This week in Filmed Live Musicals news includes work from Tony nominees and winners, a Hawaiian Language Theatre Festival, new digital offerings from Chichester Festival Theatre, TEDx Broadway Ten, upcoming releases and more!
Tony Tony Tony!
I know many of my readers outside the US were frustrated that they weren’t able to watch the Tony Awards this year, either live or on catch-up. Despite this, it bodes well for filmed theatre that 6 shows from the 2021/22 Broadway season have been, or will be filmed live for release.
Earlier in the week, I shared a blog post, Where To Watch the Tony Winners & Nominees, which features a list of over 35 filmed live musicals that this year’s Tony contenders previously worked on, most of which are available to stream!
'Aha Hana Keaka: KEAKA Hawaiian Language Theatre Festival
The month long festival is available on demand for free and includes a wide range films, plays, musicals, and slam poetry performed in “full Hawaiian language to partial Hawaiian language.” The musical Wordsworth, available with Hawaiian or English subtitles, looks particularly delightful. More info and access via KEAKA Hawaiian Language Theatre Festival.
Chichester Festival Theatre: Digital Stages
In July, Chichester Festival Theatre (CFT) will be celebrating their 60th anniversary with five unique digital events. Events include Visionary Stages which will use cutting-edge technology to recreate the stage as it looked in 1962, and Digital Diorama which will feature 60 pieces from CFT’s archive such as model boxes, props, costumes, set designs, and sound bites. More info and tickets from CFT.
International Thespian Festival
A festival celebrating school theatre taking place at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. For the first time, a virtual option is being made available which includes access to a livestream of the opening ceremony, online workshops, and screenings of The SpongeBob Musical and the National Theatre production of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Virtual tickets for non-members are $99US. More info and tickets from ITF.
TEDx Broadway Ten
The tenth anniversary of TEDx Broadway was held at New World Stages on May 17, and is now available to stream via Stellar. Speakers include Emanuel Azenberg, Sammy Lopez, past Filmed Live Musicals podcast guest Margaret Hall, and more! Tickets are $15US. More info and access via Stellar.
I had so much fun live-tweeting the Tony Awards and sharing the past filmed live work of the nominees! As I shared on Twitter, I love celebrating Broadway & live theatre, but I also want to acknowledge how hard it is for so many people to attend in person because of cost, location, childcare, disability, illness & a myriad of other reasons.
Filmed theatre provides access to theatre, it creates a historical record of the ephemeral, has the potential to generate new income, and can be used as an educational tool. Filmed theatre must be a part of accessibility planning.
It bodes well that 5 shows from this season were filmed/broadcast (whether from Broadway or the West End). I hope that one day, audiences around the world will be able to access every show.
Here you'll find a list of the filmed live musicals and plays from the 2021/22 season, and a list of filmed live musicals that this year's winners and nominees have worked on.
In this week's newsletter dropping on Thursday, patrons will also have access to a list of plays, operas, films, and other digital works from this year's nominees. If you want access, become a Filmed Live Musical Patron today! You'll also get access to the streaming calendar, early access to the podcast, and more bonus content!
This post contains affiliate links and as an affiliate I may earn from qualifying purchases made through these links.
Filmed Live Shows from the 2021/22 Season
Diana: The Musical (2021)
Girl from the North Country (2022)
The Lehman Trilogy (2019)
Filmed Live Musicals
An American in Paris (2017)
Anything Goes (2021)
Come From Away -
The Cradle Will Rock (1986)
Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert (2018)
The King and I
The Last Five Years (2020)
The Light in the Piazza (2006)
Little Women (2021)
Les Misérables in Concert: The 25th Anniversary
Love Never Dies
Passing Strange (2008)
Phantom of the Opera at Royal Albert Hall (2011)
She Loves Me -
Shrek the Musical
Smokey Joe’s Cafe (2000)
South Pacific (2010)
Spongebob The Musical (2019)
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Live in Concert -
The Wiz Live! (2015)
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With Tony Award nominations being announced on Monday, May 9, it's time to re-visit filmed live Tony Award nominated and winning musicals! It's sad to think that of the 34 eligible Broadway plays and musicals in the 2021/22 season, only two productions were streamed - Diana The Musical (now available to stream on Netflix) and Second Stage's production of Clyde's. Girl From North Country was filmed in late April, but a release date has yet to be announced.
This post includes a list of over 30 Tony nominated, and Tony Award winning musicals, including 9 Best Musical winners, most of which are available to stream on demand. Dating back to 1962, the majority of shows were filmed on Broadway, however musicals filmed on tour, or in the West End, that are transfers or replicas of the Tony nominated show have also been included.
