Gender Representation in The Prom, But Give it Some Zazz

I’m going to be honest. I didn’t care for The Prom. It’s a recent film adaption of the Broadway musical on Netflix, with Ryan Murphy of Glee directing. The plot was all over the place and most of the characters were not likeable. But for an attempt at being a progressive film which ended up being a mainstream version of an LGBTQ+ film designed for straight people, it did have complex and nuanced depictions of gender in its effort to challenge the current social narratives. The most surprising part is, they come in the form of two side characters, Mrs. Greene, and Principal Hawkins.

The Prom is a satire on Broadway itself. It tells the story of four Broadway actors in need of a career boost, who attempt to help a girl named Emma who wants to attend the school prom with her girlfriend. Mrs. Greene, the PTA president, cancels prom to prevent Emma from attending, which is where Dee Dee, Barry, Angie, and Trent step in to try to help Emma for publicity. The four of them along with Tom Hawkins, the school principal, help Emma get the prom that she deserves.

Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins may seem like typical characters with nothing interesting at first glance. Their outfits are plain and their personalities ordinary next to the eccentricities of the Broadway actors. But their gendered behaviors and actions provide a complicated and nuanced depiction of gender that challenges societal ideals. So, for once, the Broadway stars won’t be the stars of this analysis, no matter how much they try to shove themselves into the narrative (except for maybe just two guest appearances from Dee Dee.)

Let’s start with one of the most obvious representations of gender, physical appearance. Mrs. Greene, president of the PTA, is always wearing business clothes, in varying shades of pinks and purples. The film emphasizes her position of power despite being a woman in her appearance, with her pink blazers helping her stand out amongst the crowd and reminding you of her femininity. Her makeup is always perfect, paired with earrings and a classic hairstyle. These are all typical portrayals of femininity.

Principal Hawkins’ character follows suit (literally), by dressing in a masculine style, wearing almost exclusively suits and sporting a beard. Both characters are stereotypically masculine and feminine in their appearance, which doesn’t challenge the current expectations of gender expression. However, it is their behaviors and actions which contrast with their standard looks that make you realize why the producers made this choice.

Mrs. Greene being the strong-willed president of the PTA needs to be authoritative. She stands up for her beliefs and is charismatic enough to rally the rest of the parents behind her. The way she acts contrasts with her feminine appearance, as she takes on characteristics that are more often associated with men. However, this is in part by her being in an authority position. Women must be more assertive to be taken seriously, even if it leads to them being deemed bossy or controlling when the same is not said for men in positions of power. The choice to have her wear stereotypically feminine colors undermines and contrasts the more masculine undertones that come with her being an authority figure. Women in higher up positions in the workplace usually dress more masculine, in blazers and pants and dark colors, rather than anything too feminine since masculinity is associated with power and leadership. Mrs. Greene embodies the ideals of being a strong and assertive woman in power, while also reclaiming her femininity in her position.

On the other hand, Principal Hawkins, also an authority figure, acts less like the usual men that we would see in these roles. In his first encounter with Dee Dee, she says that he doesn’t fit her usual demographic of gay men, to which he replies that straight people like Broadway too. Our first impression of Principal Hawkins is that he not only likes Broadway, but is an avid fan and isn’t afraid to admit it. In Dee Dee’s experience, she has seen that men liking Broadway is seen as effeminate and is associated with gay men. Later, when Principal Hawkins and Dee Dee are on a dinner date, he opens up to her and says that Broadway provides an escape from his everyday life through a soulful solo number. Despite outward appearances, Principal Hawkins shows a level of depth and vulnerability that is not often seen from men in film in general, let alone for a side character.

This opposing gendered behavior between Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins does raise the question of favoring men over women. We have Mrs. Greene as a strong woman who made it to being the president of the PTA, and who is not afraid to stand up for herself and her beliefs. We have Principal Hawkins showing that there’s nothing wrong with men being vulnerable and showing emotion. But are we not made to favor Principal Hawkins over Mrs. Greene, despite them both breaking stereotypes? The obvious answer is that Mrs. Greene is the antagonist whose homophobic beliefs leave little left to be admired about her, while Principal Hawkins is the voice of reason and is just trying to help Emma get to prom. It’s just the role of their characters in the plot, so what’s the big deal?

