What a Man, What a Man… Wait, Which One Are You Talking About?

Sophie Cohen

Let’s get one thing straight: not a single heterosexual female would look at the cast of Newsies and think “Cute. Anyways, not a fan.” If you are one of the few who thinks like this, I applaud you and your self-control. I mean, we’re seeing the epitome of rag-tag New York newsboys showing off their muscles and showing the ladies that they’ll fight for every mistreated child in New York. Major swoon right there. But if any of these characters truly existed in the real world, which one would fit in the most with the present-day male stereotypes?

If you think like most Newsies fans, the obvious answer would be Jack Kelly (or, if you’re thinking of minor characters, the Brooklyn baddie Spot Conlon is the most accurate). This seems contradictory, since most people wouldn’t consider a bunch of singing and dancing male Broadway performers as manly. So, what is it, then? The muscles, the strong New York accents, the knowledge that this isn’t reality and so dancing men are perfectly capable of acting masculine? Are they even “real” men at all? If you think about it, every performer in Newsies represents some form of masculinity in their own way, and I would strongly argue that each newsie represents one aspect of masculinity that either breaks the boundary of masculinity or continues to define it.

Hear me out. The 2017 musical production of Newsies, directed by Jeff Calhoun and Brett Sullivan, and produced by Thomas Schumacher and Anne Quart, is a phenomenal viewing experience featuring actors that take on the persona of very different male characters. The musical takes the viewer on a journey through the streets of New York in 1899, when newsboys were tired of being treated unfairly on the job and advocated for their new union (and don’t forget the Romeo and Juliet romance on the side). The beloved Jack Kelly, played by Jeremy Jordan, and newcomer Davey, played by Ben Fankhauser, seem like polar oposites. As the musical continues into Act II, their personas seem to switch for a short time before both taking on similar masculine stereotypes.

Let’s start with the lovely Jack Kelly, shall we? He enters the Newsies stage singing about his hopes and dreams in Santa Fe with his friend, his brother, Crutchie. And wow, what an opening to the show. From the start, we know Jack values brotherhood. He embodies the idea that men stick together, which somehow makes me think of men playing golf or watching a football game together with beers in their hand. Okay, okay, Jack doesn’t seem like the guy to reach that extent, but you can see a resemblance. The newsies are a brotherhood that sticks together through thick and thin. We can’t forget about the love story, though, especially because it reveals so much about how a man should approach a beautiful woman. The second conversation between Kelly and Katherine, played by Kara Lindsay, is an interesting moment. We can hear Jack singing about love, and he even drew her a picture (anyone else thinking of Titanic? Just me?) while we hear “Don’t Come A-Knocking” in the background. Typical, the man keeps pushing for the girl, flirting to the best of his abilities, while the girl wants nothing to do with him, as implied with this song in the back. We see this representation all over the media today; so many movies and shows focus on the man who’s trying to get the girl. But there must be more to Jack’s masculinity than his romance and brotherhood, right? Of course there is… but we need to compare the rest of these qualities to another man in the show, Davey.

Ah Davey, the more passive of the newsies, at least at the start. He’s so different from Jack they might as well be the perfect example of “opposites attract”. I feel like I should start off with their clothes. As a side note, though, incredible work by Jess Goldstein as the costume designer. Jack and the newsies are wearing dirty clothes with open vests, and their sleeves are rolled up like they’re ready for a fight… which I guess they are. Davey, on the other hand, wears a clean outfit, a buttoned vest, long sleeves that are not rolled or wrinkled, and he’s got a tie. How proper. One man is scruffy and laid back, the other is a proper gentleman who stands up straight and doesn’t like lying. Jack moves with swagger and much more extravagance, while Davey is very timid with his movements and rarely makes grand gestures. Both men, though, represent two types of men who are equally masculine. Jack Kelly is the independent man that doesn’t like relying on others, goes for the girl, and acts incredibly tough, the embodiment of today’s man. Davey is the family man, which we know is true because he’s working to make money for his family, with proper mannerisms.

The turning point for Davey occurs when the ensemble sings “Seize the Day”. Davey shines in this song, transforming from the gentleman we know and love to a Jack Kelly type. He gets more excited about the idea of a union and acts as the brains behind the strike. Does his intellect still classify him as a gentle man? Yes. Is he a true man nonetheless? Absolutely. Davey breaks down the barrier of stereotypical masculinity by becoming both a tough guy and a brainiac (Who knew being tough and smart could coexist in a man?). Both are men, but different types of men.

Now, Jack takes on a more complicated definition in the second act, when he is more conflicted with his emotions and we get to see more of his art (where painting is also manly). He cries in “Santa Fe”, as a man should if he feels like it, and goes through a small crisis where he must decide to continue with the union or protect himself from the law and run away to Santa Fe. And sweet Davey changes his costume and has no tie or a buttoned vest. Is this the character progression I was waiting for? Jack acts more passive and unsure of his decision, while Davey starts to toughen up and take charge of the union. They switch roles but both remain men. At the end of the musical, Jack is back to his old self and Davey assimilates into the newsie friend group for a happily ever after Oh, and Jack gets the girl, of course.

