When I first started researching At the Drop of a Hat (1962), and its sequel At the Drop of Another Hat (1967), I wasn't expecting to need to dedicate a whole lot of time to it. It's just two white dudes singing comedy songs right?!
As I delved deeper into the comedic duo of Flanders and Swann, I became intrigued by their stories. Both were fascinating men who were immensely brilliant writers and, by all accounts, absolutely charming individuals.
As a young man, Michael Flanders had contracted polio and as a result became a wheelchair user. From what I can gather, Michael Flanders was the first actor in a wheelchair to perform on Broadway and in the West End. Writers of the day barely gave this fact a mention, and one author infuriatingly noted that maybe Flanders "could surely step out" of his chair. Flanders faced many difficulties as a performer in a wheelchair, and he was devastated that despite the fact he could perform, other wheelchair users were not permitted in the theatre. He became a passionate advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, a cause his wife Claudia Cockburn also became involved in and was awarded an Order of the British Empire for her work.
Donald Swann was born in Wales, the child of a British national father born in Russia and a Muslim mother from southern Russia in what is now Turkmenistan. Swann was a conscientious objector in the war and as a result of his service with the Friends' Ambulance in became fascinated with the music and culture of Greece.
Through their revue At the Drop of a Hat, the duo performed not only in the West End and on Broadway, but across the United States, in Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong.
The taping of their two shows in 1962 and 1967 also revealed history about concerns of filming live theatre, how performers should be remunerated for broadcasts, and the role of theatre on television.
Information about the filming of At the Drop of Another Hat was relatively easy to find. The show had been filmed at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York and was released on VHS. The footage is currently available on YouTube, under the erroneous title "The Only Flanders & Swann Video."
Watching the video, it struck me that Flanders sometimes seemed to be in a bad mood, and some of the audience members even appeared to be bored. I later learned that the studio taping took over 7 hours. Flanders and Swann were reportedly frustrated by the stops and starts to adjust lighting and angles, and the audience were likely exhausted.
I kept finding mention of At the Drop of a Hat being filmed, but couldn't find information on where or when. This lead me to one of my all time favorite pastimes, delving into the archives at the Billy Rose Theatre Division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
The archive holds literally hundreds of boxes containing the papers of Alexander H. Cohen, the groundbreaking American producer who bought Flanders and Swann to Broadway. Due to space and COVID restrictions, and limited time to spend at the library, I was only able to access exactly 6 boxes per appointment, and I had to choose from the hundreds of boxes which 6 boxes might hold the answers to my questions.
I hit the jackpot in a folder labelled "Alexander H Cohen Papers, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, Theatre - At the Drop of a Hat Correspondence 1957." Letters exchanged between Cohen, Michael Flanders, and Flanders and Swann's agents at MCA, detailed that At the Drop of a Hat had been filmed with an invited audience at the BBC's Studio 4 in London. It was filmed as part of the Festival of the Performing Arts, a short-lived cultural television program sponsored by the New Jersey Standard Oil Company.
The program was only supposed to be aired in the US, but the BBC immediately wanted to air it in the UK. The letters detail Flanders and Swann's concerns over a UK release, which included worries about the impact on future ticket sales, and also proper renumeration for such a broadcast. British Equity had just emerged from a 7 month strike against ITV over payments based on potential audience size, and Flanders and Swann wanted to ensure they were properly compensated.
Although it has not been released since airing on either British or American television, truncated video footage of At the Drop of a Hat may still exist, as Donald Swann discusses watching it, with some trepidation, many years later in his autobiography.
I'm so glad that my research led me to the work of Flanders and Swann. While some of their comedy is a little dated, much of the music and witty songs are as delightful and fun as when they were first performed over seventy years ago.
You can learn more about At the Drop of a Hat and At the Drop of Another Hat in the database!
Host Luisa Lyons chats with Richard J. Hinds, associate choreographer on Come From Away and the current Broadway revival of Company.