If audiences see Mrs. Greene as the enemy, then are we not also seeing a woman in power as the enemy? Principal Hawkins’ character is praised for his vulnerability and breaking the mold by getting a romance story and a happy ending, while Mrs. Greene is almost constantly shown in a negative light. We learn from her daughter Alyssa that her husband left her, and ever since she’s been pushing Alyssa to be the perfect student in hopes that he will come back. Besides this one small glimpse into her personal life and her redemption at the end of the film when she accepts Alyssa’s identity as a lesbian, we are made to despise her throughout the entire film. In fact, her homophobic beliefs make it uncomfortable to like her as a character (assuming you don’t share her beliefs), so how are you to like anything else about her? She is a homophobic mother who initially couldn’t accept her daughter coming out and is no stranger to personal attacks when it comes to upholding the conservative beliefs of her town. She is also a woman who made it to a position of authority, and a single mother whose husband left her for reasons we are not privy to. Yet both parts of her are antagonized in the film whether intentionally or subconsciously.

On a lighter note, everyone’s favorite part of musicals: romance. But this time, a subplot between Principal Hawkins and Dee Dee, which presents a complete 180 on the traditional musical romance. From the get-go, Dee Dee gets Principal Hawkins to take her out to dinner, subtly making the first move. Later, Principal Hawkins finds out that Dee Dee and the others originally came to help Emma for publicity, and he leaves her. To win back his favor, Dee Dee goes all out in a performance of his favorite song performed by her on Broadway.

Their roles have been reversed. Instead of the boy losing the girl and then fighting to get her back, Dee Dee has taken on the role of the boy in love and challenges that old trope. Their love story also avoids the objectification that often comes with traditional Broadway romances. Principal Hawkins, although perhaps given more depth to serve as a more compatible love interest for Dee Dee, still serves other purposes in the plot that make him a stand-alone character as well. In fact, he is the one who solved the original conflict in the film. He worked with the state attorneys and helped win the legal battle against the PTA cancelling prom. His purpose in the plot is greater than to just be a love interest. Their romance goes against the traditional narrative and flips it on its head by having Dee Dee and Principal Hawkins switch roles.

Through all of this, remember that Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins are side characters. They are hardly a part of any of the musical numbers or spectacle. Even in Principal Hawkins’ solo number he is singing about being entranced by the fantasy world and escape of Broadway. They are spectators just like us. It reveals the nature of the “real world” outside of the Broadway world and makes their stories more directly applicable. The setting of this musical reflects our own society, so any challenges to the default narrative suggest ways of change in our society. This raises a lot of questions that we are left to ponder.

We have seen how Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins show a nuanced representation of gender and don’t fit neatly into the stereotypes often seen in the media. But their representation isn’t perfect and still reflects the dominant narratives in our society. What about patriarchy? Mrs. Greene has less agency than Principal Hawkins as a woman and a single mother. For Principal Hawkins, he has a choice over how he acts and chooses to embrace the more emotional and vulnerable aspects of his personality. Mrs. Greene feels that acting more masculine is her only option to keep putting up a front in order to get her husband back. We aren’t even told her first name like Principal Hawkins. She is still tied to her husband’s identity through her last name and does what she does for him.

The Prom has complex representations of gender roles, but it still shows how those representations function within the dominant frameworks of our society. Gender roles can be challenged, and successfully so. This film normalizes the breaking of gender stereotypes by using Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins to ground the film in realism. But we must keep in mind the intersectionality of one’s identity, and how it can be harder for some people to challenge narratives than others because of the amount of agency they have. Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins are cisgender, straight, and have conventional gender expressions; they only break stereotypes through their actions. In reality, people have such complex identities and face prejudice from multiple systems at play. Nevertheless, perhaps changing the narrative is one aspect of this musical that doesn’t have to stay within the make-believe world of theater.

The Idealism of Jack Kelly

I’ve got to hand it to Disney– if they can do one thing correct it’s completely mischaracterize being a teenager, specifically in regards to romance. But in Newsies, we get to see teenagers devoid of dimension in a whole new century! Instead of a classic Disney Channel plot point such as dropping a science fair project the morning its due (gasp) or being rejected by your crush and also opposite-sex best friend to the big dance (aww), we see class consciousness, child labor, union formation and… the American Dream? Lofty undertaking, Walt. Don’t fret, though– it’s just as inaccurate of a depiction of the dynamics of adolescent relationships as we have come to love and accept of this particular company (monopoly?).

