(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.
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.
Let’s take a look at some of the best filmed Broadway shows to know about and where to find them.
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 Kantor, Will Chase, Michael McElroy, Rodney Hicks, Tracie Thoms, Eden Espinoza, and Telly Leung.
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.
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 Harris, Patti 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.