If you’re looking for more content, the Filmed Live Musicals database contains info on over 170 filmed live musicals (and growing!), including new productions of Tony nominated musicals like the filmed live concerts of Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, three versions of Jesus Christ Superstar, regional productions of Fun Home, Curtains, Your Arms Too Short to Box with God, and more! Visit the database to learn more!
This post contains affiliate links and the author may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.
This star vehicle revue for Carol Channing was filmed towards the end of its Broadway run at the Eugene O’Neil Theatre in 1961 and broadcast on early pay TV in Etobicoke, Canada. It hasn’t officially been released, but it’s available to view on YouTube.
Sondheim and John Weidman’s concept musical about Commodore Perry’s first visit to Japan in 1853. The original Broadway production was filmed live at the Winter Garden in 1976 for distribution on Japanese television. Like Show Girl, it hasn’t officially been released since airing on television, but it’s available on YouTube.
Pirates of Penzance
The Public Theater’s 1980 production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta transferred to Broadway in 1981. Before its transfer, the production was filmed live at the Delacorte in Centra Park featuring Kevin Kevin Kline, G. Eugene Moose, Rex Smith, Patricia Routledge, Linda Ronstadt, Alice Playten, Marcie Shaw, Wendy Wolfe, and Alexandra Korey. Kultur Video released the DVD in 2002.
Based on an idea by Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr., a revue musical set in a 1930s Harlem nightclub featuring music written, or made popular by, stride pianist Fats Waller. It was later taped with a live audience at NBC’s Burbank Studios in 1982, featuring Nell Carter, Andre De Shields, Armelia McQueen, Ken Page, and Charlaine Woodard. It was broadcast on NBC, and also in Finland. It hasn’t officially been released since, though it’s currently available on YouTube.
A musical revue featuring the music of Duke Ellington. In November 1982, it was billed as the first musical to be broadcast on pay TV. Most of the Broadway cast picketed the filming over contract negotiations, and a fear that the broadcast would negatively impact ticket sales. The touring cast, which included original cast members Hinton Battle, Terri Klausner, and Gregg Burge performed in the broadcast instead. The revue is now available on DVD and on BroadwayHD.
The short-lived revival of Lerner and Loewe’s mythic musical. Starring Richard Harris and Meg Bussert, the musical was filmed live at the Winter Garden and aired on HBO, who had invested $3 million into the taping. Now available on DVD.
Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s dark operetta that tells the story of a London barber who seeks revenge on the judge who destroyed his life. Directed by Hal Prince and starring Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury, the musical opened on Broadway in 1979. Three years later, the musical was filmed live at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, the first major American musical to be taped whilst on tour. It aired on cable TV in 1982, and is now available to stream on Amazon.
Sunday in the Park with George
Sondheim and Lapine’s musical based on Seurat’s pointillist painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” The musical was filmed after the show closed during a special performance at the Booth Theatre and aired on Showtime in February 1986. It has since been released on DVD.
The Will Rogers Follies
Inspired by the words of Will and Betsy Rogers, this 1991 revue at the Palace Theatre was is an upbeat celebration of the life of American folk hero and international superstar Will Rogers, told through lavishly staged production numbers. Like Pacific Overtures and Victor/Victoria, the show was filmed live for distribution on Japanese television. It hasn’t officially been released, but is available on YouTube.
Into the Woods
Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1987 fairytale musical that combines several different children’s stories into one intricate and grown-up world. The musical was filmed live towards the end of its run in 1989 and aired on PBS in 1991. It was later released on VHS and DVD, and is now available on Amazon Prime.
Based on the 1982 movie of the same name about a singer who disguises herself as a man pretending to be a woman in order to work, the show was a star vehicle for Julie Andrews in her first Broadway show in over three decades. The musical played a troubled run at the Marquis Theatre from October 1995 until July 1997. Like Pacific Overtures and The Will Rogers Follies, the show was filmed live for distribution on Japanese TV. Unlike the previous two, Victor/Victoria also aired on television in North America and was released on DVD and Blu-Ray. The show received one Tony nomination, Best Actress for Julie Andrews, who famously turned down the nomination stating the show had been snubbed. It’s now available on Amazon Prime.
Smokey Joe’s Cafe
A revue celebrating the songbook of 1960s pop composers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller whose hit songs included “Hound Dog,” “Love Potion No. 9,” “On Broadway,” and “Yakety Yak.” The final few performances were taped by the Broadway Television Network in January 2000, and aired later in that year. It is now available on DVD.
