Honorable mentions: “Seize the Day,” “The World Will Know”
Newsies is an utterly conventional musical. It’s so conventional that it changed the sex of one of the roles; the newspaper reporter, played by Bill Pullman in the film, is played by Kara Lindsay in the stage show so the show can have a song about unlikely romantic unification about three-quarters of the way through the show. It’s not an automatic disqualification – for goodness’ sake, Oklahoma! has one of those songs, even if it’s a reprise – but it’s totally predictable, and it’s one of several reasons why Newsies has a paint-by-numbers feel to it.
“Santa Fe,” like a great many of the songs in the musical, is based on a song that someone significantly less talented (like, say, Christian Bale) sang in the film. Like “Santa Fe,” most of them up the ante. “Seize the Day” is more than doubled in length and has a much longer dance sequence. “The World Will Know” has been adapted to make it far tighter, to emphasize the harmonies in the song far more than the film did. “Santa Fe, as we see below, is a song for Christian Bale to mumble through, aping James Dean the same way I used to copy Faulkner.
Jeremy Jordan, who seems to be getting a lot of ink on this blog recently, is a far more capable Tenor 1, and this song is made for one of those in the model of Adam Pascal, a guy who could presumably step off the Broadway stage and then go be the lead singer for an early-2000s pop-punk band. (Hear me: I am not trying to put Jeremy Jordan on the same level of Adam Pascal, because that would not be okay. Adam Pascal is like George Michael if he drank a vial of Freddie Mercury’s tears before going on stage.) There’s some muscle in the expression, even though a lot of this song lives up in a Tenor 1 range. It’s part of what makes this one a favorite, particularly that last note, which is eight seconds of shout-singing which only slightly falls out of tune; what’s actually even more impressive is that Jordan comes off the note well, no small task when it’s that high and that loud.
“Santa Fe” is conventional because it suits the demand for a showy solo right around the change in acts that elicits breathless applause. See “Lonely Room” (hi again, Oklahoma!), “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” “Anthem,” “Defying Gravity.” It’s not the equal of any one of those songs, but it serves its purpose well; for all its flamboyance, “Santa Fe” is a blue-collar song.
But do you know what makes “Santa Fe” really special? Like, maybe unique in the history of Broadway shows? Check this lyric:
Where does it say ya gotta live and die here?
Where does it say a guy can’t catch a break?
That place where Jack is afraid to live and die? New York City. There are maybe two Broadway musicals to ever express the opinion that New York may not be all it’s cracked up to be. A minor character in Company expresses, I think wisely, “There’s a time to come to New York, and a time to leave.” And in this song, Jeremy Jordan’s Jack loudly laments (“a lot of alliteration, etc.”) the feeling of being stuck in what other musicals breathlessly call “the greatest city in the world.” Newsies is a just okay musical, but this is an A1 moment.