Masculinity and its Many Forms in Newsies!

Disney’s Newsies!, directed by Brett Sullivan and Jeff Calhoun is just about a bunch of boys who ban together to sell newspapers…right? At first glance, the 2017 Disney production of Newsies may just seem like a fun story about a rag-tag bunch sticking it to the man. However, there are several intentional choices made by the creators and on-stage performers. These choices help subvert traditional images of masculinity that we tend to see in American musical theatre. For example, musical theatre is typically portrayed as something meant for gay/gay-seeming/proto-gay boys. Newsies! subverts this image by having a “traditionally masculine” lead. Through blocking, costume choices, and music, the production shows that masculinity can take on many forms.

From the opening number, “Santa Fe,” we are presented with two vastly contrasting images of masculinity. Jack Kelly is the heroic, brotherly figure who prevents Crutchie Morris from falling off a platform. He wears a sleeveless shirt that emphasizes his muscles as he hauls Morris back onto the platform. This costume choice was likely intentional, as Jack’s muscular physique helps paint him as masculine. Crutchie on the other hand, aptly named for his bad leg, wears a long sleeve shirt and baggy pants. This makes his body look like it’s getting swallowed up by his clothes. The costume choice, by Jess Goldstein, helps characterize Jack as feeble. The casting director, Justin Huff, likely considered physique when casting the actors. Blocking further emphasizes the contrasting nature of Jack and Crutchie. As “Santa Fe” builds, Jack stands on one side of the platform, and Crutchie stands on the other. The image this creates brings to mind a scale, as if relaying that the characters’ contrasting natures balance each other out. Additionally, the space created has to be closed by one of the characters. Jack closes the distance towards the end of the number in an effort to provide comfort to Crutchie. By rushing to his friend’s aid, Jack is further characterized as a heroic, masculine figure. The costume choices and blocking in “Santa Fe” juxtapose Crutchie and Jack to emphasize that masculinity comes in many forms rather than a one-size-fits all mold. 

Society tends to place masculinity in a rugged-heterosexual mold. Newsies deploys familiar stereotypes of masculinity to bring “traditionally masculine” characters to musical theater. For example, Jeremy Jordan, the actor who plays Jack, walks around with his chest sticking out. He makes strong arm movements to emphasize his points throughout the musical. In numbers like “I Never Planned On You/Don’’t Come A-Knocking,” we see Jack as a smooth-talking boy trying to impress his love interest, Katherine Plumber. Jordan’s movements help convey heterosexual masculinity. For example, he’s positioned so that he’s above the actor who plays Katherine Plumber, Kara Lindsay. This blocking choice buys into the stereotype that men are dominating figures in heterosexual relationships. The costume choices further assert Jack’s masculinity. Jack has on a dusty blue collared shirt for a large part of the musical. This contrasts with the colorful clothes worn by female characters. For example, in the number “Watch What Happens,” Katherine wears a pinkish-red outfit. Dark, cool colors are stereotypically masculine while warm, bright colors are stereotypically feminine. Thus, the clothing choices in the musical help reinforce gender stereotypes. The costume choices in Newsies!, as well as Jack’s blocking help emphasize his heterosexual masculinity. Characterizing the lead in this way helps subvert the stereotype that musical theater is only for girls or gay/gay-seeming/proto-gay boys.

As much as Jack is portrayed as masculine, he’s also shown to have a soft-side. In “I Never Planned On You/Don’’t Come A-Knocking,” he draws a picture of his love interest. Jack sings about how Katherine “stole his heart.” The music relays a sweetness we’re not used to seeing from Jack’s touch-guy character. Additionally, prior to the strike, when asked by Katherine if he’s scared, Jack faces away from Katherine as he says “ask me again in the morning.” There’s a look of hesitance in his eyes as he faces the audience. The musical uses blocking in moments like these to relay Jacks vulnerability. These moments help show that softness and emotional vulnerability can be coupled with masculinity. This is yet another way Newsies! conveys masculinity’s many faces.

The blocking, costume, and musical choices in Newsies!  helps subvert the masculine stereotypes often prevalent in American musical theatre.It employs “traditionally masculine” elements to show that musical theatre is not only reserved for girls or gay/gay-seeming/proto-gay boys. Additionally, it conveys the message that masculinity is not one-dimensional, but multi-faceted. Even characters like Jack, who appeal to stereotypically rugged images of masculinity, have a soft side. Ironically enough Newsies! subverts American musical stereotypes of masculinity by playing into societal stereotypes of masculinity. 

