So, 2020, huh?! It has been a tumultuous, painful, bizarre year with so much loss, grief, and uncertainty. But on the other side of darkness, there is light. And if one good thing has come out of the pandemic, it’s that filmed live theatre content is more available than ever. From Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Shows Must Go Online, The National Theatre and Met Opera’s weekly streams, Disney+ releasing Hamilton, to smaller independent theatres like Southwark Playhouse, Wise Children, or Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe releasing previously filmed content, and creating new musicals to stream.
This year I launched the Filmed Live Musicals podcast. I chatted with director and writer Al Monaco, Tony nominee Brenda Braxton, the founder of Scenesaver Caroline Friedman, the executive director of Sarasota’s Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe Julie Leach, dancer and engineer Lena Wolfe, actor and puppeteer David Colston Corris, actor and producer Kimberly Faye Greenberg, academic Kelly Kessler, dancer and associate choreographer Barry Busby, collector Robert Sokol, and the award-winning composer Paul Gordon! The Filmed Live Musicals podcast is available for download wherever you listen to podcasts, and transcripts are available for each episode.
The Filmed Live Musicals database currently has information on nearly 200 musicals. The list I’m currently working on has almost twice that! And that’s not even including musicals that have been filmed without an audience, or the new genre of “zoomsicals”, musicals performed over Zoom.
In 2021, I’m looking forward to continuing to grow the site, learning about new filmed live musicals, and spotlighting artists from all around the world who make them happen.
My Favorite Things (2020)
To close out 2020, here's a list (in no particular order) of my favorite filmed live musicals released this year!
Filmed Live Without an Audience
Zoomsicals (musicals performed online/virtually)
What did you see this year that you loved?
Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter and Facebook!
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Thank you to patrons Josh Brandon, Rachel Esteban, Mercedes Esteban-Lyons, Al Monaco, Jesse Rabinowitz & Brenda Goodman, David & Katherine Rabinowitz, and Bec Twist, for financially supporting Filmed Live Musicals.
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Episode 7 of the Filmed Live Musicals podcast is out!
This week I chat with the Executive Director of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT), Julie Leach. Based in Sarasota, Florida, WBTT is a non-profit theatre founded in 1999 by Nate Jacobs. The company’s mission is “to produce professional theatre that promotes and celebrates the African American experience, that attracts diverse audiences, supports and develops African American artists, and builds the self-esteem of African American youth.”
We look at how WBTT were able to pivot during the COVID-19 shutdown, connection with community, the business end of putting theatre online, and Vinnette Carroll's Your Arms Too Short to Box With God.
Learn more WBTT's filmed live productions Your Arms Too Short to Box With God and Rockin' Down Fairytale Lane in the Filmed Live Musicals database, and check out WBTT's current productions at www.westcoastblacktheatre.org.
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Filmed Live Musicals is a labor of love. All the thanks to patrons Josh Brandon, Mercedes Esteban, Jesse Rabinowitz and Brenda Goodman, Al Monaco, David and Katherine Rabinowitz, and Bec Twist for your support!
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The title of this week's blog is a line from the 1979 filmed live musical When Hell Freezes Over I’ll Skate. The musical is one of less than a dozen filmed live musicals with Black people in the creative team, and also one of less than twenty musicals in the current database with a female director.
Filmed Live Musicals is a space for documenting stage musicals that have been legally filmed and publicly distributed. Writing as a white cisgender female, I recognize my biases of being drawn to things that look like me, and that in the past I have skimmed over the fact that much of musical theatre is created by white people, and, usually white men. Due to the fact that I am only fluent in one language, English, the database does not currently have any musicals in languages other than English.
Going forward, I am committed to making Filmed Live Musicals a space for addressing white male dominance in musical theatre by amplifying non-white voices, and amplifying musical theatre created by non-white artists and creatives.
Over time, I will be updating the database to state when a musical is lacking gender and racial diversity in its creative team and/or cast, and providing a search function that will allow visitors to the site to find musicals by non-white, and female-identifying, writers and directors. I also plan to add a Search by Subject feature which will include Kid Friendly musicals.
This work is a labor of love. It is detailed, on-going, and necessary. I am thankful to my Patreons for financially supporting the site.
Recent studies show we still have a long way to go to shifting the dominance of white bodies, voices, and creatives, in American theatre.
In an earlier post, History Has Its Eyes, I spotlighted filmed live musicals with Black actors in lead roles. This month, I’m taking a look at filmed live musicals with at least two Black people on the production team. Black lives matter, and it matters who gets to create the theatre that we consume and the stories that we tell.
Researching the racial make-up of creative teams is a tricky task as bios, articles, and websites often do not mention ethnicity. I have used self-identification, my own knowledge, and pictures. This method is not always reliable or accurate. For a start, it is possible for a person to pass as white, but still identify as Black. Another difficulty is that producers are sometimes listed as companies, rather than as individuals, so, although statistically small, it is possible that shows and people have been missed as a result.
If I have misidentified, or left off, a person from this list, please let me know and I will rectify the error.
Here is a chronological list of filmed live musicals with at least two Black people in the production team.
When Hell Freezes Over I’ll Skate
Producer: Urban Arts Corps
Director: Vinnette Carroll
Music: Cleavant Derricks and Clinton Derricks-Carroll
Musical Director: Cleavant Derricks
Based on poetry by: lindamichellebaron, Julian Bond, Linda Cousins, Countee Cullen, Walt Delegal, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Jacqueline Earley, Paula Giddings, Sam Greenlee, Langston Hughes, Saundra Sharp, and Quincy Troupe.
