With a massive 29 foot set weighing seven and half tons, 150 costumes and even a sprung floor for the cast to dance on, it is no wonder it takes nine trucks to transport Disney’s Newsies from one city to the next. Add to that a cast of 33, 11 musicians, 70 crew members, and 468 lighting cues, and you have one massive production. Helping to keep all the show’s moving parts under control is stage manager, Jeff Norman.
“My job, along with our musical director and dance captain, is to ensure the integrity of the original vision of director Jeff Calhoun, and choreographer Christopher Gattelli,” says Norman by phone from the company’s stop in Tempe, Arizona. “What you see on opening night is exactly the same as you will on closing.”
Born in Guelph, Ontario, Norman has been with the touring production of Newsies since it started in 2014. Norman’s road to Newsies began with work at both the Shaw and Stratford Festivals, eventually being lured away by a touring production of Les Miserables. From there, Norman found himself stage managing productions of Miss Saigon and Beauty and the Beast, and ultimately to Las Vegas.
“I was headhunted by Cirque du Soleil to stage manage O at the Bellagio,” he says. “I then did Mamma Mia for six and half years at Mandalay Bay.”
Moving onto Disney’s The Lion King at the same venue after the ABBA-inspired show closed, Norman even did a stint on Disney Cruise Lines when they first started operations.
“My roots with Disney are quite deep,” admits Norman, who says that one of biggest reason he enjoys working for the Mouse is the commitment they have for corporate social responsibility.
“It’s not something you hear a lot about,” says Norman. “With the Disney press machine being so huge they don’t have to profit off all of their corporate citizenship, but they do such great things.”
From giveaways and donations, to providing unprecedented access to young theatre professionals, Norman says that Disney is really making a difference in people’s lives.
“Two weeks ago we had a family join us whose daughter diagnosed with cancer and now that she was in remission they came to celebrate,” he says of one particular standout moment. “If that wasn’t enough to deal with, their house was then hit by a tornado. We look at entertainment as therapy in a lot of cases.”
Given Norman’s show history, it isn’t surprising to hear he is a fan of the musical theatre genre. But even with all the glitz and technical magic of Broadway-style shows like Newsies, it really boils down to story.
Newsies is inspired by the real-life newsboys strike of 1899 in New York City, when publishing titans Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raised distribution prices at the newsboys’ expense. Leading a band of orphan and runaway “newsies”, Jack Kelly, who is based on the real-life Kid Blink, leads the kids on a two-week-long action against the newspaper publishers.
“I have to care about someone on stage, and the story of the newspaper strike meant that many of these kids didn’t have anything to eat or a place to sleep,” says Norman. “It brought major attention to child labour laws and how it was dealt with in the U.S.. One should never underestimate the power of youth.”
Originally a 1992 Disney film, which was both a critical and box office flop, Newsies saw a resurgence on video. It wasn’t until 2011 though, when it was adapted for the stage that it went on to become a hugely successful Broadway show. It even scored two Tony Awards for choreography and score. Buoyed by music from Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and a book by Harvey Fierstein, the fan base for the stage musical remains strong.
“I remember security at one theatre we played at were warned about the hundreds of kids that typically show up at the stage door after the show, and they laughed. It was fun to watch the security guards getting swamped after the show,” says Norman.
It is the appeal its young fans have for the show that has kept it going, including an avid and active social media presence that boasts over 63,000 followers on Twitter and over 321,000 fans on Facebook. For Norman though, it is the access that “Fansies”, the name for the show’s fans, gets to its cast that has made it such a phenomenon.
“Our cast will stay and sign autographs outside the stage door until every single person who wants one has one,” he says. “It’s like touring with a boy band.”
Disney’s Newsies plays the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver July 5-10. Visit http://vancouver.broadway.com for tickets and information.