Topics include why Richard was drawn to the creative side of musical theatre and his journey to Broadway, Andy Blankenbuehler’s role in his career, working with Kelly Devine, setting High School Musical on tour in the UK, US, Australia, and on ice(!), the role of an associate director and choreographer, working in television v. theatre, the filming of Newsies and Come From Away, and more!
Richard’s Broadway credits include Company (Associate Chor.), Come From Away (Associate Chor.), Disney’s Newsies (Associate Dir.), Jekyll & Hyde (Associate Dir./Chor.) and Il Divo: A Musical Affair (Assistant Dir.). He worked on the Off-Broadway production of Here Lies Love (Associate Dir./Chor.) and the National Tours of 9 to 5 (Associate Dir.) and Disney’s High School Musical (Associate Chor.). Richard’s television credits include Encore! (Disney+), Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, America’s Got Talent, The Bethenny Show, Bring It and Good Afternoon America. Richard is represented by bloc Talent Agency. Learn more at www.richardjhinds.com and follow on Instagram.
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Sick of staring at your screen, but still feel craving some musical theatre? Why not try an audio musical!
Audio musicals can be stage shows adapted for audio-only, others are written specifically for podcasts. It’s like radio theatre! With the cost of production being significantly lower than mounting a full stage production, and powerhouses Audible and Clubhouse joining the game, I think we will continue to see more audio musicals being released into the world.
Here’s a collection of 20 audio musicals from the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia, for your listening pleasure. Ranging in length from 10minutes to full-length musicals, and with a wide range of topics including the first woman to row across the Atlantic, growing up with dyslexia, LGBTQ love stories, murder mysteries, re-vamped fairy tales, and the first dog in space, there truly is something for everyone.
10 Days That Shook the World
Produced by Thereby Hangs A Tale Productions and presented by the TTS World Wide Virtual Fringe Festival, this audio musical is set in Petrograd, 1917, where a pair of married journalists are about to experience an all-singing, all-rioting, Russian Revolution. An irreverent retelling of a true story featuring songs and spoken word. For anyone who’s ever wanted to change the world. Written and directed by Milo Morris. Available for free on Scenesaver.
Billed as the world’s first podcast musical, the show tells the story of a couple in their last-ditch attempt to save their marriage by using the 36 questions, an experiment known for making strangers fall in love. Composed by Chris Littler and Ellen Winter with sound designer Joel Raabe, the musical features Jonathan Groff and Jessie Shelton. It was released in 3 acts in July 2017, and is available from Two Up Productions.
Written by John Cameron Mitchell and Bryan Weller, this podcast musical follows Ceann Mackay who is broadcasting a podcast to crowdfund treatment for a brain tumor from the trailer once occupied by Hedwig Schmidt (of Hedwig and the Angry Inch). Told over 10 episodes, the musical features 31 original songs, and a starry cast including Patti LuPone, Glenn Close, Cynthia Erivo, Marion Cotillard, Laurie Anderson, and John Cameron Mitchell. The podcast was released in April 2019, and is available on Luminary.
In a world where it’s too dangerous to go outside, a starry-eyed teen cellist risks leaving her apartment to win the love of the rebel punk next door. A twisted musical with a good, pure heart. With a book by Jason Schafer, music by Arthur Lafrentz Bacon, and lyrics Harris Doran, the cast includes Annie Golden, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Marc Kudisch, Sarah Stiles, Taylor Trensch, and Tony Vincent. Available wherever you listen to podcasts and the Broadway Podcast Network.
Childish: The Podcast Musical
A musical comedy presented by Whale Bus about Dante, a college student in NYC, becomes an RA in order to follow in the footsteps of his hero, Childish Gambino. While he hopes this will be the next step toward becoming a famous rapper, his delusions of grandeur are shattered when he realizes his dweebish co-workers are hellbent on making his life miserable. Created by Whale Bus, POC, LGBTQ+. Muslim, Jewish, and Latinx artists, among other underrepresented groups, who strive to uplift and celebrate minority voices on and off mic. Available wherever you listen to podcasts and Whale Bus.
