We’re All in This Together… Forever: The Timelessness of High School Musical

Disney Channel has been making original movies since 1983, but it wasn’t until over two decades later in 2006 when they released High School Musical that Disney Channel tapped into its true potential. I’m a huge fan of DCOMs (as they’re more affectionately known), even the ones about a boy who turns into a mermaid at 13 years old, or a boy who has tremendous luck only to realize that his luck comes from a magic Irish coin. That is to say, even if the movie’s premise is ludicrous, the acting is painful, and the special effects are comical, I’m going to eat it up. For while, DCOMs were easy ways for the Disney company to appeal to their audiences without having to fork up a huge budget.

But High School Musical was different. Groundbreaking some may say. And those people would be right. High School Musical, directed and choreographed by Kenny Ortega and written by Peter Barsocchini, broke through Disney Channel’s long running streak of cheap made-for-TV movies that would really only appeal to their target audience: young children. It’s difficult to pinpoint one specific reason why High School Musical was such a success. From the familiar plot pulling from classics like Romeo and Juliet and Grease, to Kenny Ortega’s tremendous choreography, High School Musical appeals to all audiences: young kids (like myself who was 6 at the time of its release), to young adults (like my current self who still rewatches the series every few months), to actual adults (like my mom who pretends to do something else while she’s actually watching). High School Musical is different precisely because it is not; it draws upon messages that have already been explored, but modernized the story with song and dance (and just enough cheese) to appeal to viewers of any age, and it’s no surprise that with a choreographer like Kenny Ortega and a young cast of rising teen heartthrobs (Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Corbin Bleu, Ashley Tisdale) that this movie would be a success. Its success, however, was record breaking.

To know High School Musical is to know “Stick to the Status Quo”, the film’s midway point chorus number. After Sharpay, Ryan, Chad and the rest of the basketball team find out that Gabriella and Troy have signed up for auditions, all the characters head into the cafeteria for lunch. The cafeteria, like in most teen movies, explains a lot. Every cliché clique sits with each other, and each have defining features and interests that separate them from other groups (see the Mean Girls cafeteria scene for reference). Despite being the place where all the students come together, the cafeteria is always divided. High School Musical stays true to this trope, and thus “Stick to the Status Quo” emerges. Sharpay, annoyed that there are outsiders infiltrating her drama club, claims that someone needs to tell Gabriella the rules. Ryan tees up the song by asking “And what are the rules?” (38:52) and the camera pans to the jocks where Zeke begins the song.

Zeke’s deep, dark secret is that he bakes, and all the jocks lose their minds. After telling Zeke to speak his mind, they shut him down immediately with the ever-famous “If you wanna be cool, follow one simple rule: don’t mess with the flow no, no. Stick to the status quo” (39:52). The song continues with each group—nerds, skaters, etc.— having their own Zeke who have a passion outside of their clique’s interests. The entire lunchroom breaks out into the same choreography and song, all declaring that sticking to what you know is what’s best for everyone.

Despite each group wanting to remain separate from the others, Ortega’s choreography displays an act of unity, with everyone joining together in the same choreography, but still keeps each group separate at their own table. The choreography is hard hitting and maybe a bit on the nose (like pointing to the basketball when the jocks sing “stick to the stuff you know”). But nonetheless, the choreography is a sign that things are starting to unravel in the school, and the stomps, fists in the air, and hands outstretched like asking “what on earth are you thinking” all compound on the lyrics to drive the point home: no one has ever broken out of their clique’s mold and the whole school might fall apart if they do.

As the song continues, the choreography has all the students dancing around their tables, and then eventually other tables, and soon enough, the people who are actively singing about keeping the status quo are hanging out with people in other cliques. A cheerleader is sitting in the lap of a skater, a nerd is doing a split leap off of the jock’s table. It’s madness! At least, that what Sharpay thinks. Sharpay seems to be the only one who is sticking to the stuff she knows. Watching over the lunchroom as the cliques begin to intermix, Sharpay starts singing and the other characters react. They go back to their tables as Sharpay tries to return things to normal (in her typical, Sharpay way, which is yelling at everyone).

