This week on the Filmed Live Musicals podcast, host Luisa Lyons chats with New York-based Australian director Benita de Wit.
We chat about creating pertinent work with college students during a pandemic, the LIU Post Sondheim cabaret One More Thing Not to Think About, what makes a good theatre capture, what makes theatre “live” and human, why a student production of Kiss Me, Kate stuck in Benita’s memory, the upcoming stream Alter/Ego and how Bowie is relevant to Gen Z, and what it means to theatricalize pop music.
Benita de Wit is a New York-based Australian director of theatre and performance. They are the Associate Director for the international tour of “Bat Out of Hell” and have an MFA in Directing from Columbia University. Recent credits include “One More Thing Not To Think About” (Post Theatre Company), “The Laramie Project” (Pace University), “Slaughterhouse” by Anchuli Felicia King (Belvoir, 25A), “The Silence” (MIT, Associate Director), "The Moors" (Off Broadway, Assistant Director), "The Rape of The Sabine Women by Grace B Matthias". Benita is an Adjunct Professor at Pace University and an Associate Member of SDC. Learn more at www.benitadewit.com.
One More Thing Not to Think About
The Laramie Project
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This week on the podcast, I interview British director and producer Adam Lenson! We had a great time chatting about Merrily We Roll Along, what should we call filmed theatre, Signal Online, Alt+Right+Shift, making new work without a theatre, filming theatre without an audience, and more!
Based in London, Adam Lenson is a director, producer, dramaturg, and musical theatre specialist. He was recently included in The Stage 100, a list recognizing theatremakers for their extraordinary achievements in 2020. He is the founder Signal and Signal Online, programs for incubating new musical theatre, Make Your Own Musicals which provides activity packs for children, and Theatrical Solutions which offers affordable solutions for theatrical livestreaming.
As a director, original works include WASTED (World Premiere, Southwark Playhouse), SUPERHERO (World Premiere, Southwark Playhouse), THE SORROWS OF SATAN (World Premiere, Tristan Bates Theatre), LOCK AND KEY (World Premiere, Vault Festival), THE LEFTOVERS (World Premiere, National Tour). Other works include THE RINK (Southwark Playhouse), THE STORM (Helios Collective/ENO), 35MM (The Other Palace), WHISPER HOUSE (The Other Palace), SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD (St James Theatre, 20th Anniversary Production), DISGRACED (English Theatre Frankfurt), DARK TOURISM (Park Theatre), GHOST (GSA), SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE (Jermyn Street Theatre), REEL LIFE (Ustinov Theatre Bath and St James Studio), THE GOODBYE GIRL (Upstairs at the Gatehouse), WEST END RECAST (Duke of York’s Theatre, Phoenix Theatre), ORDINARY DAYS (Trafalgar Studios), LITTLE FISH and SATURN RETURNS (Finborough Theatre), COME FLY WITH ME (Salisbury Playhouse), THE DEAD GUY (English Theatre Frankfurt) and THE FAMILY (Old Vic US/UK Exchange, Public Theater, NY).
You can learn more about Adam at www.adamlenson.com and follow him on Instagram and Twitter.
Tickets to Public Domain, streaming live on Jan 15 and 16 2021, are available at Southwark Playhouse.
This morning I was watching the wonderful Lincoln Center concerts featuring Stephanie J. Block (who gave a killer performance in Falsettos) and Sutton Foster on BroadwayHD. The delightful Megan McGinnis made a guest appearance in Sutton’s concert, and it reminded me how much I love Daddy Long Legs, the first off-Broadway musical to be livestreamed.
It got me thinking about the filmed live musicals that I've fallen in love with over the years, and so, in no particular order, here are a few of my favorites.
Company with the New York Philharmonic
Filmed live at Lincoln Center in 2011, the New York Philharmonic production features a starry cast including Neil Patrick Harris, Patti LuPone, Stephen Colbert, Martha Plimpton, and Anika Noni Rose.
I love this version for its slick production values, amazing performances, and because it was the first filmed live musical I saw in the cinema. It was also the inspiration for starting this database.
Into the Woods
The original Broadway production was taped in 1989, screened on PBS, and eventually made available on VHS and DVD. It was one of the first filmed live musicals I ever saw, and made the world of Broadway accessible to an aspiring theatre nerd who grew up 16,000 miles away.
The Digital Theatre capture of the 2010 Regent’s Park Open Air production of Into the Woods is also a highlight. Steam-punk inspired costumes, a clever use of the narrator, and a great capture that puts you right in the action.
Daddy Long Legs
When Daddy Long Legs was livestreamed in December 2015, I was recovering from treatment for leukemia. Low energy and a compromised immune system meant going to the theatre was not an option for me. It was thrilling to be able to watch an off-Broadway show from the comfort of my couch. The @BroadwayHD capture of this intimate show is top notch, as are the performances by the aforementioned Megan McGinnis and her real-life husband Adam Halpin.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
The 2014 New York Philharmonic production directed by Lonny Price hands down has one of the best opening sequences ever filmed. This was another production I watched during my leukemia convalescence, and I literally squealed out loud in my lounge room. I’m so sad this capture is no longer available to view or purchase.