Driving From Barking to Deptford
Billed as “Minder meets Game Of Thrones as a musical,” a podcast musical about the story of three men and their van driving from Barking to Deptford. Presented over 7 episodes by Men with Ven. Available via Bandcamp.
The Fall of the House of Sunshine
A serialized musical comedy adventure where the beloved host of the Sunshine Smile Hour is murdered! Can anyone solve it? Meet the suspects, untangle the mystery. Created by Matt Roi Berger and Jonathan A. Goldberg, and features a starry cast include Bonnie Milligan, Grace McLean, and Larry Owens, Available via Soundcloud.
Theatre Sheridan at Sheridan College in Ontario have launched a new project entitled First Drafts, a series of 5 musicals that “reimagine, reconstitute, and reanimate the Western “musical theatre canon” in a way that acknowledges the truth of where we are now and where we hope to go. First Drafts is grounded in an urgency to make space for stories that must be told now and must continue to be prioritized in our art form.” All pieces are presented as podcast-style audio recordings, and one, To Ronnie, With Love was also rehearsed and filmed remotely. All pieces are available for free via Theatre Sheridan.
The Flame: An LGBTQ Romantic Comedy
An original musical that over 8 episodes tells the story of two women: Jamie, a queer bar owner, and Sam, the woman selling the building the bar inhabits, and the inevitable sparks that end up flying between them. With music and lrurics by Leigh Holmes Foster, book and additional lyrics by Caitlyn Clear, the cast includes Ellie Brigida, Jen Colella, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Chilina Kennedy, Harrison White, Valerie Rose Lohman, and Leigh Holmes Foster.
Produced by Lez Hang Out Productions, the producers, director, writer, and lead characters are all members of the LGBTQ community, and the orchestra is made up predominantly of women.
Available wherever you listen to podcasts including the Broadway Podcast Network.
In Strange Woods
A fictional documentary musical about 18-year-old Peregrine Wells who seeks out survivalist skills from an enigmatic old recluse after a tragedy in the Whitetail National Forest. Produced by Atypical Artists, and created by Jeff Luppino-Esposito, Brett Ryback, and Matt Sav. The cast includes Donna Lynne Champlin, Patrick Page, and Beth Leavel. Available on Apple Podcasts.
It Makes a Sound
A serial fiction musical podcast about what we remember, and what we forget. Deirdre Gardner finds a lost cassette tape from 1992 in an attic and embarks on a quest to revive the sound of a generation. Written by Jacquelyn Landgraf and presented on the Night Vale Presents/PRX network. Available wherever you listen to podcasts and It Makes a Sound.
Little Did I Know
Presented over 9 podcast episodes, this new musical tells the story of a group of friends – recent college graduates – who bring a broken-down summer theatre back to life in 1976. The summer will be different from anything they expected, and what they experience will resonate throughout their lives. Directed by Marlo Hunter, with music by Doug Besterman, lyrics by Dean Pitchford and Marcy Heisler, and book by Lou Aronica and Johanna Besterman. The cast includes Broadway actors Patrick Page, Lesli Margherita, and Richard Kind. Available via Apple Podcasts.
A celebration of the moment of risk, heartbreak, and joy when the wild strangeness of love comes into clearer view presented over 9 episodes. With book and lyrics by David Zellnik and music by Eric Svejcar, the cast features Kathryn Allison, Kathryn Gallagher, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Hailey Kilgore, Mason Alexander Park, Ryann Redmond, and Ali Stroker. Available on Loveville High.