Ortega’s over-the-top choreography, the very literal lyrics, and the delivery of each line cues audiences into the fact that the film is not actually pushing this message. It’s ridiculous to think that people can’t have multiple interests, but it’s exactly this ludicrous idea combined with a catchy tune and danceable choreography that makes “Stick to the Status Quo” so notable. It’s silly enough for kids to enjoy, it’s sweet enough for teens and adults to find comforting, and above all, it’s entertaining. Seeing an entire cafeteria dancing together in unison to a catchy song sung by a chorus of people makes viewers want to jump in and join. The fact that they can create a song with a terrible message and choreography that contradicts the lyrics speaks to Ortega’s genius: it’s just tongue-in-cheek enough for people to know it’s intentionally hypocritical and ridiculous without being so riddled with sarcasm that it seems insincere from the characters. We believe these characters feel this way, but the choreography hints that deep down, they not only have the ability, but the desire, to change the status quo.

Being at the almost halfway mark of the film, this number shows that these characters are stuck in their ways, but with almost an hour left, anyone who has even the faintest knowledge about Disney knows these issues will be resolved. After the basketball team and the scholastic decathalon team join forces to split up Troy and Gabriella, the school really does unravel, but not because people didn’t stick to the status quo, but because they did. Gabriella sings the melodramatic “When There Was Me and You” to a literal life size poster of Troy in the hallway and quits the decathalon.

Troy can’t make any jump shots. Suddenly, Gabriella and Troy’s friends realize that their scheme actually made things worse, and they do some self-reflecting. Realizing that doing a musical isn’t as horrifying as originally thought, they make amends with Troy and Gabriella. Now all that’s left is for Troy and Gabriella to make amends. Troy visits Gabriella’s balcony which connects directly to her bedroom and sings to her to apologize (side note: this movie gave me insanely high expectations about high school relationships, really setting me up for failure). If this explanation sounds rushed it’s because this all happens in like 10 minutes. It’s a Disney movie let’s not forget.

They all get back into the groove of things and prepare for their events: the basketball team’s game, the scholastic decathalon, and the callbacks. The basketball team gets a cake for the decathalon team, and, in response, they make a poster for the basketball team. Both groups give the drama club a present of boys with letters on their shirt spelling out Go Drama Club! Despite what “Stick to the Status Quo” established, it seems that the school is running smoothly, if not better than before, now that everyone has accepted people doing other things.

But oh no! Another problem has arisen! Sharpay convinced Ms. Darbus to reschedule the callbacks to the same day and time as both the game and the decathalon. I smell another scheme. Gabriella and Taylor, with their freaky genius minds, manage to rig the scoreboard and lights in the gym, stopping the game. They also create a mixture so foul smelling it clears out the decathalon competitors and audience. Gabriella, in her lab coat, and Troy, in his basketball uniform, rush into the theater hoping to make the callback. They’re late, Ms. Darbus gives them a hard time, but once she sees the crowds of people Troy and Gabriella have brought in, she agrees to let them audition.

“Breaking Free” (a very literal song title) shows the whole school coming together to support Troy and Gabriella. While their choreography on stage includes very innocent displays of affection like hand-holding and circling around each while staring lovingly into each other’s eyes, it’s the crowd’s choreography that shows a stark contrast to what we saw in “Stick to the Status Quo”. They stand up and clap along, intermixed in the auditorium seats. They’re no longer ironically all dancing together, but united together supporting their friends who are proving that you can be smart or good at basketball and also be great at singing.

