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LIZ SMITH: Broadway Audiences Love Nostalgic ...

Broadway Audiences Love Nostalgic "Newsies." But — Do They Read The News, Today?
Mick Jagger and "SNL" Keep On Rolling Along. And — Where's the 21st Century Shakespeare?
by Liz Smith
Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"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.

Ås 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? 
A scene from Newsies: The Musical. Photo: Deen van Meer.
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-Åmerican 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!)
New York newsboys. Lewis Wickes Hine/Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
THIS SAID, if you are looking for a show to take your children and out-of-town-visitors to; they will love Newsies. It's full of mostly "poor white boys," tapping their hearts out and using Brooklynese accents that put to shame the controversy over whether or not the black actors now in Porgy and Bess are doing the correct thing! The three leads (Jeremy Jordan, John Dossett and Kara Lindsay) are simply knockout actors and singers. They make us feel their fury, passion, love, and hate.

Ms. Lindsay is a real "find" in a theater that no longer makes many stars out of ingenues and leading ladies and when she shows her white bloomers under her long dress, she is adorable. She also has a stand-out song (to my way of thinking) when she emotes over how her newspaper story will "write itself" and then proceeds to "wonder" how she'll do it?
Kara Lindsay and Jeremy Jordan. Photo: Deen van Meer. John Dossett. Photo: Monica Simoes.
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.
Harvey Fierstein, Jack Feldman, and Alan Menken. Photo: Bruce Glikas © Broadway.com.
I HAVEN’T read Mick Jagger’s reviews for his hosting stint on the season finale of Saturday Night Live, but I thought the Rolling Stone was mighty amusing. No moss gathering that I could see. If Mick had not been so profitably good at his day job — rock and roll singer — he would have certainly made a bigger noise as an actor. He has presence. He’s funny. He’s very smart. He’s sexy. (Mostly because he’s funny and smart.)  Well, at age 68 — which is about 45 these days — time is still on Mick’s side.

The show also marked Kristin Wiig’s farewell, after seven seasons. The comic actress, Oscar-nominated for her Bridesmaids screenplay, belongs to Hollywood now. 
Mick Jagger, Foo Fighters and Arcade Fire on 'Saturday Night Live.' Photo: Dana Edelson/NBC.
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 YouTubed.

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.
ENDQUOTE: “The reason there’s no modern-day Shakespeare is because he didn’t have anything to do except sit in a room with a candle and think!” That’s Soundgarden musician Chris Cornell, in Details magazine.

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.”
The work room of Shakespeare's house, New Place, in Stratford-upon-Avon.

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