Category Archives: Commentary

15 BROADWAY PLAYS AND MUSICALS YOU CAN WATCH ON STAGE FROM HOME ·

(Logan Culwell-Block’s article appeared on Playbill.com,  3/18 and 10/6; photo: Playbill.com; via Pam Green.)

(Don’t forget  the current free Nightly Opera Stream from the Met Opera.) 

From Newsies to Sweeney Todd, we’re running down some of the best filmed Broadway shows—and where to find them.

This article has been updated as of March 16, 2020.

While it used to be a rare treat when a Broadway show was filmed live on stage, it’s becoming more and more common today—great news for Broadway fans. Now, if you can’t make it to New York City or just want to see a show you may have missed, there’s an ever-growing list of productions available to watch wherever you are.

READ: 11 Musical TV Shows to Binge While Self-Quarantined During the Coronavirus Outbreak

More and more, live musicals are being filmed for PBS or streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BroadwayHD and more. Productions of Off-Broadway’s Puffs to Broadway’s Indecent to the West End’s An American in Paris, new captures of stage productions regularly become available.

READ: Join Playbill March 20 for a Movie Night With Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella Starring Lesley Ann Warren

Let’s take a look at some of the best filmed Broadway shows to know about and where to find them.

READ: 17 Must-Watch Documentaries for Broadway Musical Fans

Rent

Jonathan Larson’s Rent updates the story of Puccini’s La Boheme, setting it in New York City’s East Village. As most theatre fans know, it made a splash on Broadway, and the level of devotion its biggest fans carried had never really been seen before. It was the first major Broadway show to offer rush tickets, and fans would camp out overnight to get inexpensive front row tickets. The production won four 1996 Tony Awards including Best Musical, along with the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It enjoyed a run of 12 years and over 5,000 performances.

Though it was adapted into a motion picture in 2005 featuring much of the original Broadway cast, the final performance of the Broadway production was captured and shown in movie theatres as well, later released on DVD and Blu-ray. At the time of the filming, the cast was not exceptionally well known, but looking back now, it’s pretty much an all-star cast, including performances by Renée Elise Goldsberry, Adam KantorWill ChaseMichael McElroy, Rodney Hicks, Tracie Thoms, Eden Espinoza, and Telly Leung.

Available on Amazon PrimeGoogle PlayVudu, and YouTube, as well as on DVD/Blu-ray from Amazon.

Cats

Once Broadway’s longest-running musical, everybody has an opinion on this Andrew Lloyd Webber show, but what can’t be denied is that Cats is like almost no other musical to ever play the Main Stem. Based on a book of poetry by T.S. Eliot, Cats is about… well, cats! The production features an iconic costume and set design by John Napier, leglendary make-up design by Candace Carell, fabulous choreography by Gillian Lynne, and of course the anthem “Memory,” one of the more successful songs to come from a musical in the last 40 years.

Cats wasn’t filmed on Broadway, but the original production was captured on a stage in London in 1998, with original West End star Elaine Paige no less.

Available to stream on BroadwayHD, Amazon Prime, and on DVD from Amazon.

Company

Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company broke all the rules when it opened on Broadway in 1970. Instead of offering a linear plot, Company explored the concept of marriage through a series of scenes between Bobby, a 35-year-old bachelor, and a variety of his married friends. The show gave us such songs as “The Ladies Who Lunch,” “Sorry Grateful,” “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” and “Being Alive,” and ushered in a new era of daring musical theatre on Broadway.

The original production was never filmed for home release—though there is a fascinating documentary (Original Cast Album: Company) that captures the original cast album’s recording session—but a 2006 Broadway revival directed by John Doyle and starring Raúl Esparza was filmed for broadcast on PBS. There’s also a New York Philharmonic concert staging available that features an all-star cast, including Neil Patrick HarrisPatti LuPone, Stephen Colbert, Jon Cryer, and more. And, of course, IFC’s Documentary Now! famously spoofed the documentary of the cast recording in Original Cast Album: Co-Op with John Mulaney as a Sondheim substitute.

The 2006 Broadway revival production is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video and on DVD.
The 2011 concert production is available on DVD.
Original Cast Album: Co-op is available on Netflix and IFC.com.

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A FIRST LOOK AT STEVEN SPIELBERG’S WEST SIDE STORY ·

(Anthony Breznican’s article appeared in Vanity Fair, 3/16; photo: Vanity Fair; via the Drudge Report.)

The director talks about reimagining the musical that riveted him as a child.H 16, 2020

Steven Spielberg has been making West Side Story in his head for a very long time. As a boy in Phoenix in the late 1950s, he had only the soundtrack, and he tried to picture the action and dancing that might accompany it. “My mom was a classical pianist,” says the filmmaker. “Our entire home was festooned with classical musical albums, and I grew up surrounded by classical music. West Side Story was actually the first piece of popular music our family ever allowed into the home. I absconded with it—this was the cast album from the 1957 Broadway musical—and just fell completely in love with it as a kid. West Side Story has been that one haunting temptation that I have finally given in to.”

The film, out December 18, is both a romance and a crime story. It’s about dreams crashing into reality, young people singing about the promise of their lives ahead—then cutting each other down in bursts of violence. It’s about hope and desperation, pride and actual prejudice, and a star-crossed couple who find love amid it all on the streets of New York.