Prime: A Practical Breviary
A song cycle composed by the innovative Christian and named IndieWire‘s number 1 Podcast Episode of 2020. The piece was inspired by breviary masses performed by cloistered monks, employing modern language and rich, contemporary musical arrangements to reimagine what a modern prayer for a Tuesday morning at 6 AM might sound like. Released in April 2020 as part of Playwrights Horizons Soundstage podcast. Available wherever you listen to podcasts.
New musical Row by Daniel Goldstein (book) and Dawn Landes (music and lyrics) was scheduled to have its world premier at the 2020 Williamstown Theatre Festival. Due to the pandemic, the festival was cancelled, but rather than wait, Williamstown pivoted and partnered with Audible Theater to present the world’s first audio theatre festival.
Row is inspired by Tori Murden McClure’s memoir A Pearl in the Storm, which chronicles her incredible journey to becoming the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic. Directed by Tyne Rafaeli, Row features Grace McLean as Tori, supported by Kerstin Anderson, John Ellison Conlee, Nehal Joshi, Tamika Lawrence, John McGinty, Kathryn O’Rourke, Lance Roberts, Sean Stack, and Sally Wilfert.
The musical is currently available on Audible (affiliate link), and will be also presented in person at the 2021 Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts from July 13 - August 15, 2021.
Sammy Smile Music
This music publishing company have developed two “audiobook musicals”, Spin the Rumpelstiltskin Musical, and Puss in Boots: A Musical, both with music by Neil Fishman and lyrics by Harvey Edelman. Both musicals are re-tellings of classic fairytales, and have won multiple awards. A new musical, Dead End the Musical will be released in 2022.
A tragic alt-country australiana romantic horror musical podcast set in a jaded small town on Australia’s east coast. Written by audio and multiplatform producer Jessica Hamilton, the podcast was inspired by a surf trip down the coast through small town Australia listening to country community radio, and a real life Slaughterhouse Road. Presented in 3 acts. Available on Spotify and Slaughterhouse Road.
Created as part of The Truth podcast, the musical tells the story of Doc, Penny, & Jojo who had a band that was going nowhere, until they found a drum machine that transported them into their songs. Written by Jonathan Mitchell and Josh Perilo, and presented over 8 episodes. Available via The Truth podcast.
Originally produced as a stage show in 2017, this Canadian musical about growing up with dyslexia has been re-imagined as a radio play. Written and performed by Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson, the musical is being made available in three formats. From July 7 - 16, the musical is available to livestream at select times. From July 20 - August 1, audiences in Toronto can book a performance in their own backyard, and from August 16 - 29, the musical will play at TIFT’s “Bees in the Bush Festival.” Tickets for the audio broadcast are $15CAN. More info and tickets from Outside the March.
Take a Ten
Need a ten minute break? Founded by NYC composer Andy Roninson, and first released in 2013, the podcast features 17 original 10 minute musicals. Writers and performers include Laura Osnes, Rob McClure, Kathryn Allison, George Salazar, and Mary Page Nance. Available wherever you listen to podcasts and on Take a Ten.
U.Me: The Musical
An original musical by Theo Jamieson (book, music, and lyrics, and former music director for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie), and Simon Pitts (book) about two young people on opposite sides of the world who meet online and make a true connection. Commissioned by the BBC, the audio musical premiered on May 12, 201 on BBC World Service. The musical features a diverse and international cast including Anoushka Lucas, Martin Sarreal, Kevin Chen, Nicole Deon, and Michelle Yumiko Payne, with narration by Stephen Fry, and music performed by the BBC Philharmonic. A free online programme includes cast and crew bios, and the complete lyrics.
U.Me is now available on the BBC Sounds podcast.
The World to Come
In a post-apocalyptic world with no internet or electricity, five disparate factions vie for dominance in the city-state of Fiveboro. Each tribe worships at the altar of the bygone pop-culture references of an earlier time, and relishes the stories of film and television they've never actually seen. Created by Rachel Klein, Andy Peterson, and Erik Ransom, and presented by David Treatman Creative and Iconoclast Theatre. Available wherever you listen to podcasts and The World to Come.