Afterwards, we return to the basketball game where the Wildcats win and within the span of about two minutes, Chad asks Taylor out (another basketball-nerd romance), Sharpay and Ryan make amends with Gabriella, Kelsi and Jason share a moment (a basketball- drama club romance), and we break into the most famous number out of the entire movie: “We’re All in This Together”. Even more than “Breaking Free”, “We’re All in This Together” is the juxtaposition to “Stick to the Status Quo” where the whole school comes together for one final act of unity. The lyrics are clear, “We’re all in this together. And it shows when we stand, hand in hand, make our dreams come true” (1:33:30) and the choreography is spirited and dynamic. It acts as a celebration of winning the basketball game, but even more than that, it’s the culmination of all of the resolutions for the conflicts that arose throughout the film. The iconic downward fist bump to and over the head clap is ingrained within anyone born from the late 90s to the early 2000s.

The hands crossing over their faces as they sing “We’re all stars” and the claw hand movements during “Wildcats everywhere! Wave your hands up in the air” match the celebratory lyrics, giving the entire number a jovial and uplifting sentiment. It’s not as forceful as the choreography in “Stick to the Status Quo” but that’s because it’s not trying to force people into a box. This song is about letting people shine in their individuality, and the choreography accounts for that. Once again, Kenny Ortega’s choreography matches the lyrics in a way that will appeal to young children, but its simplicity is what also makes it timeless.

High School Musical doesn’t need some deep, complex message. After all, this is a movie targeted towards young children. It not only appeals to all audiences, but also stands the test of time, because it’s just plain fun. The characters retain their identifiable looks through costuming, which makes their unified and harmonious choreography all the more powerful. The movie isn’t advocating that everyone should be the same to get along, just like it wasn’t advocating for everyone to be different and separated. “We’re All in This Together” shows that everyone being different is what makes everyone special, and it doesn’t have to divide us. VERY cheesy, but it’s a message for every kid, a reminder for every teen, and an anthem for every adult.

High School Musical is the most successful Disney Channel Original Movie ever released and it’s not hard to see why. It’s got a great cast, catchy songs, dynamic and energetic choreography, and a not-too-cheesy message. Nothing about it (except maybe the clothes) has gone out of style, and its timelessness, attributed mainly to Kenny Ortega’s impressive choreography, makes every rewatch just as enjoyable as the first viewing, regardless of how old we get.

Self- Preservation or Self- Sabotage: How Ethnicity and Difference Shape the Divide in West Side Story

Ava: West Side Story (1961), directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic, Romeo and Juliet. Instead of two feuding families, the star-crossed lovers, Tony and Maria, are caught in the crossfire of rival gangs: the Jets and the Sharks. White, “native” young men comprise the Jets, holding their turf against the Sharks, a group of young Puerto Rican immigrants trying to carve out a home for themselves in New York City’s West Side. While the plot roughly parallels Shakespeare’s original, Arthur Laurents’ book and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics (over Leonard Bernstein’s composition) tell the story of real racial tensions in American culture. The creative design of the musical, from choreography to song, displays a division between the Sharks’ Puerto Rican culture and the “normal” whiteness of the Jets. Robbins turns a well-known tragedy in a new direction to highlight the differences between people that divide groups and make outsiders of some. By telling this story through a ethnic and racial lens, West Side Story forces audiences to reckon with the tragedy inherent in the American experience, as familiar to many as the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

Sam: There’s a lot of places we could start with this musical, including the very beginning, but I think a great place is “The Dance at the Gym” (time: 31:46) This number comes after the Sharks’ and Jets’ conflict has already been established and a little of the cultural context, but is the first scene where the two groups meet head to head, both the male gangs and the women associated with the groups. It’s a great opportunity to understand West Side Story as a whole, because the choreography in this song visually establishes the divide between the Jets and the Sharks. There’s a lot to glean about the film from just this number alone.

Ava: The scene opens with dancing within the two groups, but when Maria arrives, the Jets notice Bernardo, and the dance leader tries to soothe tensions by arranging a circular “get-together dance.” Here, the rotating circles symbolize attempted integration, but when a Jet ends up with a Shark, they all switch back and remain with someone from their own group. In the literal action of the scene, as well as the symbolic meaning, these groups are unable to mix. The film’s plot isn’t shying away from openly displaying the rivalry and animosity between these two groups, but Robbins’ choreography helps solidify the division between these groups in a physical manner.