Newsies follows a group of, well, newsies, on their journey to fair treatment from the publisher of the paper they distribute. These boys live very difficult lives, having to steal food and clothes to survive and without families. These children, as young as eight, work for hours for unlivable wages from the greedy Joseph Pulitzer. This sounds like it could be the start of an inspiring case for ditching capitalism, but that’s a discussion for a different blog post. The newsies have essentially formed their own family, with unity being their glue. This show tackles not only this struggle for equality, but the relationships between these kids– all platonic of course (the Disney Corporation still maintains the official position that gays do not exist). These relationships all center around their leader, 17 year old Jack Kelly, who is the epitome of benevolent male leadership– a guy with integrity, charisma, power and empathy. While Newsies was definitely not made with the intention of being seen as a commentary on turn of the century gender relations and sexuality, I think that is exactly what makes it a good case study for analysis.

The depiction of Jack Kelly is very intentional– he is fit, attractive (heyyy Jermey Jordan), unassuming and looks like an overall good guy. He is meant, again, to be the best that masculine can be. He, along with his newsie counterparts, are deemed as overwhelmingly benevolent and masculine, with only good intentions– even during mess ups. What’s totally brushed over is the concept of toxic masculinity, which is very real, contrary to what Ben Shapiro may think. There are things that, for the most part, and looked down upon in male groups– one of these things being emotion. I would be lying if I said I don’t even slightly cringe when seeing a grown man crying or expressing his emotions in a less-than-masculine way, and I am a queer man in 2021. These notions of what a man can or can’t do or be are so ingrained in my subconscious, and I don’t spend much time at all in mascuiline groups. I bring these points up because, throughout the show, Jack has bursts of emotion and gives heartfelt monologues in rooms of his peers, and it’s just difficult for me to believe that a group of rough and tumble guys from 120 years ago would be so receptive to this, and it would not diminish his status. I am actually happy that Disney chose to do this– while I definitely don’t think it is realistic, they probably assumed their audience would be mostly children and young adults, so setting this example of acceptance of expression could begin to change the narrative. 

Continuing this conversation about the portrayal of masculinity, I just thought it was interesting to note how the song that encapsulates the entire theme of the show, masculinity and all, is segmented by a ballet-like dance break. “Seize the Day” is an overtly masculine piece, paired with masculine vocal and acting choices. This being said, the group dancing is something more connotationally feminine, but it didn’t feel like an emasculated performance. They were able to successfully portray feelings of power and revolution through, again, a ballet-like dance number, which is just an oddly more progressive display, in comparison to my view on gender as a whole is displayed in Newsies.

In terms of the dynamic of a male group of adolescents, this show falls very short in portraying a realistic one, in my experience at least. The one main component missing is competition, and in turn, jealousy. Jack assumes leadership with no opposition at all– and for a group of guys with the sole intention of standing up for themselves and knowing their worth, it is just a little odd to me that there is no one else vying for leadership. This aids in my describing these characters as one dimensional. The reason why this large component of youth masculinity is missing is because it isn’t relevant to the plot. The newsies really just seem to be bodies, there to echo what Jack says and react to his decisions. This being said, Jack takes pride in this comradery and his ability to lead, and never takes advantage of this power he was awarded. He is the ultimate “nice guy”. This just ties back to my broader take on masculinity’s depiction in Newsies— it is a sugar coated rendering, void of an addressing of the pitfalls or norms that come with the territory of being a man.

At the end of the day, I understand that this is just a Disney work, so expecting a nuanced take on gender and sexuality is rather naive. This doesn’t have to be how it is however. I love Jack and the group of newsies and their immense fraternity, but Newsies is not an accurate representation of what being a man is in the way that I am a man. Seeing groups of male friends like this, in all different forms, be so accepting of each other and under the leadership of such a great guy, always subliminally alienates me even more from my male peers, and makes me honestly jealous of what they have. While this show is about fun and revolution, we should overall start a move towards more nuanced representation, especially in media aimed for kids. Jack and his friends are an idealistic dream (especially when played by Jeremy Jordan), and it’s time Disney and all production companies alike start giving realistic and attainable representation to their audiences.

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.

Bring Back Manly Men

A real American man– he is driven, strong, demands respect, and is not interested in frivolous behavior… or at least that’s what has always been represented in the white American male. And because white has been presented as the “norm” in the United States, that is what we expect from “real men” in general. As the lovely Candace Owens would state, “bring back manly men”, and Joseph Pulitzer from Disney’s Newsies the Broadway Musical is a prime example of such an American man. Meanwhile, Rose as played by Bette Midler in the 1993 Gypsy, possesses surprising similarities to Pulitzer’s character despite being a woman. Rose owns the same ambition and authority that Pulitzer displays while still maintaining her feminine characteristics, showing that the attributes of “real manly men” can belong to women too without sacrificing femininity. 