Keep an Ear Out
The following musicals are not currently available, but they deserve a mention for their innovative use of the medium and what could be coming up next.
Triassic Parq: The Musical: Radial Park
First premiering off-Broadway in 2012, this musical comedy is told from the perspective of dinosaurs from a certain Theme Park as they discover the truth about faith, science, innocence, sex, and gender identity. In late May 2021, the musical was performed for three shows only at the drive-in at Radial Park in Queens. Billed as the world’s first binaural musical, the show was performed live with “atmospheric and stage projections”, with in-person audience members receiving special “silent-disco” type headphones. Remote audiences were also able to tune into the audio simulcast.
Launched in March 2020, Clubhouse is an invite-only audio app with chatrooms where users can host and join live discussions. The app has has been host to several audio musicals, all of which have been produced, directed, and performed by people of color, including The Lion King (December 2020), Dreamgirls (March 2021), The Wiz (March 2021) and Fela! (May 2021).
The Lion King featured a 40-member cast, choir, live music, and orchestrated pull-to-refresh (PTR) imagery where performers changed their profile pictures to re-create scenes from the movie. The entire cast and crew were people of color, including director and executive producer Noelle Chestnut Whitmore, musical directors Bomani X and Kam DeLa, and lead actors Chris “Boogie” Glover (Mufasa), Myles Grier (Simba), and Mir Harris (Nala). Performed over two shows on December 26, over 5000 people tuned into each show, and #LionKingCH trended nationally on Twitter.
Dreamgirls held an open call through the app on January 2, with over 10,000 people tuning in for the auditions. The musical was performed over four performances on February 27 and 28 with four different casts, featuring professional and amateur performers. The musical received creative input from original Broadway cast member Sheryl Lee Ralph, London revival cast member Amber Riley, and composer Henry Kreger.
Produced by Talia Moore and Serita Carton, The Wiz was performed by two different casts on March 12 and 13, 2021. Like The Lion King, the audio musical employed PTR to create dynamic visuals. The Friday show featured singer/songwriter YahZarah as Dorothy, and the Saturday show featured singer Alana Houston. Each show attracted over 3000 listeners.
Fela! was adapted into Fela Ten Twenty and set in the #EndSARS movement, a protest against police violence in Nigeria that erupted in late 2020 and resulted in the death of 12 people. The musical was produced by original Fela! producer Stephen Hendel along with Maduka, and Ọlabimpe Ọlaniyan, and featured an international cast hailing from Nigeria, the U.K., and the U.S. Like Dreamgirls, cast and creatives from the original Broadway production served as consultants. The production intentionally tripled speaking roles for women in the musical, to show the vital role of women in the struggle for equality and progress.
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On episode 23 of the Filmed Live Musicals podcast, host Luisa Lyons chats with Jessica Ryan, founder and CEO of Broadway Unlocked.
In this fun conversation, we talk about Jessica's grandparents role in getting her into theatre, how being an advocate for the Crime Victims Treatment Center and making accessible content led to a career in digital theatre, the inspiration of early Kickstarter, being an early adopter of tech, why the theatre industry is afraid of streaming, how COVID has shifted the game, and more!
Jessica Ryan is a serial entrepreneur, award winning director/actor/writer and mad scientist at the intersection of technology and the arts. Her groundbreaking work has been featured at Talks at Google, The New York Times, Idealist, W42ST Magazine, and CBS Sunday Morning. She created Broadway’s first hybrid concert blending digital and in-person audiences almost a decade ago; All Together Now, her latest venture, is digital venue technology for exclusive audience experiences around live shows. In case you’re not exhausted yet, she’s also the creator and host of #TechTheatre Tuesdays on the Clubhouse App, as well as its' recap podcast with tech and media startup veteran Joe White, as well as the Take Me To Coffee Podcast with Hamilton star Andrew Call. Currently accepting extra hours in the day, inquire within. Learn more at www.broadwayunlocked.com and follow Broadway Unlocked on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
This week on the Filmed Live Musicals podcast, host Luisa Lyons chats with actor/dancer/singer James T. Lane.