Sam: Yes! While there are some moments where both groups are doing the same choreography, which hints at some possible unity, they quickly separate to the two opposite sides of the room. And there, they begin choreography that blatantly displays culture. The Sharks’ movements, from the elevated arm placement and the layered skirts, evoke el baile flamenco and hispanic influences. On the other hand, the Jets’ choreography is a more “Americanized” style of dancing. The women twist their feet with their arms straight up in the air and the men take long steps, crouching low to the ground.

Ava: The difference in dance style is apparent, but made more so as the music changes depending on which group the film focuses on. When the Sharks are dancing, a complex, loud brass section plays, immediately evoking the music’s Latin influence. While the Jets dance, that influence leaves the music and instead has a softer, tinnier melody, reminiscent of vaudeville songs and marching bands. The Jets’ dancing even turns to acrobatic flips and quick spins, with faddish and “white” undertones. Even during a section of music to which both groups dance, they are separated in their own dance circles.

Sam: That’s true. And notice that the leaders of each group, Riff and Bernardo, each dance in the center of their respective circle. Bridging this gap is Maria and Tony, who spot each other from across the room, and everything else goes blurry. The choreography established the divide between the Jets and the Sharks, and that seems permanent, but here Maria and Tony act as a bridge between the two groups. They meet in the center of the room, which was unoccupied before, since the groups refused to overlap. Maria and Tony are both at home within their groups; they are not outsiders. And yet, this animosity between the gangs might not be as impervious as it seems. Behind the couple, we find other pairs from both gangs, slow dancing. For a moment, Maria and Tony are typical; their relationship, like every other in the room, is welcome and simple. Let’s not forget how the scene ends just after that though; Bernardo breaks into the couple and tensions build between the gangs. The climax of Tony and Maria’s struggle is set up in that moment, and that’s a last key thing to glean from this scene.

Ava: Absolutely. Okay, moving on! After Maria and Tony’s love-at-first-sight moment at the dance, we then get a grandiose expression of love in “Tonight.” This number, firstly, gives audiences a false sense of how love works and secondly (and more importantly) establishes early on the special quality their love has. Their love is unique, however unrealistic. And the content of the scene, as well as the affectionate acting given by the performers, displays that magic. In this, “Tonight” serves a purpose in validating Maria and Tony’s actions throughout the rest of the musical.

Sam: Yep. This is something audiences are asked to accept without question. I’d actually note that this is a departure from Romeo and Juliet, since that play had some irony surrounding the idea of the lover’s fall. I don’t read any of that here, this isn’t tongue-in-cheek, they’re just very in-love. And the song really helps us buy into it all!

Ava: Tony and Maria really confirm their feelings towards one another, with Maria saying, “Only you, you’re the only thing I’ll see. Forever, in my eyes, in my words…” and Tony reciprocating with “And there’s nothing for me but Maria. Every sight that I see is Maria” (57:48). Since “Tonight” parallels Romeo and Juliet’s unrealistic immediate love, I say both relationships are valid, mutual, and full of love, and the unabashed love here gets the audience rooting for Maria and Tony immediately. The lyric “I saw you and the world went away” (58:31) isn’t just further proof that their relationship is legitimate, but shows how their love separates them from the animosity and division that defines their communities.

Sam: I agree, regardless of the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, once these two fell in love, they no longer saw themselves through the lens of their division or the communities they’re from.

Ava: Yes, plus if the quickness of their developing love makes viewers wary, “Tonight” communicates through its structure that both Maria and Tony have equal parts in this relationship. The song goes back and forth between the two of them, with each of them getting their own verses to express their love for the other. They come together at certain points in the song where the music swells with a powerful and impassioned string section, symbolizing their unity as a couple. Often, musicals will give the female character very little agency when it comes to romance, and the writing and plot are meant to somehow convince audiences that it is a healthy and equal relationship.

