in Kansas!" someone wisecracked to me as we exited a rowdy enthusiastic audience-thrilled crowd at last Sunday's matinee of the big Broadway hit "Newsies: The Musical."
As many things as I'd liked about this show, I had to laugh at such a sophisticated rejoinder. It is wonderful to have a family hit at the Nederlander Theater. The cast is athletic, joyous and talented. They can really dance and really sing and they are so appealing. But the story of the
fight of New York newsboys against Joseph Pulitzer just before the turn of the 20th century, did seem a little naive and unsophisticated, as well as limited and repetitious.
But who am I to quarrel with such success? Audiences simply go out of their minds at this multi-Tony nominated, acrobatic exercise with its single utilitarian set and its "power to the people" theme. Everybody likes to root for the under dog, except when they don't bother to, in private life. And matinee audiences pay a hell of a lot for a ticket to anything on the Great White Way. They are entitled to really enjoy themselves at a commercial success.
I did wonder, however, watching this particular audience roar for the working poor, how many of them even know about the important union-busting fight going on now in the state of Wisconsin, where the GOP is simply shoveling in dough to keep Gov. Scott Walker from being "recalled" and taken out of office? Union teachers and nurses and many others in the disillusioned Wisconsin labor force are busy now fighting the same fight that is shown onstage in "Newsies." Publishers Hearst and Pulitzer and the big business bosses of New York, after the Spanish-American war, were intent on grinding their heels on the masses. No kidding? It has ever been thus.
This show makes a hero out of then Gov. Teddy Roosevelt and that's part of the fun of it. But can the applauding, screaming, yelling audiences at the Nederlander carry over such enthusiasm in real life? I kind of doubt it and I fear Gov. Walker's out-of-state millions from the Koch brothers and others like them will win the fight against union-busting in Wisconsin. (Conservatives continue their successes state by state!)
But the audience went wild for the more bravura music by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman and maybe, just maybe, their "King of New York" will give the desperately tired "New York, New York" iconic song a run for its money. What to say about my friend the writer Harvey Fierstein who I admire so much as a Broadway pioneer, activist, and creator? He took a Disney movie that is ancient history and brought it freshly to life and he deserves every spark of fame, fortune and the excited success he is having-- once again.
The show also marked Kristin Wiig's farewell, after seven seasons. The comic actress, Oscar-nominated for her "Bridesmaids" screenplay, belongs to Hollywood now.
I cannot critique or explain musical guests the Foo Fighters, and Arcade Fire. Give me points for having remembered their names! What struck me was the realization that this was the 37th season finale of "SNL."Popular culture has undergone massive changes in 37 years, but Lorne Michael's satiric baby carries on-- now watched on iPads, iPhones, DVR'd, Hulu-ed and
Nobody gathers around the TV set anymore anticipating "SNL" outrages--nothing's so outrageous anymore, for one thing! But the show endures; comedy comfort food with just enough hot-sauce to keep 21st-century viewers satisfied. (And "SNL" is still a coveted launching pad for movie careers.) I bet Lorne is already planning the 40th anniversary.
In this time of instant communication and expectations, and short-circuit attention spans, could a new Shakespeare emerge? Sure, but he'd have to remain slightly barbaric-- sit in a room with a computer and a halogen lamp. No Facebook, no iPhones, no drunk texting or sexting. Use the Internet for research purposes only. No drifting away for hours surfing gossip and "news" sites. No porn. No tweeting. Simplify your connections to the world. Think for yourself. Begin your "Hamlet."