West Side Story became a global sensation when it hit Broadway in 1957, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim that made generations swoon, snap, and gasp. The show was both dazzling and gritty, layering a Romeo and Juliet romance between Tony and Maria over a contemporary story of street gangs, racism, and violence in the shadows of rising skyscrapers. When director Robert Wise and choreographer Jerome Robbins adapted it into a film in 1961, West Side Story broke the box office record for musicals and dominated the Oscars, winning 10 awards, including best picture. Six decades later, the stage show has toured the world and been revived repeatedly. (A new production, directed by Ivo van Hove, opened on Broadway in February.) Of course, it’s also so commonly performed at high schools and community theaters that if you haven’t seen it, it’s probably because you were in it.

Threaded throughout the story is the question of who has the right to call a place home and why people who are struggling look for reasons to turn on each other. “This story is not only a product of its time, but that time has returned, and it’s returned with a kind of social fury,” Spielberg says. “I really wanted to tell that Puerto Rican, Nuyorican experience of basically the migration to this country and the struggle to make a living, and to have children, and to battle against the obstacles of xenophobia and racial prejudice.”

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SONDHEIM IS NOT JUST A GREAT COMPOSER. HE’S A GREAT PLAYWRIGHT ·

(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/12; photo: love4musicals.com;  via Pam Green.)

“Where you going?” a person asks the lady leaving his mattress one morning — probably anticipating her to say, “to the toilet.”

Instead she says, “Barcelona.”

Or, relatively, she sings it, as a result of the joke in addition to the character perception — she’s a stewardess — are a part of a music that turned its personal three-act mini-drama within the 1970 musical “Company.”

Act One: Bobby, the person, tries to get April, the stewardess, to return again to mattress however fails.

Act Two: As April places on her uniform, Bobby rhapsodizes about her being a really particular lady — “and never since you’re vivid.” (He shortly corrects himself: “not simply since you’re vivid.”) Then, on a ringing excessive be aware, he calls her June.

Act Three: When she accedes to his relentless importuning, he’s immediately horrified. “Oh, God,” he sings, having achieved the companionship he by no means needed. Blackout.

What simply occurred? In the three minutes, 93 bars and 181 phrases that make up the music “Barcelona” — one in all 15 or so in “Company” and greater than 750 within the catalog of Stephen Sondheim — theatergoers get an entire narrative, throughout the bigger one of many present, that deepens our understanding of Bobby, bachelorhood and the push-pull of otherness. The director (within the unique manufacturing, Harold Prince) will get one thing too: a wealthy scene to stage, the actors, a palpable battle to play and the subtext to tell it.

And all that is achieved in classical A-B-A kind, to a sweetly lazy tune befitting the morning-after setting, with apt however light rhymes (“going”/“Boeing”) and punch traces that aren’t simply punches. They provide help to sympathize slightly extra with Bobby, even in case you like him rather less.

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ITALIANS ARE SINGING SONGS FROM THEIR WINDOWS TO BOOST MORALE DURING CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWN ·

(Matt Clinch’s article appeared on CNBC 3/24; via the Dridge Report.)

KEY POINTS

  • Italy is one of the worst affected countries by COVID-19.
  • It has 17,660 confirmed cases and 1,266 deaths, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
  • Schools, museums, universities and cinemas have been closed.
  • The shutdown is weighing heavily on Italy’s economy.      

Photo:  A girl sings from the window during the flash mob, March 13, 2020. Some people have organized a flash mob asking to stand on the balcony and sing or play something, to make people feel united in the quarantine. Mairo Cinquetti/NurPhoto via Getty Image

Videos have been shared on social media of Italian citizens singing and dancing during a nationwide lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The videos, from various cities and towns, show people singing from balconies and windows in an attempt to boost morale, with all non-essential shops and services still closed in the country.

Italy is one of the worst affected countries in the world by COVID-19, with 17,660 confirmed cases and 1,266 deaths, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. That’s the largest outbreak outside of China.

One widely shared video shows neighbors singing a patriotic folk song in Siena, a city in central Italy’s Tuscany region.

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BROADWAY SHUTTING DOWN ALL PRODUCTIONS OVER CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC ·

(Michael Riedel’s article appeared in the New York Post, 3/12.)

Broadway will shut down tonight until April 12, due to the coronavirus outbreak, several sources told The Post. In what is the worst crisis the industry has faced since the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, several shows will not be able to recover. “The Minutes,” a new play by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts that was to open Sunday night, is likely to close and never return.

Martin McDonagh’s acclaimed “Hangmen” is also unlikely to open this season, though it could come back in the fall. “Sing Street,” a new musical currently in rehearsals, will try to open in the fall, propped up by money from Barbara Broccoli, the producer of the James Bond movies. “The Phantom of the Opera,” Broadway’s longest-running show that draws heavily on foreign tourists, may well close down for good, sources said.

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CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (75) ·

The production of “The Cherry Orchard” was accomplished with great hardships. The play is delicate, it has all the tenderness of a flower. Break its stem and the flower dries, its odor vanishes. The play and the roles live only when the stage director and the artists dig deep enough to reach the secret treasure house of the human spirit in which is hidden the chief nerve of the play. In my great desire to help the actors I tried to create a mood around them, in the hope that it would grip them and call forth creative vision. (MLIA)