Sam: Yeah, while Maria isn’t given much opportunity to express agency throughout the plot, I’d actually say that when given the chance, Maria’s choices are as determining as Tony’s. There’s so much value and balance placed in this relationship and so much audience investment, it seems inevitable that tension erupts around it.

Actually, that’s what we can talk about next. Conflict between the Sharks and Jets peaks into the scene under the highway, where Bernardo kills Riff and Tony kills Bernardo. It’s a big moment, but later we see the emotional fallout in a big song: Anita’s “A Boy Like That.” What are your thoughts on this number?

Ava: “A Boy Like That” doesn’t have as dynamic of a visual performance as “The Dance at the Gym,” but lyrically it furthers the difference between how Maria and Tony see themselves and how the Jets and Sharks see them, through the conversation between Anita and Maria. There’s no dancing, and little movement on camera, but the content of the song is powerful.

Sam: And the performance is powerful! Rita Morena won Best Supporting Actress in 1962 for this role, and this song is her moment to shine. There’s a strong, tortured sense to the expression and the tension she brings to the way she plays out the number.

Ava: Lyrics like “One of your own kind, stick to your own kind” (2:06:55) shows Anita’s concern about Maria getting close to Tony despite him having killed Bernardo and being a Jet. Audiences might be annoyed that Anita is trying to dissuade Maria from being with Tony, but in fairness to her, being an immigrant means she’s experiencing oppression and abuse from both the Jets and their white societal power structures. While she is making a generalization about white people, it’s to protect herself and Maria from people who barely see them as human beings, not even worthy of living in the same city as them. Not only did Tony kill Bernardo, but even the group he comes from has given Anita nothing but harm, giving her no reason to believe otherwise that he is a good person. Meanwhile Maria believes Tony is an exception to all the oppression and violence. Tony killing Bernardo only validates what Anita assumed in the first place about him, as Anita relates this, the lyrics also foreshadow the tragic end of the musical: “He’ll murder your love, he murdered mine” (2:07:41).

Sam: Oh definitely. In fact, it’s foreshadowing in two ways, kind of. Tony’s murdering Bernardo gets him killed, but also Tony does, in a sense, kill himself. He ran all around screaming for Chino, inviting death on himself. So in a strange way, Anita is proven right;Tony murders Maria’s love, that is, himself. But Maria is also proven right; she argues that the animosity between the gangs, and their lacking openness to each other or each other’s culture, brings about the violence between the groups. In the end, that violence takes the form of Tony’s death. Maria’s optimism might be dashed, but everything she stood for she finds validated. Her hope for peace would have, if fulfilled, kept from death Riff, her brother Bernardo, and her love Tony. And Anita begs Maria to “stick to your own kind,” but is Maria actually better off and safer doing so, when the combative system is already doomed? West Side Story, with this tragic ending, makes a point about the coexistence of these cultures. With tolerance between groups, and love between Maria and Tony, life could have been spared and grief saved. Maria and Tony were the only source of hope for a peaceful coexistence between the groups. There’s a question in my mind: some texts represent forbidden love, like Maria and Tony’s, as doomed to encourage an audience’s disdain and pessimism. But I’d say this tragic ending does not serve as a punishment for the characters, but a tragic reality of wasted hope in the everyday, as abusive and closed-minded norms are left to stand. 

Ava: No doubt about it. We just focused on these three numbers, but even in those songs we can see that message. The lyrics and book spell it out clearly, and the music and choreography drive it home and make it stick. This is a tragedy not just about the death of three men, but the lack of unity as a result of sticking to the status quo and not reassessing societal structures. It reflects a wider American cultural climate, and leaves a strong message on America’s need for growth, for acceptance of “other” cultures and non-white races, not only meant for the ‘60s but also for right now.