Founded by Vinnette Carroll in 1967, the Urban Arts Corps had the goal of developing the careers of Black and Hispanic actors in New York City, and creating accessible art for Black, Puerto Rican, and under-served communities. Carroll was a multi-talented and highly influential actor, director, and writer who found success in both the UK and the United States. She was the first, and still remains the only, African American nominated for a Tony Award for Best Director.
Staged at the Urban Arts Theater in 1979, When Hell Freezes Over I’ll Skate was a musical drama featuring the poetry of Black poets. The show was directed by Vinnette Carroll, and filmed live for Theater in America in 1979. The recording released on VHS in 1999, and DVD in 2003.
Music and Lyrics: Fats Waller
Musical Director and Orchestrations: Luther Henderson
Set in a Harlem nightclub, Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a musical revue featuring the music of stride pianist Fats Waller. The Broadway production opened at the Longacre Theatre in May 1978. It won the 1978 Tony Award for Best Musical, and went on to play 1604 performances before closing in 1982. NBC aired a filmed live recording of the musical in June 1982. It hasn’t officially been released, but a copy has been uploaded to YouTube.
Based on a concept by: Donald McKayle
Music: Duke Ellington
Musical Director: Mercer Ellington
Orchestrations: Al Cohn
Dance arrangements and incidental music: Lloyd Mayers
Vocal Arrangements: Malcolm Dodds and Lloyd Mayers
Choreography: Donald McKayle
Co-Choreography and Tap Choreography: Henry LeTang
Sophisticated Ladies is a revue celebrating the music of Duke Ellington. The musical opened on Broadway in March, 1981, and in November 1982, it became the first Broadway musical to air on pay TV. Due to difficult contract negotiations, and fears the telecast would affect ticket sales, most of the Broadway cast did not appear in the taping. The telecast was released on DVD in 2005, and it is currently available on BroadwayHD.
The Gospel at Colonus
Producer: Yvonne Smith
Make-Up Design: Toy Russell
The Gospel at Colonus is a re-telling of Sophocles’ Oepidus at Colonus through a pentecostal sermn. It was filmed live during the American Music Theater Festival in 1985 and aired on PBS’ Great Performances. The cast included Morgan Freeman, Carl Lumbly, Robert Earl Jones, The Institutional Radio Choir, Clarence Fountain and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama. It was released on DVD in 2008.
Producer: Spike Lee
Loosely based on the life of rock musician Stew, Passing Strange is a rock musical about a young man who leaves his conservative Californian home to find “the real” in Europe. The musical opened on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre in February 2008. Spike Lee filmed the Broadway production shortly before it closed in July 2008. Passing Strange: The Movie was released in 2009 to much acclaim. The film was aired on PBS in 2010, and also released on DVD. Passing Strange: The Movie is available to view on DVD.
Producer: Jay Z, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith
Book: Bill T. Jones
Music & Lyrics: Fela Anikulapo-Kuti
Director/Choreography: Bill T. Jones
Hair, Wig, and Make-Up Design: Cookie Jordan
FELA! is a biographical musical about the pioneering Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. The musical was directed by choreographer and director Bill T. Jones, and featured Sahr Ngaujah in the title role. When FELA! opened in London in 2010, it became the first National Theatre musical production to be concurrently running on Broadway. The London production was filmed live for the National Theatre’s NT Live program, and broadcast in cinemas around the world. It is disappointing that the National Theatre did not release FELA! as part of its National Theatre at Home programme. The musical is not currently available to view.
Musical Director: Kenny Seymour
Orchestrations: Daryl Waters
Costume Design: Paul Tazewell
Stage Manager: Alexis Shorter
Conductor: Kenny Seymour
Memphis is an original musical about the power of music to overcome racial divides in 1950s America. Despite lackluster reviews, the musical won 4 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and played on Broadway for three years. Memphis was the first Broadway musical to be released in cinemas whilst playing on Broadway. It was subsequently released on Netflix, DVD, and Blu-Ray, and aired on PBS’ Great Performances. Memphis is now available to stream on BroadwayHD and YouTube.
Rockin’ Down Fairytale Lane
Producer: Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
Book: Nate Jacobs & Joey James
Music & Lyrics: Nate Jacobs
Concept & Director: Nate Jacobs
Musical Director: James “Jay” Dodge II
Choreography: Donald Frison
Scenic Design: Annette Breazeale
Costume Design: Angela Franklin-Mayo
Lighting Design: Michael Pasquini
Stage Manager: Juanita Munford
Videography/Editor: Bill Wagy
Think Into the Woods meets The Wiz. Written by Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s artistic director Nate Jacobs. The 2018 production was performed at the Donnelly Theatre in Florida and was streamed throughout most of June on the WBTT website.
Your Arms Too Short to Box With God
Producer: Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
Book: Vinnette Carroll
Music & Lyrics: Alex Bradford and Micki Grant
Director: Harry Bryce
Musical Director: Jay Dodge II
Choreography: Donald Frison
Scenic Design: Michael Newton-Brown
Costume Design: Adrienne Pitts
Lighting Design: Nick Jones
Stage Manager: Juanita Munford
Based on the Book of Matthew, Your Arms Too Short to Box With God is gospel-infused re-telling of Jesus’ final days. Written by the aforementioned Vinnette Carroll with Alex Bradford and Micki Grant providing music and lyrics, the musical originally opened on Broadway in 1976. The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe staged a production in March 2020 as part of their 20th anniversary season celebrating Black women. The musical was filmed live and released as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown. Due to licensing and Equity agreements, the musical was only available until April 19th, 2020.
Filmed Live Musicals is a labor of love that takes many hours of research and hundreds of dollars to run.
Thank you to Star patrons Mercedes Esteban-Lyons, Jesse Rabinowitz & Brenda Goodman, and David & Katherine Rabinowitz, and Bec Twist, for financially supporting the site.
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