Topics include the influence of Robert Guilluame and the importance of being able to see people that look like you on stage, Forbidden Broadway and movie musicals as a gateway to musical theatre, Jesus Christ Superstar, A Chorus Line, coining the phrase “sad understand”, working at the Jen Waldman Studio, words of wisdom from Baayork Lee, why writers and artists should share their work widely, and the development and staging of James’ new play Triple Threat: A Play That Moves and Sings.
James T. Lane is an actor singer dancer based in New York City. A true triple threat, he brings joy, electricity, nuance, humor, and heart to roles on Broadway, across the United States, and throughout the world. James's powerful love for his craft and for his fellow human beings shines through in all that he does. Learn more at www.jamestlane.com and follow James on Instagram and Twitter.
The Filmed Live Musicals podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Amazon, Google, Overcast, Stitcher, Spotify, and more!
If you like what you hear, please make sure to subscribe and leave a review!
In episode 20 of the Filmed Live Musicals podcast, host Luisa Lyons chats with Broadway on Demand CEO and President Sean Cercone.
Topics include theatre on public TV being a gateway to live theatre, how being a good son-in-law led to the creation of Broadway on Demand, how streaming can help authors and help shows build their brand, sport as a model for live-streaming, the importance of a theatre archive, and much more!
Sean Cercone is the CEO and President of Broadway Licensing and its family of companies, which includes Dramatists Play Service, Playscripts, Stageworks Productions, and Broadway on Demand. Together, these companies represent the world’s first 360º theatrical development, producing, publishing, and digital and traditional distribution outfit.
Between Broadway Licensing (musicals), Dramatists Play Service (non-musical plays), and Playscripts (educational productions), Cercone oversees the licensing of nearly 24,000 productions each year, working with more than 2,800 authors and managing over 6,725 titles. Stageworks Productions is dedicated to the development, production, and distribution of innovative live theatrical properties, focusing on cultivating stories that speak to the universal truths of humanity.
Broadway On Demand, launched in 2020, is the industry’s premiere entertainment streaming platform offering exclusive livestream theatrical events, a wide-ranging library of video on demand content, interactive engagements, and educational programming. In addition, Cercone created a unique licensing interface, ShowShareTM, which provides student, amateur, and professional productions the opportunity to stream their productions for global audiences. ShowShareTM proved instrumental in ensuring thousands of shows could go on even when the pandemic forced the cancellation of live performances around the world. Broadway On Demand has been honored with the 2021 Corporate Award by the American Association of Community Theatre (AACT).
The Filmed Live Musicals podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Amazon, Google, Overcast, Stitcher, Spotify, and more!
If you like what you hear, please make sure to subscribe and leave a review!
This week, host Luisa Lyons chats with actor Jalynn Steele about the upcoming livestream of Titanique the Maiden Voyage Concert. Titanique is a new parody musical that reveals what really happened to Jack and Rose on that fateful night, as told by Céline Dion!
In this laugh-filled chat, we talk about the joy of performing, going to State for theatre, what Jalynn learnt during the pandemic, performing with COVID restrictions, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, and the importance of diverse representation on Broadway.
Jalynn Steele is an energetic light placed here on earth to shine joy to everyone. Through the years she has graced many stages across the world and is extremely excited to join the awesome cast of Titanique! Credits include; Broadway: The Lightning Thief: A Percy Jackson Musical, Off Broadway: Sistas: The Musical, National/International Tour: Fosse, Regional Theatre: Mamma Mia, Beehive, and Little Shop of Horrors. Other credits include; Sesame Street, After Midnight, Rock of Ages, Burn the Floor, The Wiz, Songs for a New World, and recently, many virtual performances. Her life’s creed, “Live, laugh & love!” Follow on Facebook and Instagram.