Putting it Together
A musical revue featuring songs by Stephen Sondheim. The show takes place at a party thrown by a wealthy, older married couple, and involves a younger man, a frisky maid, and a comedic commentator. Opening in 1999, the revue featured Carol Burnett, George Hearn, John Barrowman, Ruthie Henshall, and Bronson Pinchot. Like Smokey Joe’s Cafe the final performance was filmed live at the Barrymore Theatre by the Broadway Television Network in February 2000. Now available on BroadwayHD.
A revue-style three-act musical celebrating the “great, and lesser-known, musical numbers” choreographed by the legend himself. The musical opened at the Broadhurst Theatre in January 1999. A week before its closing in August 2001, Dance in America captured the show over four performances. The film aired on PBS in January 2002, and it’s now available on DVD.
Jekyll and Hyde
Frank Wildhorn, Leslie Bricusse, and Steve Cuden’s musical based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s infamous novella. The musical starred David Hasselhoff and was filmed live by the Broadway Television Network during the last week of its run at the Plymouth Theatre (now the Gerald Schoenfeld) in December 2000. It was released on cable TV and also aired in select US cinemas, the first “non-film” to receive a digital release. It’s now available on BroadwayHD.
This “dance play” was conceived, directed, and choreographed by Susan Stroman in collaboration with John Weidman, and was set in eighteenth century France, 1950s New York, and modern day New York. Its 7 Tony Award nominations stirred much controversy, with the Musicians Union, along with several prominent Broadway orchestrators, petitioning the League of American Theatres and Producers to reconsider contact’s eligibility as a musical. The closing night performance was broadcast live from the Vivian Beaumont Theater on Live From Lincoln Center on PBS. It has not been officially released since the broadcast.
Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin’s 2007 musical adaption of the movie of the same name. The musical was filmed live at the Palace Theatre and later broadcast on MTV, drawing in 12.5 million viewers. The broadcast was directly credited with boosting ticket sales at the box office, and the show’s popularity on the road. Due to strict contract negotiations, the capture has not been officially released it aired on television.
John Doyle’s 2006 actor-muso revival of Stephen Sondheim’s concept musical about marriage and relationships. Toward the of its run in 2007, the musical was filmed live at the Ethel Barrymore and broadcast on PBS’ Great Performances. It is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD.
RENT: Filmed Live on Broadway
Jonathan Larson’s multi-award winning rock opera based on La Boheme. The original show was filmed live in its 12th and final year on Broadway at the Nederlander, and screened in cinemas across the US. It’s now available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and widely available to stream online including on Amazon.
A musical about Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, who developed a unique style of music known as AfroBeat, a blending of African rhythms and harmonies with jazz and funk, with politically and socially driven lyrics. It was the first show staged at the National Theatre to be concurrently running on Broadway. It was filmed live during its run at the National Theatre and broadcast in cinemas around the world in 2011. Not currently available to view.
Shrek the Musical
Featuring Brian d’Arcy James, Sutton Foster, Daniel Breaker, Christopher Sieber, and John Tartaglia, DreamWork’s first foray into stage entertainment was filmed live on Broadway with 10 HD cameras during its run at the Broadway Theatre. The DVD and Blu-Ray were released in 2013, and the musical is also available to stream on demand on Netflix.
Developed in collaboration with Heidi Rodewald and Annie Doren, the musical was a loosely based on its composer and writer, Stew, who left his conventional religious Los Angeles home to travel and find “the real.” Spike Lee filmed the musical live on Broadway in 2008, and the film premiered at the 25th annual Sundance Film Festival in 2009. It’s now available on DVD.
Lincoln Center’s sumptuous 2008 revival directed by Bartlett Sher and starring Kelli O’Hara and Paulo Szot. In the last week of the run at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, the musical was broadcast live on PBS’ Live from Lincoln Center. It has not been officially released since.
An original musical about the power of music to overcome racial divides in 1950s America starring Montego Glover, Chadd Kimball, and James Monroe Iglehart. The musical was filmed live on Broadway in January 2011 by NCM Fathom and Broadway Worldwide. It’s now available on DVD and Blu-Ray and to stream on BroadwayHD.
