Broadway’s beloved characters, its iconic stars, and groundbreaking productions have fascinated theatregoers and documentary filmmakers alike.
Here’s an updated list of 13 documentaries that capture some of musical theatre’s most compelling documentaries and where you can stream them online, or rent them on DVD.
The 2016 documentary film delves deep into the creation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical phenomenon Hamilton. We follow Miranda through his writing process, and journey with the cast and creators of the downtown musical at the Public Theater just before it takes Broadway by storm in summer 2015. Filmmaker Alex Horwitz utilizes stunning video from the Broadway production that captures extensive musical sequences from show’s irreplaceable original cast. (74 minutes)
Available on: PBS Passport
BEST WORST THING THAT EVER COULD HAVE HAPPENED
Original cast member Lonny Price directs this fascinating and bittersweet documentary about the short-lived 1981 Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along. Price splices never-before-seen rehearsal footage alongside interviews with Sondheim, Harold Prince, and original cast members including Jason Alexander, Tonya Pinkins, Jim Walton, Ann Morrison, and more. (96 minutes)
Available on: iTunes, Amazon Video, YouTube, Vudu and Google Play
CAROL CHANNING: LARGER THAN LIFE
A fitting tribute to a beloved Broadway legend, filmmaker and Broadway producer Dori Berinstein chronicles the life, loves, and historic career of Tony winner Carol Channing in this 2012 film. From her San Francisco childhood, to her 1941 Broadway debut (at age 19) and her iconic performance in Hello, Dolly!, Channing recounts the highs and lows of a life spent on the stage. Channing opens up about her personal life, including her four marriages and her relationship with her son. Showbiz groundbreakers, including Lily Tomlin, Chita Rivera, Debbie Reynolds, Phyllis Diller and more, offer heartfelt tributes celebrating Channing’s singular talent. (87 minutes)
Available on: iTunes, Amazon Video, YouTube, Vudu and Google Play
ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: COMPANY
Packed with drama, D. A. Pennebaker’s documentary goes inside the recording studio for the original Broadway cast album of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s groundbreaking 1970 musical Company. Recorded (and filmed) over a breakneck 24-hour period, the behind-the-scenes account of the album’s creation is the stuff of Broadway legend. Sondheim and director Harold Prince provide illuminating insight, and performances by Dean Jones’ (“Being Alive”) and Elaine Stritch, who comes to a standstill during a frazzled late-night recording of “Ladies Who Lunch,” will leave you speechless. (58 minutes)
Available on: Netflix DVD
THE HEAT IS ON: THE MAKING OF MISS SAIGON
This 1988 documentary captures the creation, casting and original rehearsals for the London premiere of the Alain Boublil-Claude-Michel Schonberg musical based on Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. The film’s most compelling moments are during the casting process, which involved a global search to find the ideal “Kim” that culminates in Lea Salonga’s break-out audition for the role. (75 minutes)
Available on: Limited copies available for purchase through Amazon (Out of Print)
ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME
“It's a little frightening for people to get into your life that much, but I don’t have anything to hide,” the late Elaine Stritch told Playbill during the filming. “There’s no point in doing a documentary unless you absolutely deliver the 100 percent truth.” Filmmaker Chiemi Karasawa began shooting the documentary in 2011, three years before Stritch’s death. The film is classic Stritch: unflinchingly candid, shrewdly funny, deeply moving and flecked with tension. Karasawa delivers a gripping film that captures a Broadway lion still capable of roaring in the final years of her life. (81 minutes)
Available on: Netflix Streaming (and DVD, iTunes, Amazon Video, and Google Play
SHOW BUSINESS: THE ROAD TO BROADWAY
The destiny of four Broadway musicals from the 2003–2004 season are captured in this must-watch 2007 documentary from Dori Berinstein. The movie offers a rare behind-the-scenes view of a show’s creative process—from casting to opening night. Critics, creatives, and Broadway’s biggest movers and shakers are the key players in this documentary that focuses on Wicked, Taboo, Avenue Q, and Caroline, or Change. (102 minutes)
Available on: Netflix DVD and DVD for purchase on Amazon (Out of Print)
BROADWAY - THE GOLDEN AGE, BY THE LEGENDS WHO WERE THERE
While the PBS documentary may come in at six-hours, this invaluable and nostalgic film about Broadway in the 1940s through the 1960s offers archival and personal footage—including rare clips of Ethel Merman in Gypsy, Angela Lansbury in Mame—alongside interviews with John Raitt, Angela Lansbury, Hume Cronyn, Carol Channing, Jerry Orbach, Robert Goulet, Jerry Herman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and more. (111 minutes).
Available on: Netflix DVD, DVD available for Purchase on Amazon
SIX BY SONDHEIM
Stephen Sondheim’s frequent collaborator, James Lapine, directed this 2013 HBO documentary exploring the composer-lyricist’s prolific career. Lapine executive-produced the film with Frank Rich. Sondheim offers a glimpse into the creation of such songs as “Something's Coming,” “Opening Doors,” “Send in the Clowns,” “I’m Still Here,” “Being Alive” and “Sunday.” The documentary is punctuated with a series of musical performances from stars including Audra McDonald, Darren Criss, Jeremy Jordan, America Ferrera and more. (86 minutes)
Available on: HBO Go, YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play
LIFE AFTER TOMORROW
This 2006 documentary includes interviews with over 40 women who played orphans during the original 1977–1983 Broadway run of Annie. The challenges and joys of being a child star, and returning to a “normal” childhood after they grew out of their roles, are explored as these Annie vets take a look back. Noticeably missing from the film is original star Andrea McArdle. The film does include interviews with writers Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse as they prepare to bring the production back in 1997. (72 minutes)
Available on: YouTube, Amazon Video, and Google Play
EVERY LITTLE STEP
This backstage look at the 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line documents the hopes and dreams as the latest round of dancers audition for a spot on the line. Directed and produced by James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo, along with executive producer John Breglio (who controls rights to the landmark musical), Every Little Step provides an intimate look at the rigors of the audition process, and the highs and lows that come with it. The 2008 film also explores the late Michael Bennett’s creation of the original production. The documentary includes testimonials from A Chorus Line's initial workshop tapes, which feature the voices of the original 1975 cast members. (96 minutes)
Available on: Netflix DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play
FOLLIES IN CONCERT
This documentary of the legendary all-star 1985 New York Philharmonic concert presentation of the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical Follies includes interviews and rehearsal footage, as well as segments from the concert that starred Barbara Cook, Mandy Patinkin, George Hearn, Lee Remick, Elaine Stritch, Carol Burrnett, and more. (90 minutes).
Available on: Netflix DVD and DVD for purchase on Amazon
BROADWAY THE AMERICAN MUSICAL
Julie Andrews narrates this ambitious, six-part, six-hour PBS documentary that explores 100 years of musical theatre history from vaudeville and operetta through Show Boat, Oklahoma!, West Side Story, Company, Cats, and Wicked. Highlights from numerous original performances are featured throughout. An additional four hours of bonus material is featured, including Sondheim performing “Someone in a Tree,” interviews with Rent’s Jonathan Larson, the 12-minute “bench scene” from Carousel, and a behind-the-scenes look at Wicked. (360 minutes).
Available on: DVD set available for purchase on Amazon