Let’s first begin by examining how Pulitzer is the epitome of unsympathetic, career-driven, “all business” masculinity, the perfect man of the patriarchy. Below is a compilation of scenes of Steve Blanchard playing Pulitzer in Disney’s Newsies, successfully portraying the hardened businessman. You can watch just the beginning to get a sense of the character since he stays relatively the same throughout the entire production. 

The first time we see Pulitzer is with his feet up on a table as his hair is getting trimmed. His first line opens with “gentlemen”, not only addressing a handful of men, but a woman as well. Clearly, we can see who’s presence he’s feels is necessary to acknowledge. His posture does not claim grace, as a woman would be expected to exude, but rather an authority to sit and to do as he pleases.  He then proceeds to vent about how Teddy Roosevelt wants to ban football for being too violent, showing how he values some “rough competition”, as a man should. Pulitzer dresses in a suit, which is generally associated with business, in a masculine way. (Thank goodness. Could you imagine if he wore a dress instead??) During the first song he sings, the choreography designed for Pulitzer is stiff and in many ways is not dancing at all. He walks around his office with authority and stands tall, putting his hand on his hip at the end. He is a serious man whose words are more important than dancing around the stage.

Pulitzer’s lack of vulnerability in his business and his emotions (besides anger) is maintained throughout the majority of the musical by a generally serious expression by the actor, Blanchard, even in response to an attempted joke by another character. Any such vulnerability would reveal weakness, which would be unacceptable as an important businessman. The only vulnerability we catch a glimpse of is at the very end of the musical when Pulitzer implies that he cannot afford to lower the costs of the papers back to their original price. He doesn’t actually say this, however, but simply tells Jack that there are “other considerations”, therefore admitting weakness without truly admitting any weakness, which would be devastating to his strong, manly reputation. 

Then we have Rose, the mother desperate for her daughter’s success, clinging to her role in bringing Louise fame. At first glance (see her picture below), she may not seem like she’d have the stoic personality that Pulitzer has, and honestly this assumption would be true. She does not hold the same reign on her emotions, but she is, however, more alike than one might think. 

Rose is a woman in charge. From the beginning of the 1993 production, we see that she would do just about anything for the success of her daughters when she threatens the theater producer into letting her daughters perform their act. Sure, Rose may not seem career-driven in the same way that Pulizter is with his business, but it is her own ambition that drives her to make up for her own unsuccessful performing career through one of her children. Later in the musical, Rose is volunteering Louise to do the burlesque performance. Rose holds her chin high as she speaks to the men to show that she’s not afraid of them and that she believes she knows best. She even points her finger at the two men, conveying power and showing them “who’s boss”.

Where Rose starts to veer from her similarities with Pulitzer is how she reveals her own desperation, especially through the acting of Bette Midler. After making a deal so that Louise will perform the burlesque act, she enters the dressing room breathlessly and reaches up to grab some fabric, turning around and raising her eyebrows in excitement. It’s like a giddy child, so excited to have a glimmer of hope of stardom again for her daughter. Going into the number “Rose’s Turn”, Rose yells and screams about how she made Louise a star because she couldn’t be one herself. Bette Midler flails her arms showing her characters outrage. Finally bursting into her own show-stopping solo, Rose shows the world she really is a star. Previous actors playing Rose had given the character a bit of a “crazy” look in this moment, as though she had really finally lost it. Bette, though, shows the audience that rather than having lost her mind, Rose is finally releasing her disappointment and anger from her past. For once, the bold and ambitious (and slightly power-hungry) woman doesn’t need to sacrifice something else- her brain. 

In this number, we get to see Rose not only shine as a star, but she loosens her ruby red dress to give the audience a little cleavage, showing she’s embracing her womanhood in her most climactic moment. Steve Blanchard as Pulitzer very clearly never strayed from his masculine identity and yet somehow we see two quite similar characters here. Bette Midler as Rose steps into the musical scene and demonstrates that a person can be both “manly” in the sense of being commanding and driven while also embracing a feminine identity. The two need not be mutually exclusive. Maybe the manly men we really need are actually present within women right now. So yes, we’ll give you manly men, but it just might come from women instead.

