I’m asked this regularly – at parties, at bars, on the street. By now I know the answer because there’s only one: Christian Bale. I told this to my mom recently. She sized me up and said, “I don’t see it.”
And then there’s the inevitable Batman reference, an understandable association for the actor who reinvented the Caped Crusader. To this I usually reply that I identify more with Clark Kent than Bruce Wayne (Superman was, after all, a journalist).
But for me, Christian Bale will always first and foremost be Jack Kelly, the orphan-cum-labor organizer in Disney’s 1992 movie musical “Newsies.” Twenty years later, we can fairly say that it’s reached cult status, right? I think you had to be somewhere between 8 and 12 years old, as my brothers and I were, to have fallen under the spell of this film. My dad says we watched it dozens and dozens of times. I think he underestimates.
Bale was 18 when the film premiered. In it, he sings, he dances. The Welshman even does a decent Brooklyn accent (ok, maybe not so decent, but what does a 10-year-old California boy know?). I wanted to be him. I wanted to be all of them – this ragtag gang of tough kids who could spin and flip and belt their hearts out.
“Newsies” made me fall in love with musicals. It was the gateway drug that eventually led to Andrew Lloyd Webber then Stephen Sondheim, even opera and believe it or not, a BA in dance. All because Bale threw his arms wide, leaned back on a horse as it sauntered through a New York-esque backlot, and dreamed of Santa Fe.
Is it a surprise then that, sandwiched between my brothers and parents, who met me in New York to celebrate my 30th birthday, I got a bit choked up the moment the curtain rose on the current Broadway adaptation of the film?
Reminiscing a few years ago about “Newsies” with a friend, we decided it was long overdue to come to the stage. We rented it to re-experience the magic, only to find that the film didn’t really hold up over time. The dialogue was a bit stale, the pacing slacked at times, some of the acting – amateurish.
Thankfully, the new musical tightens the loose ends, cleans up the book, adds some smart plot twists, and has the good sense to be performed live where the energy of the newsboys can spill over and touch the audience (and where the audience, as they did at our show, can feed the love back to them).
Yeah, it’s a fun show. And yeah, the dancing’s pretty great (you don’t win the Tony for Best Choreography for nothing). But the experience was more than that. It was about revisiting, two decades later, one of the first moments I can remember when song and dance first inspired me and nudged me into a life of artistic pursuit.
Those kids taught me that choreography and courage can go hand-in-hand, that to dream in song is to dream with the utmost passion, and that a boy like me can dance and be bold too.
Entering my 30s, a little bit Christian Bale on the outside and every bit Jack Kelly on the inside, what a treat to be reminded, in such a remarkable way, to “open the gates and seize the day.”