Musical characters Uncategorized

7 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I really enjoyed this essay because I wrote about a similar topic that you did regarding the masculinity of Crutchie and Jack. There were a few interesting points that you realized that I did not. I did not realize Jack’s vulnerable side throughout the musical, especially when he would talk to Katherine. I also did not realize Crutchie’s outfits chosen to depict that he was less strong than the others around him. Your essay kept me intrigued and wanted to keep reading the entire time. I liked how you showed how American musical theater is usually seen by men as “gay” or for women only. These aspects of masculinity portrayed by Jack and Crutchie show us that men can easily be in musicals, while not losing their masculinity. We were similar regarding the way that we viewed Jack as being an older brother figure to Crutchie. Without Jack, I do not think that Crutchie would be able to survive on the streets. On the contrary, without Crutchie, I do not think Jack would be able to stay motivated to constantly be the leader of the pack.

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  2. I completely agree with your analysis of Newsies and how masculinity can take on many different forms. A piece that I found extremely interesting was when you stated “The image this creates brings to mind a scale as if relaying that the characters contrasting natures balance each other out.” By directly contrasting both Jack and Crutchie, it is almost amplifying Jack’s traditional masculinity. I also really enjoyed how you added an analysis of Jack’s soft side. This musical number is truly a glimpse into Jack’s more feminine side almost as the directors try to give him more depth as a character. Truthfully, I originally planned on only reading a few paragraphs of your essay and making a few comments; however, it made me want to keep reading until the end! I love your scene choice in which to analyze costume design as it was one where the contrast was extremely clear.

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  3. I very much enjoyed reading your essay and analysis of the role of masculinity in Newsies! I also chose to write about this topic and it was very interesting to gain a new perspective on what I initially thought of the way masculinity was portrayed through the characters of Jack and Crutchie. I particularly appreciated your analysis on their character’s images of masculinity. The deliberate heavy contrast of their respective masculinities is created in order to dramatize and place emphasis on stereotypical, either or, masculine behavior and physical appearance. I also found your claim about the musical theatre being reserved for gay/gay-seeming/proto-gay boys and women to be compelling, because this musical proved that to not be true. Jack and Crutchie were characters created to prove that musical theatre is not subject to sexual preference or gender.

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  4. I really loved how you paid attention to the seemingly smallest details, like the difference in costumes between Jack and Crutchie, or the difference in staging between the two, and how they’re meant to elevate each other’s physical characteristics to a more noticeable level.

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  5. I feel that your essay touched on a really important aspect of Newsies that the directors definitely made intentional choices behind. Your characterization of Jack and Crutchie are spot on and I definitely agree with your analysis of Jack as the stereotypical macho man within the musical. One thing that your essay reminded me think about is how all aspects of a characters actions are meticulously designed for storytelling’s sake but ultimately fall into a predefined role. I think in the future it would be super interesting to see many revivals of known musicals but with various casting decision just to explore more personalities and possibilities within a musical. The inclusion of Jack’s “soft side” definitely offers more depth for Jack as a character but still only highlight 2 facets of a multidimensional person. Maybe I’m asking too much of a musical to include so much depth but as society progresses, I would say that depth in dimension is essential.

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  6. I really enjoyed reading your essay regarding the masculinity within the musical. Similarly, I wrote about Jack’s masculine role, however reading your paper opened my eyes to the little details the producer used to portray it. For example, the clothes Jack wears or even how he prevents Crutchie from falling in the first scene. I also liked your comparison of masculinity in the play with the typical male stereotype of performers in musicals.

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  7. Overall, very well written and the analysis was spot on! I really enjoyed the way in which you not only analyzed specific characters within Newsies, but also analyzed the way in which the “rugged heterosexual mold” is present throughout this production. I also enjoyed reading about how you analyzed different numbers throughout the production and compared them to specific characters and their traits as they are presented to the audience. Finally, my favorite point that you made was how each character is made for story-telling. I totally agree, especially on such a prominent stage like Broadway, that characters are just just “there” for the sake of being there, but rather they hold some sort of meaning and value that comes at a deeper analytical level. Overall, very well done!

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