Titanique the Maiden Voyage Concert will be livestreamed at 7.30pm EDT on May 2. Tickets are available from Stellar.
The Filmed Live Musicals podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, and more! If you like what you hear, please leave a review and help get the word out!
Despite the fact that we’ve been filming theatre since the invention of cameras, and that the first live theatre broadcasts took place in 1939, many still don’t know that filming stage shows and releasing them for public consumption is a thing. And when folks are aware of filmed live theatre, there are usually two reactions. Either they are either afraid of it because they think it will cannibalize ticket sales, or they dismiss it entirely as “not theatre”.
To the first point, as I’ve written previously, there is little evidence to suggest that filmed live theatre cannibalizes ticket sales — mainly because most captures are released in the final days of a show’s run, or after it has closed. For musicals that were released during a run, such as Legally Blonde, Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, or Daddy Long Legs, ticket sales stayed stable, or were boosted, by the filmed live release.
Despite research that shows that audiences find watching theatre on screen a viable alternative, I don’t entirely disagree with the folks who ascertain filmed live theatre is not theatre. It falls somewhere in between the live theatre experience and a movie.
Terms that were used a lot pre-pandemic included filmed live theatre, live cinema, transmission, HD transmission, cine-cast, pro-shot, and live capture.
Some recent big Broadway name examples, Hamilton, Come From Away, and Diana (it’s fun to note that both Diana and Come From Away are directed by Christopher Ashley, who also directed Memphis, which was filmed live on Broadway with an audience in 2011) show that there is no consensus on what to call filmed live theatre. The filmed live version of Hamilton is billed on Disney Plus as “the Original Broadway Production,” and is referred to in press as the filmed version, filmed presentation, filmed performance, filmed version, Hamilton movie, recorded performance, live capture or live-capture, and streaming version. When tweeting the announcement of the filmed live release of Hamilton, the musical’s composer Lin-Manuel Miranda called it “Our Hamilton film”, and used the hashtag, #Hamilfilm.
In August 2020, Diana the Musical, a new Broadway musical which was still in previews at the time of the shutdown, revealed that the show would be filmed live without an audience and released on Netflix. Press around the announcement described it as a taping, filmed version, specially filmed version, recorded without an audience, and recording.
It was announced in February that Come From Away, the Broadway musical that tells the real-life story of the Canadian town of Gander which hosted 7000 stranded passengers after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, will be filmed in May. A variety of terms were used to describe the soon-to-be-released product: filmed live or live filming, filmed live version, live stage recording, filmed stage production, pro-shot, capture, and live taping. To add to the confusion, one reporter stated that it was unclear if this filmed live version would be different from the film adaptation that had been previously announced.
When we delve deeper into the filmed live theatre world, there are differences that are important to define so audiences and industry folks alike know what they’re dealing with. Some productions are filmed and broadcast live, such as most content from Live from Lincoln Center, BroadwayHD captures of She Loves Me and Daddy Long Legs, or the National Theatre’s Follies. These productions are often made available after the live broadcast, and billed as “live”. Other productions are filmed live with an audience, and edited with close-ups and on-stage angles that are filmed separately from the actual performance, such as Love Never Dies, Newsies, and Hamilton. Then there is another category of shows that are filmed to look like their stage show versions, but are filmed without an audience, such as the National Theatre’s 1998 production of Oklahoma! or the 1999 made-for-VHS Cats.
While the pandemic has resulted in a slew of filmed live musicals being made available online, often live recordings made for archival purposes, it has also opened up new categories, and ways of filming that are not always made clear to audiences what they’re watching. There’s filmed live in a theatre without an audience present, such as Fiver, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, or The Last Five Years all filmed at Southwark Playhouse, filmed live remotely on Zoom such as Curveball Creative’s Who’s Your Baghdaddy, or filmed separately and edited together like Irish Rep’s clever Meet Me In St Louis. Finally, there’s a new self-titled theatre/film hybrid of stage shows filmed in theatres and presented as films, such as Curve Theatre’s Sunset Boulevard.