Chloe’s Crushes: an article about her varying taste in men and how they perpetuate gender roles

By Chloe Hodge

While no man stacks up to my love Tommy Shelby of Netflix’s Peaky Blinders, two have come dangerously close recently, and they are none other than Davey Jacobs from Disney’s filmed version of Newsies (2017) directed by Brett Sullivan and a young Hugh Jackman as Curly from Oklahoma! directed by Trevor Nunn. Okay. What? These two fools are nothing alike. One wears assless chaps and the other a sweater vest—what’s going on here? Well I’ll tell ya. They’re both stereotypical manly men, which I occasionally fall prey to (see: Tommy Shelby). But if they’re so different, how do they both portray a stereotypical version of masculinity? Follow me down this dusty path (think Oregon trail type dirt road or a New York City back alley, your preference) and I’ll walk you through it.

Let’s examine how both Davey and Curly perpetuate the stereotype of masculinity first, I think that’s a great place to start. Both Davey and Curly make their respective entrances with a bang. Curly comes in singing, and Davey comes in basically fighting. (Not really, but he’s got some serious sass for him to clearly not know what he’s doing). Both entrances demand your attention; they create the immediate impression that these two men are going to stand out in their respective shows. Davey starts off as a hard-headed know-it-all. Curly? Well…same. Davey refuses help and claims he can figure out how to sell “papes” all by himself, while Curly does…whatever he’s doing. 

Hugh Jackman as Curly

Attempts to woo Laurey even though she’s said she’s not interested like 10 times already yet he refuses to back down? 

I don’t know. He supposedly has a job, but he always seems to be hovering around Aunt Eller’s house to me. 

I digress. Both men are VERY sure of themselves and their rightness. Davey has to mention multiple times throughout the play that he and his brother are only taking this job because their dad lost his job, so they’ve become the primary breadwinners. Stereotypical gender role? I think so. The masculine figure is supposed to bring in the money for their family, no matter if that masculine figure is only a teen and also babysitting his little brother? What are his parents doing? They better be on a job search. Curly, though he has literally nothing to his name except the clothes on his back and a lunch basket at one point, is just known to be the breadwinner in he and Laurey’s relationship, no questions asked. He was prepping to be the masculine-type breadwinner for his future family even before his wife liked him back.From the beginning  of the play, it was evident that he was saving up money working as a cowboy (see: assless chaps), but when poor Laurey finally gave into his pestering, he did note that he’d have to sell all his cowboy gear (he already sold it all to buy her lunch basket that had perishable items but was not in an icebox, but I guess he forgot this) to buy them stuff to settle down on a nice farm somewhere that he, of course, would tend to.

More traditionally masculine roles between these two, you ask? Say no more. 

Davey takes care of his younger brother, he is the protector in this relationship (very manly), while Curly is Laurey and Aunt Eller’s protector from weirdly perverted and very creepy Jud Fry, the farmhand. At one point Curly even takes his protective role on so hard that he attempts to talk Jud out of wanting to take Laurey to the barn dance by singing a song about how everyone would miss Jud and talk great about him if he were just dead…and follows that by pointing out that sturdy rope hanging from the ceiling. Like, come on Curly, that was just a little tone-deaf, even for a weirdo like Jud. 

Curly and Davey’s respective stereotypes of masculinity didn’t always have such nice parallels throughout the two musicals, like Davey’s traditionally masculine leadership position in his organizing and rallying together of the newspaper strike and Curly’s general respect in the community just for being a manly man, but their traditional masculinity stereotype parallels will converge one last time in this post in the form of their front and center dance numbers!!!

What’s a musical without shutting the hell up sometimes and just dancing??

Boring. That’s what.

And in these musical dance numbers, it is pretty traditionally masculine to be in the lead. Davey’s big dance break was in the tap number “King of New York,” where he took on a masculine leadership position among the other newsies by dancing in the middle of them with Katherine, but also kept his position as “one of the boys” by dancing alongside everyone else. Hugh’s, oops, I mean Curly’s dances were a few more in number, but my favorite example to watch was the dream ballet sequence, AKA a good fourth of the entire musical (really, why was that so long?) Curly comes in and immediately literally sweeps Laurey off her feet. He waltzes with her, leading of course, he spins her, he lifts her, he smiles that dreamy smile at her, he LEADS. Stereotypically masculine. Perpetuating gender roles. Curly leads, Laurey follows. Davey leads, the other newsies follow.

