RR LogoNewsies Opens on Broadway - Interview with the Writers

Bob Tzudiker Photo ABob Tzudiker and Noni White are highly respected screenwriters who at different times during their careers have worked for Disney, Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures, Dreamworks and Fox. A small sampling of their work as writers includes, the animated features, Tarzan (1999), Tarzan 2 (2005), 102 Dalmatians (2000), Anastasia (1997) and the Hunchback of Nortre Dame (1996).  Bob Tzudiker and Noni White began their careers as actors, with Bob appearing on television shows such as, Walker, LA Law, Moonlighting, Murder She Wrote, Simon & Simon, Mike Hammer and TJ Hooker, as well as the movie Ruthless People. Noni White’s career as an actress includes appearances in 7th Heaven. Little House on the Prairie, Falcon Crest and Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, plus the made for television movies, Scandal In A Small Town, Not My Kid, Malice In Wonderland, From The Dead of the Night and Not My Kid, to name but a few. With such significant accomplishments in film and television it may seem to some people somewhat surprising that the husband and wife writing duo of Bob Tzudiker and Noni White are about to make what may become their biggest splash yet and it will take place on Broadway, when their screenplay for the hit film Newsies is adapted to the stage for the second time in less than a year, as it graduates from New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse to Broadway.

Noni and Bob give credit to what they refer to as “a hugely successful run” at the Paper Mill Playhouse, for making it possible for Newsies to play Broadway.

For those who are not familiar with the Disney film Newsies, the screenplay and now the stage version are based on historical events that took place in New York City in 1899 when the newspapers of the day were distributed by “newsies” or children who would travel the streets of the city on foot and bark out the headlines trying to entice people to purchase the papers. The “newsies” were required to purchase the papers from publishers such as Joseph Pulitzer who owned the newspaper the World and William Randolph Hearst owner of the Journal, as well as some other newspapers owners. When the World and the Journal raised the price of the newspapers to the “newsies” from fifty cents per hundred papers to sixty cents per hundred papers, the children, who were often homeless and who sold these newspapers went on strike.

Noni says, “Bob read something about the incident in the New York Times and that piqued his interest. He mentioned it to me and I just thought that it was the quintessential David and Goliath story and we both did. We were very excited about it, because these kids for a short time brought Hearst and Pulitzer to their knees. They did stop everything that was going on, not just in New York, but in many different cities.”

“I am a history buff and I also don’t trust secondary sources. After we decided to work on it (Newsies); it came from a single small paragraph in the New York Times we then started checking primary sources. My parents were living outside Washington D.C. at the time and this was well before the internet, so they would truck over to the Library of Congress after work and they would dig out all of the newspapers of that period, so we have a trove in some box with copies of newspapers of the time.  Then we went into Seitz, who was Pulitzer’s right hand man and who would communicate with Pulitzer who generally was not in New York City at the time. He lived outside. They would communicate by telegram, so their communication is very well documented. We were able to find verification of what we strongly suspected, which was that there was collusion among newspaper owners to shut down the story and that in fact happened.”

“We had written one spec screen play and we had an agent. The spec screen play got us attention so she was setting up pitch meetings with producers and we said, we had a couple of stories that we were interested in and one of which was Newsies. We told her it was a period piece with kids and it was quite violent at times, so isn’t that three strikes and you are out? She said just pitch what you are most passionate about. We had written a romantic comedy called Mrs. Faust and based on that we went out pitching a period piece based on kids. For us it was a lesson in, there really are no rules,” says Bob.

Noni further enlightens us with, “Then we wound up working for years in feature animation, so our careers don’t really make a lot of sense.  The trajectory of it is really interesting when you think about it.”

Familiar characters such as “Cowboy” Jack Kelly, David Jacobs and the reincarnation of Joseph Pulitzer are back with the Broadway production. Sarah Jacobs portrayed by actress Ele Keats in the film has been replaced by a new love interest however, you will have to purchase tickets to the musical to see how that unfolds. Noni recalls that the original script called for Jack Kelly’s love interest to be a fellow “newsie,” a girl named Charlie and at the end of the film they were to go off together on a train bound for Santa Fe, New Mexico. Bob interjects at this point to tell us that the train was cut for budgetary reasons.

Noni laughs and says, “They (filmmakers) said you want a train??”

Noni says, “When we originally wrote (the story) with Charlie the girl who was the love interest of Jack she lived in a house of ill repute with her aunt and her aunt did not want her to go into that life and so she was really trying to shield her from it. As soon as we sold it to Disney I said to Bob, guess what Bob, goodbye to the house of prostitution. This was a family film and it was just not going to fly. That was changed to Meta Larkson (a cabaret style singer).”

It is also interesting to note that the original screenplay had the “newsies” hanging out at an African American juke joint, which Disney replaced in the film with a soda fountain.