Nothing New(sies) Here: A Failed Attempt at Breaking Gender Stereotypes

Disney’s Newsies, tells the story of the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899, and does so through dynamic choreography, lovable characters, and empowering musical numbers. While Alan Menken’s music, Jack Feldman’s lyrics, and Harvey Fiertsein’s book all make for an enjoyable performance, the musical grapples with breaking down stereotypes and, ultimately, falls flat on its face. Specifically, in its depiction of Katherine, the ambitious journalist who takes on writing the story of the Newsies. Played by Kara Lindsay, Katherine is a character audiences should see as the modern woman who won’t take nothing from no one, especially some wise-crack (but oh so handsome) newsboy. However, she ends up as being simultaneously completely unrelatable and predictable as (you guessed it), the arrogant, dashing newsboy has a vulnerable side that softens her up, thus making her lose any and all ambition that was established in the early parts of the musical.

Katherine is presented as what most people consider modern feminists to be: bold, ambitious, and witty, which the musical amplifies through her quick retorts to Jack’s initial advances. In the interlude of “Carrying the Banner”, Jack pushes his friend out of the way to get to Katherine. Not only does this action emphasize his hyper-masculine characterization, but it allows for Katherine to establish her character only a few minutes into the musical. The man she is walking with begins to speak for her, but she pushes by him and speaks to Jack herself. Without even taking a second that most people would need to think, she responds to Jack by saying, “I have a headline for you. Cheeky boy gets nothing for his troubles” (07:39). Kara Lindsay embodies writer Harvey Fiertsein’s the words with the perfect amount of wide-eyes and gaping mouth, to imply that Jack’s offer to deliver the paper to her personally is not some generous offer like he’d think it is. From the get-go, Katherine should be something young girls aspire to be and women resonate with. But, as is a running theme in Newsies, Katherine’s character arc plateaus once the plotline shifts to her falling for Jack.

Her ability to spin a phrase and stand up to the demeaning retorts by the Newsies like, “Shouldn’t you be at the ballet?” (44:05) sets her up to be “different” from other girls. She’s snarky and bold, so isn’t that feminism? Well, kind of… but not entirely. What happens so often in modern media that wants to avoid falling into the trap of creating mild female characters with no agency, is that they overcompensate by making their characters too perfect. Basically Katherine’s only flaw is that her dad is the owner of the World. And that problem quickly finds its resolution and that’s the end of that. The problem with this kind of representation is that it is as equally inaccurate as the quiet and modest representation. Female characters do not have to always know the witty and smart thing to say, and they can have fatal flaws. However, Newsies falls right into line with other musicals, movies, and television shows that make their female characters so bold, snarky, and witty that they’re not even real people: they’re just characterizations of women.

Not to mention, the musical completely fails at providing Katherine with any sort of dignified resolution. Her song “Watch What Happens”, establishes in Act I that Katherine is a multifaceted character. She’s brave and ambitious, but also knows that female journalists are not only uncommon, but belittled. Kara Lindsay’s acting during this song shows a fierce determination in her eyes mixed with the perfect blend of uncertainty. Questioning her abilities, “Those boys are counting on you. Oh, those poor boys” (49:00), she begins to ramble her thoughts, concerns, and passions throughout the song. The quick tempo and speed at which she sings the lyrics both highlight her anxiety with taking on a project like this, while also reaffirming her sharp mind, which makes audiences aware of how good of a journalist she can be. How she sings the lyrics, and the composition of the song, going from determined and fast to almost a whisper and unsure, shows the internal struggle Katherine has with this task. She has this confidence in herself that exudes out of her when she has to be quick with a reply to the Newsies, but when it comes to actually reporting, she knows it has to be so superior no one can ignore it just because a woman wrote it, thus producing a heightened sense of anxiety. The song builds during the chorus, both through Katherine’s vocals which get louder and more assured, but also with the music. What starts as just a repetitive piano note to match her internal dialogue swells with the incorporation of brass instruments as she realizes the magnitude of what she’s about to do, and that she’s capable of doing it. The title, “Watch What Happens” is both about what the positive ramifications are of reporting about the exploitation of young boys, and how her career will inevitably take off after such a successful report.