Okay, no sense in beating a dead horse. On to my next point, the breaking of these traditional gender roles through these characters! Whaatttt? Yeah, it needs to be addressed, my argument still holds, but these are good points as well.

Neither character does it frequently, but Curly only has one instance in which I felt like his actions or character didn’t just scream traditional masculine role at me through the TV, and that was near the beginning of the musical, before plot advancement, when he was clearly more interested in Laurey than she was him (or so it seemed). Stereotypically, the girl is the one who is crazy over the guy, and she has to convince him to settle for her (see: the beginning of Grease, Grace from Peaky Blinders, etc.) but Curly was putting his manliness aside for just a second to pine over a girl. 

Davey had a few more instances of breaking the stereotypical masculinity mold; first and most obviously, he stuck out in appearance like a sore thumb amongst the other newsies. While they had this rough, gritty, work-hard type manly appearance, Davey rolled up with a crossbody satchel and a nicely fitted, totally buttoned up plaid vest (I was wrong earlier, it wasn’t a sweater, but pretty close and equally as nerdy). 

Ben Fankhauser as Davey

 Not that this isn’t totally rockin’, not to mention very practical for his first day on the job, but traditionally, the masculine stereotype is the dirty hands, sleeves rolled up, not caring about appearance deal, so Davey’s matching fit threw him off from the rest of the group. Another aspect of Davey’s character that didn’t quite fit the traditional masculinity role is, admittedly, also an example I used for his perpetuation of the traditional masculinity role; taking care of his little brother. While it is traditionally masculine to be the protector of the family, it is not stereotypical of a masculine role to care for younger siblings or act as a babysitter of sorts. Taking care of younger children is usually a feminine role. Davey taking on this role and looking after his little brother breaks the stereotypical representation of masculinity the rest of his character portrays.

Alright. Now to wrap this bad boy up. I have reached my last point: I thought it would be interesting to address what masculinity was considered to be at the time of these musicals being written and see how that reflected in these two characters. Oklahoma! was written in 1942. For those of us who are not good with historical dates (personal callout) this was smack dab in the middle of World War II. How do we think this affected the portrayal of what was masculine and not? Well, the hardy, muscular soldier (you can just go ahead and translate this directly to that scene where Hugh Jackman comes out shirtless with suspenders on and knife in hand) definitely became sought after, but according to nationalww2museum.org (thanks Google!), there was another group who wanted to be sought after just as much. The men who did not get drafted into the war created their own home-made version of what masculinity is through the muscley laborer man (i.e., same thing, minus the uniform) who did all the work the women couldn’t do back home, so no matter if you were actively in the war or not, you were perpetuating the same masculine stereotype as the ideal figure. Personally, I think this can be seen almost exactly in what Curly was written to be. He is a hardworking, good ole American muscle man who takes care of his women. Newsies, on the other hand, was written in 2009. Although the Iraq War was going on at this time, the wartime era was definitely not as prevalent throughout the nation as it was in 1942. Maybe this was reflected in Davey’s character being a little less stereotypically masculine. Maybe this tiny difference was because gender roles in 2009, though heavily present still and very stereotyped, were not quite as in your face as they were in 1942. Who knows. Either way, it was interesting to look at.

Seriously, I’m wrapping things up now, I promise.In conclusion, both these guys, though written in different times and set in different times, perpetuate stereotypical masculine gender through their characters even though they seem to be nothing alike. Are there some slight variants from this at times? Yes. Does that cancel out the rest of the perpetuation? Nah. Are these characters a product of their time? Yeah probably. Does that make it okay? No. It’s annoying and a bit bland. Do I still think they’re cute? Yes. I do. But not as cute as Tommy Shelby, and that’s the real takeaway. Hope I didn’t bore you to death.

Tommy Shelby, supreme leader of the hot guys

Till next time

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 🙂

Men: Can’t Live with ’em

By William Henke and Margaret Mershon

For our final assignment we wrote you a short essay about the 2016 Broadway production of Falsettos. To add some vivacity to the discussion, Will and I decided to do some theatre of our own and perform it as though it was a live and VERY natural conversation. Please enjoy it in the video above or in the transcript below.

Will: Hey guys! A lot of people ask me, “Will, what do you and two-time Tony-winning actor Christian Borle have in common?” Well, besides our chiseled arms, our uncanny ability to grow facial hair, and our silky tenor voices, we are both straight dudes that have played questioning or gay characters. Also, Maggie’s here. Everyone say hi or boo her; I usually roll with the latter greeting.