So what should we call filmed live theatre? It’s one of my favorite questions to ask guests on the Filmed Live Musicals podcast. Take a listen to Episode 15 The Grinning Man with composers Marc Teitler and Tim Philips, to find out what I think is one of the best answers so far!
While some of us are spending the pandemic baking bread, binging Netflix, and staring into the void afraid and half-hopeful that this will now be life as we know it, folks across the world are jumping online to make art, and specifically, musicals. The rapid turnaround of these musicals and, more importantly, their immense popularity, is leading folks in the theatre community to wonder if virtual development is the future of musical theatre making.
The most prominent musical flavoring much of the discussion is Ratatouille The Musical, the world’s first musical “created entirely over TikTok.” Based on the 2007 Disney animation about a Parisian rat who loves to cook, the musical had a very short gestation period. It began life in October 2020, when a TikTok user Emily Jacobsen posted a love ballad for Remy the Rat that went viral. In December 2020 Seaview Productions (who got a shoutout in the December newsletter for their promising new partnership with Sony Productions) negotiated with Disney to put on a virtual production of Ratatouille the Musical as a benefit for the Actors Fund.
Ratatouille the Musical aired on January 1st, 2021, and was only available to stream for 3 days, followed by a one-off encore screening a week later. The cast featured the talents of Wayne Brady, Tituss Burgess, Kevin Chamberlin, André de Shields, Andrew Barth Feldman, Adam Lambert, Priscilla Lopez, Ashley Park, and Mary Testa, under the direction of Six writer and director Lucy Moss. The music was recorded by the recently formed The Broadway Sinfonietta, an all-female identifying, majority women of color orchestral collective. The event was viewed by over 200,000 people, and raised $2million, the most successful fundraiser in Actors Fund history.
While yet to be performed on a physical stage, Ratatouille the Musical already has a huge global following, was put together in a month, and for a budget of $200,000. When you think of the years, and millions of dollars, it normally takes to mount a Broadway show, it’s no wonder theatre folks are excited.
Director Lucy Moss has stated “I hope it opens the doors and/or eyes of producers and the gatekeepers to democratize theater even further, and to show them that something of real merit can be created not in the “traditional” way.” Writing for Forbes, Lee Seymour believes virtual productions could help bolster Broadway’s return — “crowdsourced projects could provide a solution, or at least an augmentation, especially to cultivate younger fans.”
A new in-the-works musical starting to generate some heat is Bridgerton the Musical, based on the recently released original Netflix series, Bridgerton. Composed by Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear, early songs have gone viral, with “Burn For You” reaching over 4.5 million views. The hashtag #BridgertonTheMusical has attracted over 2.5million views. Receiving some attention from Netflix itself, Barlow has claimed “…the gatekeepers that be are kind of no longer in power. The people have the power, and that’s an exciting thing.”
Another new created-virtually musical, or series of musicals, garnering attention is Averno. Created by 21-year-old Morgan Smith, Averno is “is a transmedia universe — think the Marvel universe, but with musicals (and comics and novels and more) about witches.” Through collaboration with a diverse group of young artists, Averno has created “13 musicals, 4 novels, a TV Show, a podcast, a concept album, a webcomic musical, virtual reality, and more.” The universe exists across various websites and social media platforms including TikTok, Instagram, Spotify, and YouTube. Broadway Records, one of theatre’s leading record labels, recently released three Averno musicals as concept albums — “Over and Out,” “Willow,” and “Bittersummer.”
What do you think? Will Ratatouille be served up on Broadway? Could Bridgerton The Musical sit alongside Bridgerton on Netflix? Will the Averno universe come to rival that of Marvel?