She Loves Me
Roundabout’s 2016 revival starring Laura Benanti, Gavin Creel, Byron Jennings, Jane Krakowski, and Zachary Levi. In June 2016, the show became the first Broadway musical to be livestreamed online. The broadcast attracted viewers from 60 countries around the world and #SheLovesMeLive trended internationally on Twitter. It’s now available to view on BroadwayHD.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton told with hip hop music and a cast made up predominantly of people of color. The musical was filmed live in 2016 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, and after a fierce bidding war, made available worldwide on Disney Plus in July 2020. It’s now available to stream on Disney Plus.
A swing musical about Donny Novitzk, a musician who returns from the war, traumatized but with the desire to re-build his life following the death of his best friend. Directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler, and starring Laura Osnes and Corey Cott, the musical played on Broadway in 2017. It was filmed live at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre during its run and broadcast in cinemas across the US. It is not currently available to view, though in the past year has received limited-time screenings on Broadway on Demand and stream.theatre.
The 25th anniversary gala production of Schönberg and Boublil’s re-telling of Madame Butterfly set in Vietnam was filmed live in the West End in 2014. It was broadcast in cinemas in 2016, becoming the first musical to air in cinemas before its Broadway run. Available to stream on Amazon and BroadwayHD.
Lincoln Center’s 2016 revival of William Finn’s musical about family, relationships, bar mivahs, baseball and AIDS. Directed by James Lapine and featuring Stephanie J. Block, Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells, Anthony Rosenthal, Tracie Thoms, Brandon Uranowitz, and Betsy Wolfe, the final performances were filmed live at the Walter Kerr Theatre and later broadcast in cinemas. It’s now available to stream on BroadwayHD and Amazon.
An American in Paris
Based on the MGM film, and featuring a score with the music of George and Ira Gerswhin, Theatre du Chatelet’s stage adaptation tells story of a young American soldier, a beautiful French girl and an indomitable European city, each yearning for a new beginning in the aftermath of war. The musical opened on Broadway in 2015, before transferring to the West End in 2017 where it was filmed live. The film received a worldwide cinema release. It’s now available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and to stream on BroadwayHD.
A new musical inspired by the 1942 movie of the same name, with a score made up of twenty Irving Berlin songs. Featuring Bryce Pinkham, Corbin Bleu, Lora Lee Gayer, Megan Lawrence, Danny Rutigliano, Megan Sikora, and Morgan Gao, the musical was filmed live at Studio 54 and was the second Broadway musical to be streamed live online. Now available to stream on BroadwayHD.
Cindy Lauper and Harvey Fierstein’s musical based on the film about a men’s shoe factory that must pivot its business plan in order to stay afloat. The West End transfer was filmed live in 2018 and released in cinemas. It’s now available to stream on BroadwayHD and Amazon.
SpongeBob The Musical
Based on the cartoon, the cult classic favorite directed by Tina Landau opened on Broadway at the Palace Theatre in 2017. Forced to close due to theatre renovations, Nickelodeon flew the entire cast and crew to the UK to film the production during a special performance. The film aired on Nickelodeon and was the number one program across all of children’s television. Now available to stream on Amazon, Apple, and Paramount Plus.
Come From Away
The remarkable musical that tells the true stories of 7,000 stranded passengers on 9/11 and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them. Directed by Christopher Ashley, and featuring a top notch ensemble cast, the musical was filmed live at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre during the Broadway shut down in May 2021. On September 10, 2021 the film was released worldwide on Apple Plus where it's now available on demand.
More to come! Look out for these yet to be released musicals:
Disney's Broadway musical based on the classic animation was filmed live in the West End in 2019. A release date has yet to be announced.
Girl From North Country
Set in the heartland of America during the Great Depression, this new musical with a book by Conor McPherson features the music of Bob Dylan. It was filmed live on Broadway at the end of April. A release date has yet to be announced.
Sara Bareilles’ delicious musical based on the movie of the same name, and the first Broadway musical to have an all-female core creative team, including director Diane Paulus, choreographer Lorin Latarro, book writer Jessie Nelson, and composer and lyricist Sara Bareilles. The musical first opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in April 2016, playing 1,537 performances before closing in January 2020. The musical re-opened at the Ethel Barrymore for a limited run at the beginning of September 2021, and on September 22 was filmed live (at the same performance, the opening number was livestreamed on TikTok). A release date has yet to be announced.
Still want MORE Broadway content?! Check out the Filmed Live Musicals database which contains info on over 170 filmed live musicals (and growing!), nearly 40 of which were filmed on Broadway!
On this bonus Sondheim episode, hear extra content from previous chats with historian Margaret Hall about Stephen Sondheim's early life and career. You'll also hear from playwright Caridad Svich, composer Matt Board, and actor John Patrick Sabatos, who shared their memories of watching filmed live Sondheim musicals and why pro-shots are important for musical theatre today.