I honestly can’t tell the difference

Sources: Kristina Wilson; God probably

Maggie: Hello! I am here too, thank you for having me. Anyways, over the course of his career, Christian Borle has shown a knack for playing a wide range of straight, white guys from his origination of the ultimate nice guy Emmett in Legally Blonde to the less cordial William Shakespeare in Something Rotten! But, his Broadway typecast as a straight love interest or, at the very least, a sexual antagonist was challenged in early 2016, and no I’m not talking about the re-imagination of the Joker as Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In early 2016, it was announced that Borle would be playing Marvin in the Broadway revival of William Finn’s 1992 Falsettos. Marvin, of course, is a recently out of the closet gay man trying to emotionally accept his identity while maintaining the already weak bond between his family, and through this convoluted game of tug-of-war, Marvin is forced to constantly change his identity and personality depending on the people and situation around him. 

W: My junior year of high school, the theatre department (along with hundreds of others around the country) decided to produce Almost, Maine. I was cast as Chad, the broest bro a bro could ever ask for, who falls in love with his best friend Randy, the second broest bro a bro could ever ask for. 

M: You seem like a Chad.


W: Thank you. The struggle of portraying a shallow frat boy and suddenly switching to his softer, emotional side was difficult but manageable because at the time, I was a shallow 17-year-old boy that pretended to have a softer emotional side by listening to Frank Ocean occasionally. Regardless, I was a straight boy playing a questioning character, despite the other auditionees that actually shared Chad’s internal struggle, and this was in a highly conservative part of Middle Tennessee. I would bet Broadway has a much greater selection of gay actors than my tiny, rural high school, so why Christian Borle for Marvin? Yes, he is a supremely talented actor and has a fantastic voice, but every Broadway actor shares those qualities.

Will giving the performance of a lifetime

Source: Mr. Henke

M: Maybe it’s because it doesn’t matter, not that a person’s identity doesn’t matter, but maybe the point Falsettos is making is that all men, straight or gay, young or old, and able to play baseball or not, are all the same. They are all, to some extent, controlling, dumb, and selfish creatures that impose themselves in every situation and relationship, and love has a funny way of bringing out the worst of these qualities or taming them depending on how true this love is. 

W: Through the ebbs and flows of Marvin, Falsettos explores masculinity in terms of the expectations that Marvin places on himself and his role to the people around him as a father, friend, and lover. The juxtaposition between Marvin and the other two adult male characters Whizzer and Mendel (sorry, Jason) provides us with a better understanding of the complexity and context of Marvin’s character.                

M: So what does it really mean to be a man? I don’t know, Mulan doesn’t know, even this team’s expert doesn’t know, so how is Marvin supposed to know? The first time we see Marvin it is with his family, and he’s leaving them for the very well-toned, Whizzer, which side note, is a crime of a name. NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO HAVE THE NAME WHIZZER. Moving on. Marvin has been brought up on traditional family values, that he should love his wife and his kid and support them, but now he’s making a choice for himself and leaving them all alone. Marvin transfers this expectation to support his family by turning to Whizzer. Little does he know, Whizzer is more than capable of taking care of himself. This leads to Marvin and Whizzer getting into screaming matches and having a very tumultuous relationship as Marvin treats Whizzer like the wife and child he no longer comes home to. Whizzer doesn’t make him dinner when he comes home and he doesn’t want to learn how to play chess from him. Marvin even begins to walk like a hyper-masculine man. Like that. What is that! It’s not pleasant and it just shows how insecure he is in his masculinity.

W: Alright Maggie calm down. She’s still mad at Christian Borle for what he did to Sutton Foster.

M: The Bastard!

W: As the show progresses, we continue to see Marvin and Whizzers masculinity ebb and flow. When Marvin breaks up with Whizzer, he becomes friends with the lesbians next door, two people who cannot tempt his need to act masculinely. But wait! Right when Marvin thought he was in the clear, Whizzer comes to Marvin’s son’s baseball game and shows him how to swing a bat, something that Marvin is helpless at, and Marvin swoons all over again. After seeing such a display of masculinity, strong fatherly skills, and support, Marvin realizes he wants to be taken care of like that and starts flirting it up.

Even Jason is shocked he hit that ball!

Source: Joan Marcus

M: Classic Christian Borle.

W: Maggie!

M: Sorry.