Les Miserables: The Dream Cast in Concert
Everything about this concert filmed live at Royal Albert Hall in 1995 is EPIC. The score. The cast of 250 artists and 100 musicians. Philip Quast as Javert. The finale with 17 Jean Valjeans singing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” in multiple languages. What is there not to love?!
When Hell Freezes Over I’ll Skate
The 1979 Theatre in America recording, now available on DVD, is a chance to see a unique “musical drama” and a tiny sample of the ground-breaking work by director and writer Vinnette Carroll. The capture feels a little dated, but it does a wonderful job of preserving some powerful performances.
What are your favorite filmed live musicals? Share in the comments, or on twitter and facebook!
In the final week of Women’s Month, let’s take a look at the producers.
In an earlier post, I took a look at the representation of women in the production teams of filmed live musicals. After costume design, the area where women had the highest representation was producing. In the current database, a total of 53 women have produced 34 filmed live musicals. Many musicals credit companies rather than people as producers, so these numbers may actually be higher.
Four of these women, Ellen M. Krass, Iris Merlis, Dione Orrom, and Bonnie Comley have been instrumental to bringing filmed live musicals to the world. Between them, these women have produced 19 filmed live musicals, which is 55% of all the musicals produced by women, and 15% of all the musicals currently in the database. Many of the musicals were Broadway or West End productions, and, in a fun tidbit related to last week’s post on Sondheim, nearly one-third of female produced musicals were written by Sondheim.
Ellen M. Krass
In a career spanning over 30 years, Ellen M. Krass has been instrumental in bringing theatre to film and television. Krass worked as an executive producer for RKO/Nederlander before forming her own company, EMK Productions. She has won 2 Emmy Awards, including the Outstanding Classical Music-Dance Program for Sweeney Todd in Concert in 2002 (shared with Iris Merlis and several others). Her filmed live musical credits include Sweeney Todd (1982 and 2001), Candide, Company, Gypsy, and She Loves Me. Krass also produced the 1985 concert production of Follies.
Dione Orrom has worked as a producer for film, opera, and live music concerts, with The English National Opera, Cirque du Soleil, The Three Tenors, Tina Turner, Elton John, and Cher among her many credits. Orrom has worked extensively in bringing live theatre to cinema and television. Her filmed live musical credits include the 25th anniversary productions of The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, Billy Elliot, Miss Saigon, and The War of the Worlds.
Since graduating from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1961, New York native Iris Merlis has worked as a stage manager, production consultant, and producer for film, television, and theatre. With credits spanning the ABC, HBO, and PBS, Merlis has been instrumental in producing theatre for television and film. Her filmed live musical credits include Candide, Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George, Sweeney Todd. Along with Ellen M. Krass, and several other producers, Merlis won an Emmy for Sweeney Todd in Concert.
Bonnie Comley has worked as an actor, and producer for film, television, and Broadway. Over the past 14 years, Bonnie Comley, along with her husband Stewart F. Lane, has produced over 20 Broadway shows, including A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, and Legally Blonde the Musical. In 2015, Comley and Lane launched BroadwayHD, a subscription-based streaming service for live theatre productions. The site features musicals such as Billy Elliot, Daddy Long Legs, Les Miserables, Jesus Christ Superstar, and most recently The Wind in the Willows.
I hope women and girls see the work of these tremendous women and are inspired to become producers themselves.
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Today we celebrate Stephen Sondheim’s 88th year of being alive.
The 2011 Lincoln Center production of Sondheim’s Company starring Neil Patrick Harris, Patti LuPone, and Stephen Colbert, et al., was the inspiration for the Filmed Live Musicals database. During an interview taped for the cinema screening, producer Ellen M. Krass claimed it had been difficult to get funding to film Company because investors had not heard of a filmed live musical.
Who were these people?! Had they not grown up watching the original Broadway production of Into the Woods on VHS or DVD? Were they oblivious to the taping of Sunday in the Park with George? Or Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd?
As a result of watching Company, I wrote my Masters Thesis on filmed live musicals. Several years later, not a day went by when I wasn’t thinking about it. The Filmed Live Musicals was database was born.
With 20 entries spanning 11 different musicals, Stephen Sondheim has more musicals in the Filmed Live Database than any other composer. For comparison’s sake, Gilbert and Sullivan have 8 entries, Dan Coggin has 6 entries for the Nunsense series, and Andrew Lloyd Webber (who is also celebrating his birthday today) has 4 entries.
In the extraordinary interview Face to Face: Stephen Sondheim (available to stream on BroadwayHD), Sondheim stated “I’m very into film technique and its application to the stage.” If I ever get the chance to meet Sondheim, when I’m done losing my mind, I would love to know about his involvement, or encouragement, in the live filming of his musicals.
To honor of Sondheim’s birthday, here are all the musicals he has written, or contributed to, that have legally filmed live for public distribution. Note that the dates refer to the year the production was filmed, not the year the musical was written.
Into the Woods
Merrily We Roll Along
Putting it Together
Sunday in the Park with George
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Happy birthday Sondheim. May your day be filled with color and light.