Margaret Hall is one of the foremost emerging theatre historians of her generation. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama (Musical Theatre) from New York University, Tisch School of the Arts, and is currently obtaining her Masters in Musical Theatre History from New York University, Gallatin School of Individualized Study, the first degree of its kind to be granted worldwide. Margaret is currently the Night and Weekend Editor for Playbill.com, in addition to her work as a teacher of musical theatre history. Her first book, Gemignani: Life and Lessons from Broadway and Beyond will be released Spring 2022. Follow @itsmargarethall and sign up for Margaret’s monthly newsletter at www.margaret-hall.com.
Pre-order Gemignani: Life and Lessons from Broadway and Beyond (as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases from this link).
Caridad Svich - https://caridadsvich.com/
Matt Board - https://soundcloud.com/mattboardcomposer
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In the month of March, Filmed Live Musicals is celebrating Stephen Sondheim! On the podcast, we have a three-part series with musical theatre historian Margaret Hall. Part 1 (Feb 28) is an overview of filmed live Sondheim musicals, part 2 (March 14) will be a deep dive into Pacific Overtures, and part 3 is a deep dive into the 2011 New York Philharmonic production of Company, the musical that inspired this very website!
To accompany this week's episode on filmed live Sondheim musicals, here’s a list of where you can watch those musicals!
This post contains affiliate links, and I may earn income from qualifying purchases made through these links.
Into the Woods
Merrily We Roll Along
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Putting it Together
Sunday in the Park with George
In 2015 Image Entertainment released the Stephen Sondheim Collection, a 6-disc DVD collection of Sondheim’s work including Into the Woods (1990), Company (2011), Sunday in the Park with George (1986), Follies in Concert (1985), Sweeney Todd (2001), and Sondheim: The Birthday (2010), though it appears to currently be out of print.
You can learn more about all of the above musicals in the Filmed Live Musicals database. There are more to be added, including the 1994 National Theatre and 1995 Barcelona productions of Sweeney Todd. Know of other filmed live Sondheim recordings? Send us an email! Remember, to be included in the database, a musical must have been legally filmed in front of a live audience, and made available to the general public.
Pre-pandemic the rules for streaming local school or community musical productions were very clear: no filming allowed! Although it was sometimes possible for these groups to buy additional licenses to film the show for archival purposes or purchase a license to sell show DVDs to friends and family at cost.
The pandemic saw a seismic shift in permissions for streaming. It took much negotiating with playwrights, composers, and music publishing houses, but it is now easier than ever for schools and amateur theatre groups to stream their productions so that non-local relatives, friends, people restricted by geography, physical ability, or global pandemics, can tune into their productions.
Due to the complex negotiations required for streaming, it’s not surprising that licensing companies themselves are behind new specialized platforms for streaming theatre. After purchasing a license for a show, schools and community groups can use platforms such ShowTix4U and ShowShare to stream their productions. One fee takes care of royalties and streaming rights, and the ticket sales or donations are all through the one platform. The platforms also provide tech and streaming support, resulting in higher quality streams than using Zoom, YouTube, or Facebook Live.
The first platform to go live was ShowTix4U, which launched in mid-June 2020. A partnership between musical licensing company Music Theatre International (MTI), streaming platform Digital Theatre, and tech experts Broadway Media, ShowTix4U provides a platform for both ticket sales and streams. Tickets can be sold to both in-person and streamed events, and shows can be streamed live or on demand. Another benefit of using the platform, is that licensing fees and royalties for MTI shows are automatically part of the fee.
MTI titles are available with 4 different types of streaming rights: Live-Streaming (streamed in real-time), Scheduled Content (stream pre-recorded productions), Video on Demand (pre-recorded video or previous productions), or Remote Content (produced virtually). There are currently 97 titles available including Annie, Billy Elliot the Musical, Daddy Long Legs, Spring Awakening, Urinetown, and Working. There are also 35 Disney titles available, including Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Descendants, and The Little Mermaid, and Newsies, with most only available using Scheduled Content Streaming. According to Playbill, the top three streamed MTI titles throughout the pandemic were Songs for a New World, Disney’s High School Musical, and Annie.
An initiative of Broadway on Demand, ShowShare launched in September 2020. Its current licensing partners include Broadway Licensing, Playscripts, Stage Rights, Concord Theatricals, and Youth Plays. Musicals with streaming rights include After Midnight, BRKLYN the Musical, Emma: A Pop Musical, and Polkadots. According to Broadway on Demand Vice President Tralen Doler, 1466 schools streamed their musical productions via ShowShare throughout the pandemic. The most produced musicals were Emma, Disenchanted, and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
A third platform is BookTix, which as its name suggests, started as a digital ticket booking platform. Founders Tim DiVito and Jason Goldstein increasingly saw a need to also provide streaming services, and expanded. As of May 2020, BookTix is partnered with Theatrical Rights Worldwide, whose entire catalog, including Monty Python’s Spamalot, Bright Star, The Prom, and The Color Purple, includes free streaming rights. According Director of Operations Cassie Balint, the most produced musical “by far” throughout the pandemic was The Addams Family. Other popular shows included You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, We Will Rock You, and Spamalot.
It will be great to see these streaming rights extended to professional productions, though this will need a significant shift from Equity and SAG/AFTRA, who have long battled over how to negotiate who gets paid what for live theatre broadcasts.
I have been sharing upcoming high school and community theatre streams in the weekly Filmed Live Musicals newsletter. Sign up to find out what’s streaming near you!
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!
What do the filmed live musicals Kinky Boots, The King and I, An American in Paris, and Spongebob the Musical all have in common?
If the title of this post didn't already give it away for you, these musicals were all major Broadway productions that were filmed in the UK.
Why are Broadway musicals being filmed in the West End?
There’s nothing wrong with filming shows in the UK, the standard of performance is the same, and there is a rich history of across-the-pond theatrical collaboration. But it is a loss to Broadway history that the original productions, and often the performers that created the roles, are not being captured on film for posterity.
Of the nearly 200 musicals currently in the database (there are approximately 200 more waiting to be added!), only 30 were filmed on Broadway. When you think of the hundreds of musicals that have played on Broadway, that is a tiny percentage of captures.
“But what about TOFT?!” I hear people cry (the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive has come up in almost every single episode of the Filmed Live Musicals podcast to date). Founded in 1970 by the visionary Betty Corwin, TOFT at the New York Public Library is a treasure trove of live theatre captures. Plays and musicals in New York (and further afield) are filmed and made available for “anyone with a New York Public Library card” to view for free at the library. Before you get too excited, you can’t just stroll in and watch every show. You need to make an appointment, and you must have a valid research reason in order to watch. You can’t watch anything currently playing on Broadway, and you only get one viewing.
Limits in funding mean that not *every* show is able to be recorded, and strict licensing and contractual agreements mean the library is not permitted to release the films commercially, or for viewing beyond the restrictions mentioned above. If TOFT were to attempt to change the viewing restrictions currently in place, every contract for every show would be need to be re-negotiated. You would need to find funding to fairly compensate all the performers, creatives, and license holders in the new negotiations, and answer a myriad of questions such as where to stream, for how long, to whom, and how to prevent bootlegging.
So while TOFT is an absolutely amazing resource for folks in New York City, its vast catalog is unlikely to be available to the general public, or for streaming, any time soon.
The issues for why TOFT can’t just stream their catalog carry over to why we simply don’t see more Broadway musicals filmed live: the cost of filming, and complex contract agreements.
It costs millions to mount a Broadway show, and very few Broadway shows recoup, let alone make a profit. According to Broadway producer Ken Davenport, just 1 in 5 Broadway shows recoup their investment. The cost of filming a Broadway show is also in the millions, though specific numbers are not always published.
Just as it is difficult for Broadway shows to recoup, the same can be said of the cost for filming them. As discussed with Tony nominee and founder of Streaming Musicals Paul Gordon on the Filmed Live Musicals podcast, most filmed live musicals need to be made available on a variety of platforms over a long period of time just to cover the costs of filming.
It took until November 2020 for SAG/AFRTRA (the union that covers film and television actors) and Actors' Equity Association (AEA - the union that covers theatre actors) to come to an agreement over who should have control of contracts for streaming theatre. Under the new rules, streams are only allowed on restricted platforms, and viewership cannot exceed “200% of the size of the theater’s house for the contractual run of the production,” or 300% if the theatre has less than 350 seats. Where the streams can be viewed is also limited. Platforms that include “widespread streaming to the general public," such as Disney Plus, Netflix, or HBO, are not permitted.
Katrina Michaels, an AEA Principal Delegate, recently noted that at the end of 2020 Equity also "released new media contracts which both allow the use of archival footage as well as new remote streamed production, and so adds new streams of income for theatres and artists".
Despite these recent changes, there is still a strong belief in the American theatre industry that theatre simply does not belong on screen. Meanwhile, the UK has been enjoying government funded live theatre captures for over a decade. Along with subsidies for filming, lower production costs, and a far simpler union structure, the UK is appealing to Broadway producers seeking to film stage shows.
In the case of The SpongeBob Musical, Nickelodeon flew the entire original cast and crew to the UK, and set up at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth for two days to film the show. The national tour (which was controversially a non-union contract) was performing at the time of filming, why not film the tour, or as in the case of Newsies, bring the original leads in and film a tour performance? Probably something to do with those contracts again!
Just last month, NBC took their production of The Grinch Live to London. Although four of the leads were cast from the United States, the ensemble were all British actors. While there was very little chatter about the show at all, there was even less commentary on the fact that high profile work was being carried out across the pond whilst American actors lost their health insurance and went into month 9 of seeing zero theatre work.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, independent companies are stepping up to the plate to ensure the show goes on. In the UK, companies such as Southwark Playhouse, Wise Children, Chichester Festival Theatre, Adam Lenson Productions, and Lambert Jackson Productions have streamed live theatre with and without live audiences. And in the US, independent theatres such as Prima Theatre, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, Actors Theatre of Louisville, have worked hard to ensure artists can continue to work, and audiences are entertained.
The US is overdue for a shift in the belief that theatre should be filmed. We need to make it easier to navigate contract agreements, and lower the cost of filming. Unless companies with deeply lined pockets like NBC or Netflix are willing to invest in preserving Broadway performances and making them accessible to the general public -- as in the case of Diana which will be released by Netflix this year -- it is unlikely we will see new releases of Broadway musicals filmed live on Broadway.
As elemental as song and dance are to human nature, so are the quests for power and control of resources. One day some people are fighting each other, and the next, those same people, the people around them, and their descendants, recover from the pain of war, process grief, and try to find understanding by musicalizing the experiences of war.
In honor of Remembrance/Veteran's Day, here is a list of filmed live musicals telling the war stories of service, of survival, and sacrifice, from around the world.
Allegiance is loosely based on the events of actor George Takei’s life. During World War II, Takei and his family, along with 120,000 Japanese-American citizens were incarcerated in camps within the United States. Filmed live on Broadway in 2016, and released in cinemas in December of that year. It briefly held the record as Fathom Events’ highest grossing Broadway film. Allegiance was briefly available to stream on Broadway on Demand, and now is available in a Limited Edition Collector Box Set DVD.
An American in Paris
Using the music of George and Ira Gerswhin, this romanticized musical tells the story of an American GI who falls in love with a Parisian woman in the days following the end of WWII. Adapted from the MGM movie of the same name, the stage production was filmed live on the West End in 2017. It is currently available to stream on BroadwayHD.
A Tale of Two Cities
Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities is based on Charles Dickens’ novel of the same name. The musical had a brief run on Broadway in 2008, and received concert stagings in London, Paris, and Brighton. The concert performances were compiled into a special which was broadcast on PBS and is also available on DVD.
Filmed live on Broadway in 2017, this swing musical tells the story of a musician who returns from fighting in Europe during WWII, traumatized but with the desire to re-build his life following the death of his best friend. Although the musical was the first theatrical production to be certified by Get Your 6 for its authentic portrayal of the military, Bandstand was criticized for its lack of characters or actors of color. Released in cinemas in 2018, the musical was briefly available to stream on Playbill and Broadway on Demand earlier this year.
From Here to Eternity
British musical From Here to Eternity is based on James Jones’ novel of the same name. With music by Stuart Brayson, lyrics by Sir Tim Rice, and a book by Bill Oakes, the musical depicts the affairs of US soldiers stationed in Hawaii in the lead-up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was filmed live during its West End run in 2014, and is currently available to stream on BroadwayHD.
A much lauded hip hop musical following the trials and tribulations of American founding father Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton depicts battles from the Revolutionary War, and the battles of the cabinet. Currently available to stream on Disney+.
A fictionalized re-telling of true events, Imagine This is set in the Warsaw Jewish ghetto during the Holocaust. With departure to a camp imminent, a local theatre troupe are encouraged by their director to stage a musical about Masada (where a group of 960 Jewish refugees in the year 70 attempted to evade Roman soldiers before committing mass suicide). The musical had a short-lived run on the West End in 2008 where it was filmed live. It is now available on DVD.
Based on Victor Hugo’s historical novel of the same name, Les Miserables is not set during the French Revolution, but is based on the uprisings that took place a few decades later (as brilliantly described by Forbidden Broadway). Although the stories and characters in Les Mis are fiction, they are drawn from Hugo’s close observations of Paris life. The musical has been filmed live three times, the 10th anniversary concert, 25th anniversary concert, and, most recently, last year’s West End staged concert. All three versions are available on DVD, the 25th anniversary is available on BroadwayHD, and the 2019 staged concert is available on Amazon UK, Apple TV. and Sky.
A modernized re-telling of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Miss Saigon is set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon. The musical tells the ill-fated love story of Kim, a young woman in Saigon, and an American G.I., Chris. The 25th anniversary gala production was filmed live on the West End in 2016 and is currently available to view on Amazon UK, BroadwayHD, and on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Only the Brave
Based on true stories, this British musical follows Captain John Howard and Lieutenant Denholm Brotheridge, and their wives Joy and Maggie, as the soldiers prepare for the D-Day landings. The 2016 production at the Wales Millennium Centre featured a real-life vet playing the role of John Howard Senior. Only the Brave was filmed live for archival purposes in 2016 and is available on Vimeo.
Pieces of String
Set in 1940 and the present day, British musical Pieces of String was inspired by a BBC documentary that briefly mentioned gay relationships in the armed forces during World War II, and modern day stories of gay men being unable to donate blood. Composer Gus Gowland sought to widen the scope for the way gay male characters are portrayed in musical theatre (a topic which he later explored in his PhD dissertation), and attempted to ensure women were also equally represented in the musical. Filmed live during its run at Mercury Theatre Colchester in 2018, the production is available to stream via Digital Theatre.
Return: The Promise of the Day
Produced by the Korean Army and Insight Entertainment, this musical tells the story of a Korean War vet who goes in search of his lost comrades. The musical featured K-pop stars D.O. and Xiumin of EXO and former Wanna One member Yoon Ji-sung. Four performances were streamed online in late September.
Based on the short story collection Tales of the South Pacific, the now classic musical South Pacific was ground breaking musical for its exploration of racism, war, and interracial relationships. The show marked the fourth collaboration for legendary musical theatre composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. There are currently two filmed live productions of South Pacific in the database. The 2005 concert filmed at Carnegie Hall (available on DVD) and the 2010 Broadway revival filmed at Lincoln Center (not currently available).
Tyneham: No Small Sacrifice
This British musical tells the story of the residents of Tyneham, who were told to leave their homes in 1942 as the bequest of the British military. Although the residents were promised their homes would be returned, the Tyneham remains military property to this day. Performed by amateur theatre company Generations Apart in 2013, the musical is currently available to view on YouTube.
V for Victory
This still-in-development British musical explores the lives of a group of friends in the resistance against the German occupation of Jersey during World War II. A concert version was performed at the Stockwell Playhouse in 2018 and was filmed live. It is currently available to view on YouTube.
Waiting for the Ship to Sail
Produced by Chickenshed in the UK, this timely musical is an artistic response to the urgent and pressing questions of global migration, and investigates the concepts of national and personal identity. It is currently available on YouTube.
The off-Broadway musical YANK! tells the story of soldiers falling in love, and depicts the gay scene that “thrived just beneath the surface of the US Army in the 1940s.” The musical was a hit of the NY Musical Theatre Festival in 2005, and had a successful off-Broadway run in 2010. Below 54th hosted a 10th anniversary concert earlier this year, and the video is currently available on YouTube.
In this week's episode of the podcast, I chat with Kelly Kessler, Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at DePaul University, about her new book Broadway in the Box: Television's Lasting Love Affair with the Musical.
We talk about Kelly's research, why television networks produce live musicals, the role of adverts, the first musicals on television, the first Broadway musical to air live on television (and who got to watch it), and why we should put musicals on television!
Broadway in the Box: Television's Lasting Love Affair with the Musical is available at all major bookstores and on Amazon (as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases from this link).
About This Week's Guest
Kelly Kessler is an Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at DePaul University. Her work draws on three main areas: the American musical, the intersection of genre and gender, and the mainstreaming of lesbianism in American television and film. Her scholarship can be found in works such as Studies in Musical Theatre, The Journal of E-Media Studies, The Journal of Popular Music Studies, Television and New Media, Movies, Moves, and Music: The Sonic World of the Dance Film, Televising Queer Women: A Reader, and The New Queer Aesthetic on Television: Essays on Recent Programming. Kessler has published two books, including Destabilizing the Hollywood Musical: Music, Masculinity and Mayhem and Broadway in the Box: Television's Lasting Love Affair with the Musical.