What’s the point of all of this, then? Why am I describing all these changes that Davey and Jack go through? Well, these changes represent a spectrum of masculinity that all fall under the umbrella of being a man. Whether one is a family man with values of loyalty, or a tough guy that also knows how to flirt, all can be described as men. Newsies emphasizes the idea that not all men are the same, but they’re still masculine. Even disregarding the fact that they’re singing and dancing all the time, the personalities of each character shows how varied masculinity can be. Being masculine is not defined by current stereotypes. The contrasts between values and attitudes are what break stereotypical barriers and reconstruct them everyday. Jack Kelly and Davey move along this divide, shape it, tear it down, and rebuild it throughout the musical. In short, the definition of a man is constantly evolving and Newsies helps to emphasize this.

Well, I think I’ve dumped enough information out here for now. Major takeaways: Masculinity is constantly redefining, Jack and Davey represent different types of men on a spectrum, and I might watch Newsies again as soon as I’m done with this post.

Who would you swipe right on, Jack Kelly or Crutchie?

First and foremost, let’s get one thing clear. Jeremy Jordan should not be allowed to look that good climbing up a fire escape. What can I say, I’m a nineteen-year-old female who isn’t blind, sure I’m going to swipe right (on Tinder) for the one and only Jack Kelly. I mean I guess we should really be thanking Justin Huff, for casting this Disney’s Newsies production to feature eye candy for days as the stage fills the majority with male ensemble members. Would the production be less beloved and entertaining if some of the newsies were female? What do you think?

So, what would one expect from watching this high-energy show? This specific production directed by Jeff Calhoun and Brett Sullivan explores the journey and adventures of Newsies in New York trying to meet ends meet, led by a heroic Jack Kelly. Jack and his buddy Crutchie (don’t worry we will get to him later), along with the rest of the Newsies in Manhattan need to sell their “papes” in order to have food on the table, but when mean, old Pulitzer raises the prices of the newspapers, something had to be done. That’s where our heart-eyed Jack Kelly comes in.

Filmed in 2017, this rendition of Newsies is up to date and looking to appeal to the audience of well, us. Teenagers to young adults who love the high energy of jumps and kicks, with a little bit of adventure and of course a love interest. As a cherry on top, they cast Jeremy Jordan for our lead. From his physical appearance, Kelly is strong and fit, not to a point where he looks scary, but just enough that people will worship at his feet. He shows his masculinity in other ways besides his appearance. For example, it comes through in his chase for Katherine. Being masculine meant then, drawing pictures of her on papes and distracting her from her work. Sure, ladies love a man who is a strong alpha male lead, but more importantly, a man is someone who cares and protects his family. Like Jack does for Crutchie.

When Jack Kelly comes on stage, jaws drop at his physique. When Crutchie comes on stage, smiles and laughter come from every person to the audience. Does that make Crutchie less of a man than Jack? Definitely not.

We first see Crutchie with Jack on the fire escape where they live trying to leave early so that no one notices his limp. He is already at a physical disadvantage in the game of selling papes and he needs no pity from his buddies. And that is what makes him masculine. Crutchie’s character is independent even though he doesn’t need to be. He would and did, risk his life for the rest of the Newsies and never looked back in regret. In “Letter from the Refuge”, he can laugh off the fact that he was taken from Snyder and look towards the future, not the past. This internal masculinity is just as strong on the Broadway stage as Jack’s is physical. Both are leaders paving the way for others like them.

Now we can’t talk about Newsies without talking about the dance numbers. Growing up in the dance competition world maybe I’m a little crazy about analyzing every leap and kick. Also, being surrounded by that environment I noticed the lack of male dancers where I grew up. Sure, I’m from a little suburban town in New Jersey, but even competing with studios in New York, the male talent was rare. Even if a boy went on stage at a competition, cried, ran off, they would likely get “brownie points” and beat out half the girls. So, to my surprise when Newsies was a fully casted male, an ensemble performing elite dance numbers and tap productions, it was a dream come true.

Dance is traditionally not seen as a masculine sport. Some don’t say it’s a sport at all (We can talk about this controversial topic if you want). But when Newsies put 30 so men on stage in tap shoes, dancing on tabletops and on newspapers, I would say that was creating masculinity that simply avoided the toxicity. I did however notice that Jack Kelly was not in many of the large dance numbers like “King of New York”. Was it because it was more feminine, and they wanted Jack Kelly to be portrayed as the alpha male? Maybe Jeremey Jordan just didn’t have time to brush up on his flaps and shuffles.

Disney’s Newsies took masculinity defined as “qualities or attributed as characteristics of men” and showed how many different ways a man can be masculine. Although the musical never mentioned the sexuality of the other characters, many were assumed to be straight based on their dialogue and interactions. They were seen as masculine simply by their determination to fight the system. Even though not everyone was a leader, some even fell short (but we still love you Crutchie), they all brought out the characteristic of a strong man.

P.S there’s no way I could choose between Crutchie and Jack Kelly. Obviously, you have to swipe right on both of them and just hope it’s a match 🙂