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Saturday Matinee #61, Special Song Showcase: "Santa Fe" from Newsies (April 10, 1992) - published March 3, 2012

by Albert Gutierrez

Newsies is the Disney Animated Classic That Never Was. Actually, it never was intended to be animated. Nor was it intended to be a musical. As the production evolved, Newsies went from a straightforward drama about the 1899 strike into a rip-roaring musical meant to herald in a new age for Disney. Unfortunately, it failed very badly. The film received mixed-to-negative reviews, and tanked at the box office. But something amazing happened. Newsies found its audience not in the movie theatres, but on television. It aired repeatedly on Disney Channel, and its VHS release was widely popular. A whole generation of Disney fans grew up on Newsies through these airings, although I wasn't one of them. It wasn't until I bought the DVD in 2005 (three years after it graced the format) that I finally understood what all the fuss was about. Thankfully, I enjoyed the fuss!

This week's Saturday Matinee will be a Special Song Showcase, looking at one of the most iconic songs in the film: "Santa Fe." It is essentially Jack Kelly's "I Want" song, spelling out his hopes and dreams amidst the harsh reality of his life. When Newsies was adapted into a stage musical, original composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman tinkered with the lyrics for most of the songs, "Santa Fe" being one of them. The result is a song that is much grittier, but also much more poignant. Comparing the lyrics show that both versions keep that "longing" intact, while also addressing entirely different issues. But first, let's look at how Jack sings about "Santa Fe" in the film:

It is late at night. Jack Kelly has just finished a dinner with David and his family, and is on his way home. David offers for Jack to spend the night rather than go wandering the streets. Jack climbs down the fire escape, thinking about the family he's left behind. They offered their home to him and he's refused. The audience does not quite understand why until Jack begins to sing.

Through his song, "Santa Fe," he reveals that he doesn't have a family of his own. In fact, all he really has is his dream: Santa Fe. As he hitches rides on carts to get through the streets, he relishes in his dreams. It won't take much, just a few more dollars, and he'll be on his way to Santa Fe. After all, he's only seventeen. He shouldn't feel so trapped. Might as well get as far away from the city as possible, with Santa Fe representing the furthest away he can go. Jack then dons his iconic cowboy hat and begins to run off. He needs to get away now.

The music swells up, and we get an instrumental bridge between his lyrics. Jack begins to dance through the street, not caring who sees him. As it's late, nobody does. But the dance is a form of emotional release. This is his chance to express himself through movement, not through words. If you've ever listened to the soundtrack version of "Santa Fe" and compared it to the final film version, you'll notice that the instrumental bridge in the soundtrack is 20 seconds longer - from 2:38 to 2:58, we hear music not used in the film. Synching up the music with the film, you can see that the jump cut at the 29:40 mark shows where the filmmakers deleted a sequence involving Jack and a lasso. This can be seen briefly in a making-of documentary on the DVD.

Eventually, Jack gets rid of the lasso and runs towards a nearby stagecoach where cowboys are twirling their own lassos (go figure). He hops on atop a horse and rides away. He begins to sing once more, a valentine to that elusive Santa Fe:

Santa Fe, are you there?
Do you swear you won't forget me?
If I found you would you let me come and stay?
I ain't gettin' any younger
And before my dyin' day
I want space, not just air
Let 'em laugh in my face
I don't care
Save a place
I'll be there
So that's what they call a family
Ain't ya glad you ain't that way?
Ain't ya glad you got a dream called Santa Fe?


Jack's deleted lasso sequence

It's important to see how Jack Kelly treats the idea of Santa Fe. After all, he's never been there, it only exists to him in a fantasy. That is why he asks, "Santa Fe, are you there?" If he ever does make it there, will it exist as he hopes it will? Naturally, Santa Fe doesn't exist, at least not the way that Jack thinks it does. More importantly, and not as obvious, Jack Kelly does not exist either. We have to remember that he is actually Francis Sullivan, a newsie with a dead mother and a father in jail. Nobody's waiting for him in Santa Fe. Santa Fe becomes the escape Francis needs, hence why he adopts the "Jack Kelly" persona. A cowboy like Jack Kelly would not belong in New York, and so long as Francis believes he's Jack, there's a chance he will actually get out of New York.

This makes "Santa Fe" one of the more unique "I Want" songs in the Disney canon. Jack knows what he wants, but at the same time, is still unsure of it. All he knows is that Santa Fe is as far removed from New York as Jack Kelly is from Francis Sullivan. It is a dream, one that he's pursued for so long that it has consumed him. Perhaps we can look at the song as an indecisive version of Cinderella's "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes." Both share the theme of desiring something so deeply that all we can do is dream. And both have a hopeful ending. In "Santa Fe," Jack finds consolation in the fact that even with all his hardships, he still has a dream. In "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes," Cinderella finds that it's best to keep believing in spite of her hardships. Both keep the faith, but both also feel slightly defeated.


Image courtesy of ABC's "The View"

While I have yet to see the stage musical for Newsies, the revised lyrics for "Santa Fe" are available and they show how much further Menken and Feldman take the essence of the song to a whole new level. Jack's words are much more desperate, with less emphasis on Santa Fe being a dream that can comfort him. Now, Santa Fe becomes a goal that must be reached, otherwise he has nothing left. It also helps that Jeremy Jordan sings the song with a much more defeated tone than Christian Bale, better supporting the notion that Santa Fe represents a lot more to Broadway Jack than to Movie Jack.

Santa Fe, my old friend
I can't spend my whole life dreaming
Though I know that's all I seem inclined to do
I ain't gettin' any younger
And I wanna start brand new
I need space and fresh air
Let 'em laugh in my face
I don't care
Save my place
I'll be there
Just be real is all I'm asking
Not some paintin' in my head
Cause I'm dead if I can't count on you today
I got nothing if I ain't got Santa Fe

Newsies is currently is available in its 2002 "Collector's Edition" DVD, which contain a trio of making-of featurettes, filmmakers' commentary, and a few other goodies. It's an evergreen title in most stores, making it fairly easy to find. In addition, the musical will have a twelve-week run on Broadway, starting March 15. If they were to change Newsies to an open-ended Broadway run, I'll be eternally happy. Currently, the show is set to close on June 10, three days before my birthday. Reservations for tickets hopefully won't be hard to get by then. Yet I'm sure even if they do end on the 10th, Disney's theatrical unit will find a way to keep Newsies in production. After all, they spent so much time promoting the production, and it already has such a widespread fan base. Newsies on tour could be a nice consolation, especially if they have some shows in Philadelphia!

 

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