♥ Jack Kelly ♥

Jeremy Jordan as Jack Kelly
(Paper Mill Playhouse, Press Image)
Jack is Back

It’s always a challenge to see the characters we love played in bold, new ways. When I first heard of Newsies being adapted for the stage, my initial thought was, “No one could ever play Jack Kelly like Christian Bale played Jack Kelly.” Before I realized just how very right and very wrong I was, I spent time worrying that my Newsies theater experience would be tainted by my own fear of change.

On the night of the first preview, I sat in the fourth row of the Paper Mill orchestra and waited patiently and nervously for the scrim to rise. During the months leading up to this monumental night at the theater I had seen pictures, watched behind the scenes videos, and was intrigued by the actor cast as Jack. Jeremy Jordan could clearly sing his face off, but was he everything that Jack Kelly needed to be? A fan of Jeremy’s, coincidentally sitting almost directly in front of me, assured me that by intermission I would be more than happy with his portrayal, and I desperately hoped she was right. Without the strong, confident, electrifying Jack I had grown to know and love, I would certainly leave the theater not just incredibly disappointed, but heartbroken. 

In the film, Jack’s back story consists of two parents: a mother who presumably died when he was very young, but not before she named her son a wimpy “Francis Sullivan,” and a father in prison whom Jack lies about and says is waiting for him in Santa Fe. Jack has a nickname of “Cowboy” based on his desire to move out west, as well as his confident, fighter-like spirit and approach to life. He’s a natural leader of the pack.

Crutchie, Jack and the Newsies (Paper Mill Playhouse, Press Image)
In the stage musical Jack still longs to go west, though his parents and their story lines are squashed in the first few moments. “You got folks?” Crutchie asks. “Got no folks, nowhere,” Jack replies. This new Jack has a new story, and in that moment we say goodbye to Francis Sullivan (he never existed) and any future mention of Jack’s real family. “Don’t you know that we’re a family? Would I let you down? No way.” Jack continues to sing this duet with Crutchie, and it is clear – these boys are on their own, with only each other to love. And while Santa Fe is still an ode to a new life, these boys sing about courage, friendship, healing and hope – not the bittersweet lament of being a product of the streets. “Cowboy” dies as well, as it is uttered only once that I recall during opening previews (and may have actually disappeared completely by the time the show closed at Paper Mill). This revised Jack Kelly is an existential crisis laden artist (painting and drawing throughout the show) who sleeps on the rooftop of the lodging house instead of in a bed. He’s private and sensitive but still cocky. He’s a fighter, but terrified of failure. This Jack Kelly loves, emotes, and shows a side of Jack we didn’t get to see in the film. Not because it wasn’t possible, but because the characters are almost two completely different people.     

I spent a lot of time watching Jeremy as the show progressed, and not just because he is the lead, but because I wanted to absorb every detail of his performance so I could truly appreciate the Jack Kelly he brought to life. The friendly fan in front of me was absolutely correct, and by the time the orchestra reprised Santa Fe, and Jack was wailing a final, desperate note for salvation leading us into intermission - I was smitten. I think the entire audience fell in love that night, and every other night because as the lights came up and the applause died down, people began to murmur and shuffle playbills frantically. At each performance there was an audible buzz from the orchestra to the mezzanine, “Who is that guy?” That’s Jeremy Jordan… the Jack Kelly of my freaking dreams.

I realized quickly that as a fan I really didn’t need someone to be the same Jack Kelly I knew from the film. I needed someone to take Jack and make him his own; a character so real I forgot that I was in an audience. I didn’t need to see someone doing their best “Christian as Jack” impression. I needed to see the real Jack Kelly come out of the actor – out of Jeremy. Not the Jack I love, but the Jack he loves. 

Thank you, Jeremy

My thirteen ticket stubs resting on a prop newspaper
thrown into the audience, and a signed program.
You may have realized by now that I am not from New York or New Jersey. I live in warm, sunny Florida and for the most part only make it up north once every few years for various events that interest me, or to visit friends and family. When Paper Mill Playhouse announced its season and Newsies was part of it, I had a feeling that my normal routine would be severely shaken.

I purchased three tickets for the week of opening previews because, as I said, I am not a local, and stocking up on the show seemed like a great way to get my fill all at once. I also thought, just in case this show never happens again, I want to make sure I have seen it enough times to remember it. Unexpectedly, two more trips to New Jersey followed after that first weekend. “Well, I was there for opening previews,” I thought, “I might as well be there for Fan Day and the closing.” That moment solidified the remaining bulk of my ticket purchases for the show, rounding out the number of performances I would see to a hefty thirteen, from open to close. Three trips in approximately 30 days, for a total of 13 shows, and a relatively shameful amount of money spent later, my commitment to Newsies was just as passionate as the talented cast and crew’s commitment to the audience.

What does this have to do with Jeremy? Well, almost everything. I often joke that he stole my heart, soul, and my disposable income, but in all honestly, his performance is well worth repeat viewings... and repeat I did. His voice is undeniably fresh when it comes to leading men. There is a raw natural quality to it that draws the audience in, not just in the big notes, but from the very first breath he takes. The energy Jeremy throws into every moment he is on stage will make it hard to stay in your seat, because you will want to run, jump and stomp the stage right along with him. When he calls the Newsies to action, you'll want to join in the fight, and yet when he shows vulnerability in softer moments you won't doubt the validity for a single second. He can take you from A to Z with your emotions, and by the end of it all you'll be smiling - satisfied and full from a compelling performance that feels like no performance at all.

Jeremy and myself at the Paper Mill Playhouse stage door on Fan Day.
For me, it’s as if Jack Kelly and Jeremy Jordan were destined to be brought together. He's so perfect for the role that he delivered nuances I didn't even know I wanted until I saw them. I believe one of his strongest attributes is his skill with subtlety. Being grand for the theater stage and yet still somehow able to convey a personalized feeling, and have the audience actually read it is part of why I consistently left that theater with my mind proverbially blown. I've seen the show from the front row and the very last row, and trust me - you'll feel the hum radiating off of him in both places. There is a great deal of respect Jeremy shows to his audiences through his choices, and it is very clear that this is a man who loves his art. I would like to thank him for sharing those pieces of himself with us. Thank him for sharing his talent, infinite amounts of energy, and unbelievable passion. For his bold choices with this role and for the fangirls, the perfect amount of bad boy swagger. When I thought there could never be room in my heart for another Jack, he's proven me wrong. He’s made me, and entire audiences fall in love with Jack Kelly all over again.

Four of my fifteen tickets for the Broadway show; the rest are
at the box office waiting for me. 
So where does that leave me now? I patiently await the Broadway incarnation of the show from my balmy Florida home, already committed to another week of preview opening performances this March 2012. Sadly it looks like I won’t be making it for actual opening night (the dates are too close together and I just can’t swing it). I am fifteen tickets deep already between previews and the posted dates of closing, so I’ll be there floating around, carrying some proverbial banner, and hopefully without a court order to stand 50 feet away from the cast at all times.