Joseph Pulitzer was portrayed in the Disney film as wearing the black hat, but Noni and Bob did not necessarily intend for him to be depicted as the evil warlock of New York City, but rather they view Joseph Pulitzer as a much more complex figure.

“Pulitzer would have been in support of these kids if they had been affecting some other business. He was not as bad of a guy as he gets portrayed in this story,” says Bob Tzudiker, although, unfortunately for the descendants of Mr. Pulitzer that evil portrayal has also stayed intact for the stage version of Newsies.

Both writers refer to the fact that the Broadway debut for Newsies is imminent, as “amazing.”newsies photo 2

“We conceived Newsies as a drama, but even when we did that, we always thought of it as a musical and we always thought of it as on stage. I have had a vision of that for many, many years, so I am not as surprised as most people are, but I am beyond delighted, I must say,” says Noni White.

Bob chimes in, “We always thought that it would have huge appeal. The true story, the actual, factual events in 1899 are exciting in themselves.  There is something wonderful about seeing that come forward again. “

It is the dream of every writer to retain all of their rights when their work is turned into a film, a staged musical or a song.

“We tried to retain the stage rights and our own lawyer laughed at us. He said, it’s your first deal and it’s Disney. Forget about it. The reason that we retain stage rights is because of our union, The Writers Guild,” says Bob.

Noni continues, “Because we got full credit on the screenplay that gave us the underlying rights. We share the underlying rights with Disney.

“Two writers followed us and they made a lot of the changes. It was an automatic arbitration, because there were three sets of writers on it. We were given sole credit and with having invented the characters in the first place, we have what are called separated rights in the story and in the characters. Disney retained ownership of the title and the music. That is why we are still involved and why we still have an interest in the play. We appreciate it more and more that separated rights is a basic provision of the Writers Guild contract that was hard won. It is gratifying to do a union story and to have our union and to have the sacrifices of our predecessors so pay off for us. We are very grateful,” says Bob.

Have you ever wondered how two writers work collaboratively when a lot of writers create from what they refer to as a stream of consciousness? Noni White and Bob Tzudiker take us behind the scenes of their writing endeavors.

“We sit together at the desk and even though Bob is hunt and peck he does all of the driving, he types,” says Noni.

Bob says, “I am a really good at hunting and pecking.”

“He needs to drive and he needs to be behind the wheel. Bob is an amazing storyteller and he writes amazing characters and he is amazing with the story and structure. I am very ADD and I am all over the place and I probably do more character stuff and dialogue. It is not that Bob doesn’t think of character and dialogue or that I don’t think of storylines, because I do, but it is really kind of how it works,” says Noni.

“I think that each of us would rather try something that the other one wants passionately and we would rather get it done than be right. Noni will either tell me what to write and I will type it or I will type something and she will read it as I am going and then she will offer other suggestions. That is usually how it works. Sometimes I will bang away at something on my own and then Noni will look at it and adjust it or cut it or whatever,” says Bob.

Concerning the Broadway production of Newsies, Noni says, “The music is really wonderful. Our lyricist Jack Feldman is a true storyteller. He is really, really spectacular. The choreographer of the musical is Christopher Gatteli and some of the subtleties in his choreography range from athletic to balletic to military, it is just so spectacular. The director Jeff Calhoun is an amazing soul. He is very inclusive. Jeff is very collaborative. The way Jeff directs is really amazing to watch. We feel very, very blessed.”

“We found out earlier today that we have Jeremy Jordan playing Jack Kelly. He is an incredibly gifted actor and performer, and we are thrilled to have him. He played the part of Jack in the Paper Mill run and to rave reviews. Jeremy went straight from Newsies to Bonnie & Clyde on Broadway. We thought that we had lost him, but Bonnie & Clyde closed, which of course, was sad for all involved, but it opened the door to the possibility of Jeremy coming back to Newsies. When we met Jeremy he said he has wanted to play Jack Kelly since he was a child,” says Bob revealing what both of them consider a juicy tidbit of information and it bodes well for the Broadway debut of their baby.

Bob Tzudiker and Noni White will be in New York City for the first previews of Newsies on March 15th and then they will go back to New York City on March 29th for the press opening and possibly take in some additional performances of the musical.

It seems somehow fitting that this dynamic husband and wife writing duo first met when they were cast as a husband and wife in a play twenty-seven years ago. In a twisted sort of way this writer finds it humorous when Noni White recalls, “Acting was my first love. I would go to the occasional psychic and they would always tell me that I would write and that I would make my fortune writing with a partner, which kind of annoyed me (she laughs), because I wasn’t writing at the time. We started writing together and it was as if the heavens opened up.”

What can we say Noni? Perhaps if you had not gone to the psychics, you and Bob would not have had this glorious career and life together.

Read about Newsies on Broadway in your newspaper, too bad there still are not “newsies” around to bark out the headlines.

This interview by Joe Montague, published January 2012 is protected by copyright © and may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved