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.
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.
Episode 8 of the Filmed Live Musicals podcast is out today! Available wherever you listen to podcasts or online here.
In this week's episode, I chat with actor and Broadway expert Kimberly Faye Greenberg all about her one woman show Fabulous Fanny: The Songs & Stories of Fanny Brice, Barbra Streisand, the technicalities of streaming a show online, creating online “events”, and more!
The Associated Press declared Kimberly Faye Greenberg a "Warm, Sassy Diva!”, while she played leading roles in two off-Broadway musicals at the same time: Danny and Sylvia, The Danny Kaye Musical (as Sylvia Fine) and the solo show One Night with Fanny Brice (receiving a Patrick Lee IBTA Best Solo Performance Award nomination amongst fellow nominees, John Leguizamo, Michael Shannon and Michael Birbiglia). Kimberly's own solo show, Fabulous Fanny: The Songs and Stories of Fanny Brice, has been touring for the past 8 years with the Huffington Post stating the show brings "Fanny Brice to Fabulous Life"!
Fabulous Fanny: The Songs and Stories of Fanny Brice is now available to stream on Stellar. For tickets and to learn more, visit http://www.kimberlyfayegreenberg.com. You can find Kimberly on Instagram at @kfgreenberg.
Take a listen for some fun insights, and if you like what you hear, please rate and review!
Did you know you can access transcripts of each episode?
Visit Buzzsprout and click on the episode title!
Past episodes include Brenda Braxton, Scenesaver with Caroline Friedman, Disney Cruise Line's Tangled with David Colston Corris, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe with Julie Leach and more!
Available wherever you listen to podcasts!
Looking for some more historical musicals? Here are 20 filmed live musicals, most of which are available to view online or on DVD, that are based on true events and real people. Listed in approximate historical time period order.
Jesus Christ Superstar
Perhaps a bit contentious to some to call this “history” (my husband Aaron calls this one “interpretive dance history”), but it’s certainly historically driven and a story about one of the most famous people in history. There are currently two filmed live productions of JCS in the database — the 2012 arena tour starring Tim Minchin (Judas), Melanie C (Mary), and Ben Forster (Jesus), and NBC’s 2018 live for TV version (one of the best TV Live! musical events of recent times) that featured a starry, and multiracial, cast including John Legend (Jesus), Sara Bareilles (Mary), Alice Cooper (King Herod), Norm Lewis (Caiaphas), and Brandon Victor Dixon (Judas). The arena tour is widely available online, and the NBC production is available on DVD.
Your Arms Too Short to Box with God
Written by Vinnette Carroll (the first female African American director on Broadway), with music by Alex Bradford and Micki Grant, this musical tells the story of Jesus as told through the Book of Matthew. The musical was performed on Broadway three times between 1976 and 1982. It was most recently performed by Florida’s Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, where it was filmed live during a run that was cut short by the COVID-19 shutdown. The recording was released online for a limited time, but is not currently available to view.
Produced in 2018 by Southwark Playhouse, this original “documentary rock musical” tells the stories of Brontë siblings, Anne, Emily, Charlotte, and Bramwell. An excellent archival recording of Wasted was released online for free as a result of the pandemic, and is available to view via Southwark Playhouse.
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, and the 25th anniversary and staged concert are available online.
Sondheim’s 1976 concept musical is set around Commodore Perry’s first visit to Japan in 1853. The musical was filmed live for Japanese television during its original Broadway run. The film has not been officially released since its initial television airing.
The King and I
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s sumptuous musical is based on the true story of Anna Leonowens, a Western woman who was invited by the King of Siam to Bangkok to tutor the King’s children. The 2015 Lincoln Center revival directed by Bartlett Sher, and starring Kelli O’Hara, Ken Watanabe, and Ruthie Ann Miles, was filmed during its West End transfer at the London Palladium, and is available to watch on BroadwayHD.
Newsies is loosely based on the real-life events of the newsboy strikes of 1899 in New York City. The 1992 movie musical directed by Kenny Ortega and starring Christian Bale was a cult classic, and in 2011 Disney adapted the title into a stage musical. Although originally not intended to be a Broadway musical, the show also became an audience favorite, playing just over 1000 shows on Broadway before embarking on a national tour. The tour was filmed live in Los Angeles, and is now available to view on Disney+.
Based on E.L. Doctorow’s historical fiction novel, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s epic musical is about the United States coming into its own, told through the stories of three different families in New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. The International Festival of Musical Theatre production was filmed by the BBC in 2002, but is unfortunately not available to view.
Ernest Shackleton Loves Me
This multimedia musical that tells the story of Brooklyn-based avante-garde composer/artist/mom who finds inspiration in the early 20th century explorer, leader, and hero Ernest Shackleton. Filmed live during its off-Broadway run at Second Stage and is available on BroadwayHD.
Another biographical musical, Funny Girl is a slightly-fictionalized account of real-life vaudeville star Fanny Brice. With music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, and book by Isobel Lennart. Barbara Streisand created the lead role on Broadway, and starred in the 1968 film adaptation. The acclaimed Menier Chocolate Factory production starring Sheridan Smith was filmed live during its run at the Manchester Palace Theatre in 2017 and is available on Digital Theatre and BroadwayHD.
Golden Bricks and Ruby Shoes
Still in development, this original song cycle by British writers Gillian Pencavel and Patrick Moore, was inspired by a news report about the FBI assisting in the recovery a pair of stolen ruby slippers made famous for their appearance in The Wizard of Oz. The song cycle was performed at a scratch night at Belfast’s Accidental Theatre and streamed live.
Actor George Takei was reportedly moved to tell his own story after watching Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Tony Award winning musical (and Broadway debut), In the Heights. As a child, Takei and his family were among the 120,000 Japanese-American citizens incarcerated in camps on American soil during World War II. Although Allegiance is told through fictionalized characters, the events and stories are inspired by true events. Allegiance was briefly available to stream on Broadway on Demand in June this year, and is also available on a collector’s edition DVD.
V for Victory
Still in development, V for Victory explores the lives of a group of friends in the resistance against the German occupation of Jersey during World War II. The plot and characters are an amalgam of true stories and events which writer Dries Janssens wanted to share after learning of Jersey’s little-known part in the war. V for Victory was performed at the Stockwell Playhouse in 2018, and is currently available to view on YouTube.
The Rat Pack: Live from Las Vegas
This British musical recreates a performance featuring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr, at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas in the early 1960s. The Rat Pack was filmed live during its West End run and is available on DVD (region 1 & 2).
Based on cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s best-selling graphic novel/autobiography of the same, Fun Home is a re-telling of Alison’s grappling of her own self-realization as a lesbian in relation to her father’s not-so-secret, though unspoken, homosexuality. With a book by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori, the Broadway production was the first to win a Tony Award for Best Original Score with an all-female writing team. Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago released an archival recording of their 2017 production during the COVID-19 shutdown for a limited time.
Set during the New Romantic period in 1980s England, Taboo interweaves autobiographical elements from the lives of Australian artist Leigh Bowery, and music sensation Boy George. The original London production was filmed live in 2003 and is available on region 2 DVD.
Fela! was based on the biography Fela: This Bitch of a Life! by Carlos Moore. Fela Kuti was an influential Nigerian musician who created Afrobeat, politically and socially driven music that blended African harmonies and rhythms with jazz and funk. Sahr Ngaujah originated the title role on Broadway, and reprised his role for the London transfer at the National Theatre. Fela! was filmed live and broadcast in cinemas as part of NT: Live in 2011. It is not currently available to view.
Keating! the Musical
This satirical Australian musical follows the political rise and fall of “the Placido Domingo of Australian politics,” of Paul Keating, who was Prime Minister of Australia from 1991 to 1996. Filmed live at the Seymour Centre in Sydney, the musical is available on DVD.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
Inspired by the BBC documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie tells the story of a gay teenager who lives in a Yorkshire council estate and dreams of becoming a drag queen. The musical was filmed live on the West End and broadcast in cinemas. It is not currently available to watch.
Passion Project in Concert
Composed by performer and songwriter Angela Sclafani, Passion Project is a song cycle about twelve unsung women from history who sing to their great loves, the object of their careers. The women represented include an aviator singing to her airplane, an acrobat to her tightrope, and an astronomer to her comet. Filmed live at NYC’s Green Room 42, Passion Project is available to view on Facebook.
In case you somehow missed it, one of the most vaunted musicals in history, Hamilton was released on Disney+ on July 3rd. While Hamilton is not the first Broadway musical to be streamed online, its prominence and undeniable success may finally be shifting some very deep seated views that filmed live theatre can’t adequately capture the live experience, and that filmed live theatre should exist at all. In an unprecedented move, it was announced earlier in the month the yet-to-officially-open Broadway musical Diana, would be filmed (without an audience) and broadcast on Netflix.
Many people know by now that Disney acquired the distribution rights for the filmed live production of Hamilton for approximately $75million (the final figure was adjusted due to the pandemic and the decision to release it online rather in cinemas). Much like Hamilton and Burr, you gotta be in the room where it happens to get the figures on how much Hamilton is bringing Disney financially, but it seems to bode well. As reported in Variety, early data suggests the musical had a significantly larger audience than any other single program across Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, Apple TV+, and Disney+ in July.
Much like Hamilton and Burr, you gotta be in the room where it happens to get the actual figures on how much Hamilton is bringing Disney financially. At the end of June, just prior to the release of Hamilton, Disney+ reported it had 54.5 million subscribers (for comparison, Netflix currently has about 190 million subscribers worldwide). According to Variety, in comparison to the four weeks prior, the weekend of Hamilton’s digital release saw a 74% increase in Disney+ app downloads within the United States, and 46% worldwide. At the beginning the August, Disney+ reported it had 60.5 million subscribers. These numbers do not include subscribers who purchased subscriptions through packages or where Disney+ is included in existing apps.
Going forward, there are still many questions for producers for consider: when to release filmed live productions, who gets access (due to copyright or union agreements, films may not be able to be released worldwide), if viewers should pay to access streams and for how much, how to fairly compensate cast/crew/creatives, and what platforms to use.
With all that in mind, here’s a look at existing models for distributing filmed live musicals online:
Online video platforms like YouTube and Vimeo have made it easier than ever to just upload existing footage. During the pandemic big names like Andrew Lloyd Webber and the National Theatre have released content for free online. Companies such as Southwark Playhouse, Chichester Festival Theatre, Wise Children, and Wales Millennium Centre, and independent artists like Dave Malloy and Angela Sclafani, have also made filmed live musicals freely available.
The quality of free recordings varies greatly. From productions staged in black box theatres filmed with a camera on a tripod located behind the audience like Beardo, to slick captures like the arena production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Sometimes recordings were made for archival purposes, like Only the Brave and Wasted. Archival recordings vary in quality, but thanks to digital cameras, recent captures make for decent viewing.
The length of time free streams are available can vary. Some are placed online indefinitely, such as The Room and Passion Project. Others, like titles from the National Theatre at Home, The Shows Must Go On, or Wise Children, have a limited window ranging from 48 hours to several weeks.
Unless the producers/creatives uploading material for free are covering the cost of paying artists for use of their work on screen, cast, crew, and creatives are less likely receive any income from free streams. The exception to this is new platform SceneSaver, which encourages viewers to donate the cost of an average ticket, and shares 95% of donations directly with artists (for more info, take a listen to episode 2 of the Filmed Live Musicals podcast for an interview with SceneSaver founder Caroline Friedman).
Especially during the pandemic, viewers are often encouraged to make a donation to the theatre company, or to a selected charity or organization.
There are several kinds of paid options: one-off payments, subscriptions, and passes.
Viewers make a one-time payment or purchase a “ticket” to gain access to the stream. The stream is often played at a scheduled time, and then is available on demand for a limited time. These films usually have a set period of availability, and are sometimes are also limited to a specific number of streams. Occasionally, as in the case of 21 Chump Street: The Musical, the payment provides indefinite access. Companies using this model include Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, Broadway on Demand, and Streaming Musicals.
Like free streams, the quality of content can vary. Particularly during the pandemic, when companies and artists are desperate for cashflow, archival footage not intended for mass consumption has been distributed.
The pricing for one-off payments ranges, though is usually between $10 - $30 USD. Although it is not common, instead of a set price, viewers are sometimes given the option to make a donation, or pay-as-you-like.
Following the Netflix model, subscriptions provide access to a catalog of shows. In the subscription model, like Netflix, titles are usually available for longer periods of time, and can appear and disappear. Most subscriptions run for a year, though some also provide month-to-month payments at a slightly higher rate. BroadwayHD, Stage, PBS, and Disney+ all currently use the subscription model.
Passes work in a similar way to a subscription, but often for a limited time. Prima, a theater in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, have created passes as varying price points for viewers to gain access to online content. As have SheNYC Arts, a female led organization running online festivals based in New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta over the summer.
Some companies use a combination of models. Broadway on Demand offers some content for free, some content for a one-off fee, and also plans to offer a subscription in the future. Streaming Musicals hosts free premiere nights, and titles are available to rent or buy through one-off payments. Digital Theatre offers an all-access yearly subscription, or the option to rent individual titles. While BroadwayHD offers monthly and yearly subscription models, throughout the pandemic they have been hosting free watch parties in partnership with Playbill, Roundabout, and the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization.
As live theatre online becomes more and more mainstream, and as we learn more about the number of views and profits from ticket sales, it will be interesting to see which models are adopted.
With the pandemic came a plethora of filmed live theatre content being released online. Many in the industry were genuinely surprised that audiences wanted to watch theatre on screen, and even pay for it! As discussed with Caroline Friedman - CEO of the new theatre streaming service Scenesaver - in this month’s podcast, we have been recording live theatre since the invention of the moving picture.
Despite the fact that the first live broadcast of a musical took place in 1939, and even with the release of Hamilton last month, the theatre industry as a whole is still not savvy to the history, magic, and importance of filmed live theatre. In a recent interview for The TheaterMakers Studio, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of BroadwayWorld, claimed that “very little” has happened in the world of filmed live theatre despite decades of discussions. The nearly 200 musicals in the Filmed Live Musicals database heartily disagree! And that doesn’t even include the hundreds, possibly thousands, of operas, plays, ballets, and classical concerts that have been captured and enjoyed by literally millions of people around the world!
After the release of Hamilton, Jon Kamen, CEO of RadicalMedia, reportedly claimed that with the filming of RENT: Live on Broadway in 2008, RadicalMedia had "developed the nomenclature and a whole style of filming it in a very cinematic fashion.” Again, the producers of Pacific Overtures (filmed live in 1976), Into the Woods (filmed in 1991), and the cinematographers for the Met Live in HD, founded in 2006, all might have something to say about that.
We still have to answer questions of when to release films, and how to fairly pay the cast, crew, and creatives, but these should not be obstacles to documenting theatre. Filming live theatre provides access to theatre for people who may not be able to see a production due to geography, cost, or disability. It is an incredible educational tool, not just for students, but for historians, industry folks, and the wider public. Digital technology has made captures easier, more dynamic, and more watchable than ever.
All of this is why I started Filmed Live Musicals. As a place to catalog the musicals that have been legally captured for the screen and publicly distributed, to provide a space for people to find that content, and to show the historic value of filmed live musicals. Ultimately, it is a way to capture ephemeral moments in time so that we may enjoy them, learn from them, and remember the musicals, even when the bodies inside the now-disintegrated costumes have turned to dust.
Filmed Live Musicals now has a podcast! We will talk about the world of filmed live musicals, interview creatives, actors, producers and industry folks, look at the research being carried out on filmed theatre, dive into some history, and, of course, talk about the musicals themselves!
In our first episode, host Luisa Lyons and guest host Al Monaco take a look at firsts in filmed live musicals.
In episode two, out on August 3, Luisa chats with the founder of Scenesaver, Caroline Friedman. Scenesaver is a new platform making performances from the world's off-Broadway, off West End, small theatres, and emerging artists available to everyone online. It's free to register and watch with over 150 shows of all genres from around the world available now!
Subscribe on your preferred podcast app and join us for the Filmed Live Musicals podcast!