W: But as the relationship progresses again, Marvin starts to feel insecure in who he is as a man when Marvin kicks his ass at racquetball. He tries to compromise and discusses this insecurity in his song “What More Can I Say?” which is the point in the musical where I begin openly weeping until bows. He softly sings “stay calm / untie [his] tongue / and try to stay / both kind and young.” His goal is to remain as kind and sweet and not feel as threatened by Whizzer and his tendency to make him feel like less of a man, attempting to see it as more of a give and take because of the pure love he feels for Whizzer. That isn’t to say Marvin doesn’t have any more slip-ups. When they’re playing racquetball and Whizzer is beating him once again, Marvin flourishes his poor sportsmanship, saying “please forgive me for winning one game.” It’s at this moment that Whizzer’s body starts to feel the symptoms of the disease ravaging his body, and when he insists that the game be done, Marvin stays on him, insisting that he not let him win. Marvin continues to be so threatened by Whizzer’s masculinity that he is blind to the pain that his partner is feeling.

M: If redefining his masculinity as a response to his redefinition of his sexuality wasn’t enough, the one guy that was supposed to be on Marvin’s side, his therapist Mendel, swoops right in to snatch up Trina once he’s out of the picture.

W: I would kill him

M: Me too. During “Marvin at the Psychiatrist,” we see Mendel discuss Marvin’s difficulty with his wife Trina withholding love, which Mendel proclaims to be untrue. Mendel turns the blame around, saying “perhaps she held back love from you,” and then continues to unload a series of questions about Trina’s personal life. Two songs later, the same song where Marvin is miffed that Whizzer won’t make dinner, sitting with Mendel he says “this had better come to a stop, Mendel/ don’t touch me/ don’t condescend.” Marvin has lost touch with the one man that was supposed to always have his back and on top of all that Marvin feels like Mendel is treating him like a child. To be treated like a child by the man who is now fathering your child? That can’t feel good.

W: Yeah I would doubt it. Later, after receiving the wedding invitations to Trina and Mendel’s wedding…

M: Yay.

W: Exactly, yay. Anyway, Marvin screams at Trina that she “chose [Mendel] to make [Marvin] look bad”

M: Talk about insecure.

W: Yeah it’s a mess, and it only gets worse.

M: Great.

W: Yeah so the wedding invitation song continues, and Marvin mutters to himself, “I am so dumb.” Immediately after that, as if in an echo chamber, everyone in the show, Jason, Trina, Mendel, and Whizzer, all begin shouting “Dumb!” at him. It’s like a manifestation of all of the thoughts Marvin THINKS they all feel about him are being shouted at him in reality.

M: Sounds like a dream.

W: Well, I bet he wishes this next part was just a dream. Acting out of rage and insecurity, as the prophecy fulfills itself and as the title of the song suggests, “Marvin Hits Trina.” In order to take control of his life, prove he is still the man of the house, not Mendel, and show he is as masculine as he needs to be, he strikes someone he loves. After this move, Marvin removes himself from the entire plot and, after taking some time off for himself, making different friends, and living “without a lover,” Marvin makes tenuous peace with Mendel, though he continues to make snide comments about him, especially when he comments on how he is raising his kid. When Mendel tells Trina and Marvin they don’t need a bar mitzvah for Jason, Marvin turns to Trina and remarks, “Isn’t he an asshole?” “Isn’t he too much?” and my personal favorite, “Jesus, what an asshole!–It still gives me hives.”

M: Yeah that’s pretty good.

W: Thanks.

M: All of this is to say, Marvin’s core identity doesn’t change. One thing remains constant through lovers, through divorce, and through a weird fatherly bond with his therapist. Marvin is a man. What does change is his understanding and relationship with masculinity. At the beginning of the show, being a man is about “bringing home the bacon” and raising his son to conform to society’s expectations of men, and if being the patriarch and moneymaker is not enough, he’ll shout and strike to impose his masculinity. But, Marvin modifies these tactics when he realizes that is not the man his family needs him to be. He supports Mendel’s commitment to raising and loving his son, he makes amends with Trina and Jason, and most importantly, he realizes Whizzer doesn’t need a man to take care of him. He needs a lover to love him unconditionally and a friend to keep him company in this confusing, lonely world. Oftentimes, society determines what it means to be a man for us when being a man may be just being there for the people you love when they need you most.

Feel free to jump in the air…you just learned something about Falsettos!

Source: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

W: just like I’ll always be there for you. Oh-all right. Bye guys!