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.