“The original plan was to come to Broadway for only 100 performances,” says Newsies star Ben Fankhauser, “but I knew early on, the way the Fansies were treating us, that they were going to keep us on Broadway for a very long time. We are so lucky to have them.”
“We’re the Newsies and they’re the Fansies,” says Fankhauser’s fellow cast member Brendon Stimson.
Both actors, stars of the smash-hit musical about 19th century newsboys who strike against all-too-greedy Joseph Pulitzer, are raving about the “Fansies” — the show’s loyal and adoring followers.
Now, in honor of the show’s ardent fans, Disney Theatrical Productions will now offer a Fan Appreciation Week. Says Andrew Flatt, Senior Vice-President of Marketing, “Starting on September 15, we’ll have seven days of giving back to the Fansies who have made this show such a success. There will be activities online, new videos, digital trading cards, and a live online chat featuring cast members.”
Certain to be involved is Patty Devery, who may well have been the first Fansie of the Alan Menken–Jack Feldman–Harvey Fierstein musical.
Says Devery, “I was obsessed with the film when I was 9 and saw it on the Disney Channel.” And how many times has Devery seen the 1992 film? The best estimate she can give is “a billion.”
Even before she moved to Brooklyn from her Arlington Heights, Illinois, home in 2006, Devery was following Broadway. So in 2011 she was ecstatic to learn that her beloved Newsies was coming to the stage and would debut at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey. “Oh, I had my ticket for it,” she says. “But I was even able to go to an invited dress rehearsal when a friend won a lottery and took me with her.”
Already the show was living up to her expectations. “I was skeptical when I heard that the journalist in the film would now be played by a woman,” she says. “But book writer Harvey Fierstein made that character work.”
In the fall of 2011, Devery trekked to Paper Mill to see the show’s first performance with sets, costumes, and lighting. “It was truly great,” she says, “and I just had to go to the stage door and meet the people who had given me such a wonderful time.”
Within two weeks, Devery was back in Millburn. “I knew the show would move to Broadway,” she says. “And I knew I’d be involved more and more.”
Of course, tickets to Broadway musicals aren’t inexpensive. “I do the lottery, where you’re up against about 100 people,” she says. “I’ve won about eight times, although I did pay full price for the first preview.”
That performance was well worth it, however. “I’ve gone to Broadway about 100 times, but at that first preview, I saw something I’d never seen. One song, ‘Seize the Day,’ got a standing ovation in the middle of the performance.”
Since then, Devery and fellow Fansie Emily Anne Oakley (whom she met in an improv class) have made videos in tribute. Their most acclaimed is “The Search for Patrick’s Mother.”
Stimson explains: “Lots of people missed the 16 bars that one character’s mother sang in the film, so PattyandEmily” — he says the two names as if they’re one word — “pretended the missing section was going back in and they were holding auditions to see who’d sing it best. They actually got Broadway stars Kate Baldwin and Laura Benanti to be in it.”
“I knew we were being appreciated when Andrew Keenan-Bolger saw me and called me by name,” Devery says, referring to the actor who originated the role of the disabled Crutchie.
The best evidence that other Fansies regard her as their queen? “During ‘Seize the Day,’ the Newsies throw pages of newspapers into the audience,” she says. “One fan who caught one knew I never had, and he gave it to me, saying it was only right that I should have it.”
Still, there are other contenders for the Fansies crown. Stimson is quick to endorse “Vi, Louise, and Sydney, along with so many who give us gifts. I swear that Fansies are required to go to baking school, because everyone’s banana bread has been spectacularly good.”
Says Fankhauser, “One Fansie made me a teddy bear that was dressed in my exact costume.”
Fankhauser fully understands the Fansie mentality. “When I was growing up in Orange, Ohio,” he says, “what I wanted for every Chanukah was a subscription to the shows that came through Cleveland. And after every performance I’d wait for autographs. Although my mother and I would usually be the only ones at the stage door, I told her, ‘I have to meet these people! I must see what they’re like off stage! I have to find out what they do after they take off their makeup and are walking home.’”
What Fankhauser didn’t know was that he’d have the same experience almost immediately after he graduated from Ithaca College. “More so,” he says, “because fans see us on these backstage videos that Andrew Keenan-Bolger made and put on the net. So fans feel like they already know us even before they come to the show.”
“It’s great that high school and college kids want to meet their inspirations,” he says. “They feel they can follow their dreams by seeing me realize mine.” Adds Stimson, “Even after more than 600 performances, it’s still exciting to come out that stage door and see so many people there.”
Both, however, credit YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Says Fankhauser, “The word would have gotten out there eventually — but not with the speed that it does now.”
Stimson agrees. “Fans let others know, ‘I’m seeing it tonight. Look for me,’ and that’s how friendships begin.”
Both actors admit that the Fansies have been such a part of their lives that they’d miss them if they suddenly disappeared. “I’d be more surprised than disappointed to see no one there,” says Fankhauser. Adds Stimson, “Even when the weather is really horrible, the line for autographs is just as long.”
Both will be eternally grateful to the Fansies’ help in turning what had been a failure on film into a success on stage.