But then the song takes a turn, which is the first inkling that Katherine, despite being a headstrong woman with a drive no one can undermine, is unfortunately going to end up with Jack. While those rooting for “Jackerine” may be excited about her change of heart, it is incredibly disappointing for yet another female character to essentially forego all her traits from most of the first act because the writer has to have a relationship arc.

If the second verse of “Watch What Happens” wasn’t enough of an indication that we were going to get a Jack-Katherine storyline forced down our throats, “Something to Believe In” sure does. Before the Act II song begins, Katherine and Jack are fighting (fingers crossed they don’t end up together). But don’t worry, the classic trope of mid-fight make-out happens and every issue is resolved with just a little bit of relieved sexual tension. “Something To Believe In” completely unravels all of Katherine’s previously established traits. The lyric “I have something to believe in now that I know that you believed in me” (1:45:30) states that Katherine essentially had no confidence in herself until getting Jack’s reassurance. So I guess we’ll just forget the whole “Watch What Happens” scene. While Jack repeats the same sentiment, it makes sense for his character: he was questioning his decision to go further with the strike and even took the money from Pulitzer, only changing his mind after hearing Katherine’s idea. The piano backing and soprano voice of Kara Lindsay is intended to bolster the sweetness of this confession of her feelings. They hold hands after Katherine’s verse and stare into each other’s eyes as they sing in unison, culminating in a passionate kiss as the triumphant brass instruments swell. The music, blocking and lyrics are a great way of affirming their feelings, and for unraveling all of Katherine’s traits.

By the end of the show, sure Katherine wrote the story, but other than it reaching Roosevelt and helping the Newsies, there is no real indication of how it helped Katherine achieve any of her previously stated goals. All we get is the knowledge that Jack is staying in New York, and is thus staying with Katherine (thank God!). Considering the fact that so much of Katherine’s character arc in the first act is about her establishing herself as a legitimate journalist, the ending leaves so much to be desired. If you were to meticulously edit out all instances of Katherine and Jack’s romance, the plot would still work on its own. The forced relationship helps appeal to more audiences, and is typical of a Broadway musical. Very rarely is there a musical that does not push two heterosexual characters together. The problem with this happening in Newsies is that it is unnecessary to the plot, and thus feels like something the writers included because, duh, who doesn’t want to see a beautiful woman and handsome man end up together. The musical doesn’t make any commentary on their differing statuses other than a comment or two from Jack like “What? A little different from where you were raised?” (1:40:14), and any issues that do arise are quickly resolved through a kiss and a song.

The bigger, more glaring problem with the unnecessary inclusion of this relationship is how it undermines Katherine’s character. Somehow Newsies managed to create Katherine as someone who embodies both extremes of how to write a female character. She begins as a too-perfect-to-be-real character with her unnaturally quick witted responses and only gets one moment of depth in “Watch What Happens”. Then, she all of a sudden becomes the exact character the “too perfect to be real character” overcompensates for. She falls head over heels for the guy, despite his arrogant disregard for her obvious disinterest, and loses all of that ambition, agency, and boldness she had in Act I. She suddenly only found confidence and motivation after Jack believed in her, and her songs switch from a quick tempo with witty plays on words to doe-eyed angelic love songs about finding purpose through Jack. While Newsies tries to represent Katherine as someone who breaks from typical expectations of what a woman is, both in 1899 and 2017 standards, it fails miserably by giving her ambition that does not amount to much by the resolution other than an artificial and unnecessary relationship with Jack. Therefore, try as it might, Newsies does not break down stereotypes (or shatter glass ceilings), which is apparent through its poor representation of Katherine, despite doing everything in the first act to make us hope for otherwise.