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Disney's "Newsies" premieres Thursday at Paper Mill

Stage version of cult film "Newsies" to debut in Millburn with music by Oscar-winner Alan Mencken and book by Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein.

The Mouse is back in Millburn.

Disney Corp., which chose Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn for the New York Metropolitan premiere of its “High School Musical” stage adaptation in 2008, has returned to Brookside Drive for the world premiere of Disney’s "Newsies, the Musical.” The show opens Thursday, Sept. 15.

Jeremy Jordan, who recently made his Broadway debut in “Rock of Ages,” stars in this stage version of the 1992 Disney film about the notable newsboys strike of 1899 in New York City. This unusual film, which was not originally planned as a musical, featured a dozen songs and several dance scenes. Released at a time when Hollywood musicals were a rarity, “Newsies” bombed with both the critics and the public. It has since gained cult status on video and through cable broadcasts on the Disney Channel.

Since “Newsies” came and went, Disney has become one of the dominant forces on Broadway, so this adaptation would seem somewhat overdue. Getting it to Millburn, though, took years of planning by some musical-theater legends.

Eight-time Academy Award-winning composer Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Little Shop of Horrors”), who wrote the songs for the movie, was brought back to pen additional songs for the score, while four-time Tony winner Harvey Fierstein was recruited to write the book. Jack Feldman, who co-wrote “Copacabana” with Barry Manilow, wrote the new lyrics.

“It’s been amazing working with these people,” Jordan said during a recent break from rehearsal. “At first, I didn’t have that much contact with them, but as the opening got closer, they were around much more. It’s a lot of work but an exciting time.”

Jordan plays Jack Kelly, leader of the Newsies and a role occupied by Christian Bale (of “the Dark Knight” fame) in the film version. Although he’s only 26, Jordan finds himself one of the older and more experienced actors in the cast.

“Of all the Newsies, anyway, I’m the second oldest,” he said. “The youngest is 16. I’m young, but I’ve been in a few shows. I hope to set a good example and be professional, especially in a show like this, which is all about community, unity and brotherhood.”

Jordan will gain additional experience following this production when he creates the role of Clyde in “Bonnie and Clyde,” a new Broadway musical scheduled to open in the winter.

The real Newsies were the legions of 19th century homeless boys who worked for newspaper magnates Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, among others, during a golden age of growth in newspaper circulation. When their bosses increased the price of newspaper bundles, cutting into their already meager profits, they staged a high-profile strike, shutting down the Brooklyn Bridge at one point during a demonstration.

Their largely successful efforts became part of American history, having inspired other union strikes and child-labor reforms that are still followed today.

The 1992 movie also inspired Jordan, a native of Corpus Christie, Texas, back when he was of newsboy age, although he says he never delivered newspapers himself.

“Back when we were kids, there were a lot of Disney films, but they always seemed geared towards girls,” Jordan recalled. “So when ‘Newsies’ came out, I went nuts for it. I was probably responsible for a lot of the money that movie made! ‘Newsies’ made it OK for guys to dance and sing. It was very empowering.”

Jordan also has enjoyed the process of creating a new show, especially one he sees as epic in scope.

“Disney has invested a lot of money in this, and a lot of work has gone into this,” he said. "I think the audience is in for a lot of intense music, intense dancing and an exciting story. It’s an incredibly inspiring story, incredibly dramatic, but also fun and energetic.”

The production team also includes Tony-nominated director Jeff Calhoun and Tony-nominated choreographer Christopher Gattelli. The cast includes John Dossett, a Tony nominee in 2003 for “Gypsy,” as Pulitzer, and Kara Lindsay, who played Laura in Paper Mill’s 2009 world-premiere production of “Little House on the Prairie: The Musical.”

“Newsies” also opens the 2011-12 season at Paper Mill, which continues “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas: The Musical” (Nov. 16 to Dec. 24);  “Boeing Boeing” (Jan. 18 to Feb. 12); “Damn Yankees” (March 7 to April 1) and “Once on this Island” (May 30 to June 24).

Paper Mill and Disney also are teaming up for a special “Newsies Fan Day” on Oct. 2 exclusively for those holding tickets for the 7 p.m. show that night (separate event admission is $25). The event includes a gift, a reception at 5 p.m. and a talkback with the cast at 6 p.m. Radio Disney will join the party. Contact the theater for details.

“Disney’s Newsies, the Musical” runs through Oct. 16 at Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn. Tickets are $45 to $96. Discounts and season ticket plans available. For tickets and show times, call 973-376-4343 or visit www.papermill.org

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