The Feb. 20 Broadway Television Network (BTN) taping of the Stephen Sondheim review, Putting It Together, demonstrated that the presence of ten cameras -- nine stationary and one roving-- need not necessarily detract from the theatre experience. In fact, it may sometimes add to it.
Though the performance started slightly behind schedule, and television cues occasionally caused the illumination of the audience, the closing performance of the Broadway show appeared to benefit from the extra attention afforded by the presence of BTN. Most telling was Carol Burnett's finale, which brought tears to the eyes of her co-stars, visible from the farthest reaches of the balcony.
There is reason to consider the efficacy of the BTN model, especially since BTN and its nearest competitor, Broadway Digital Entertainment's Broadway Tonight, are start ups that could have tremendous influence on Broadway in the future. As reported earlier, BTN was launched Jan. 18 and Broadway Tonight announced on Feb. 16 that it would be offering services in fall 2001. Essentially, both services are working simultaneously to "broadcast Broadway," but they are entirely different. BTN describes itself as a pay-per-view service that will film and broadcast traditional closing night performances. Broadway Tonight says it is a subscription service that will tape pre-Broadway opening performances in a television studio and will control rights to the overall production.
Putting It Together was BTN's second taping (the first was the closing performance of Smokey Joe's Cafe on Jan. 16). Despite chilly temperatures and a brisk wind, dozens of theatregoers lined up ahead of the show seeking cancellations (there were few if any) and perhaps 200 well wishers gathered after the show at the stage door. Throughout the proceedings, the BTN truck was parked directly in front of the Barrymore Theatre, a visible reminder of the growing connection between television and theatre.
Granted it would take more than ten television cameras to fluster Carol Burnett and, ultimately, individual theatregoers will be the judge of the new broadcast efforts on Broadway. Still, judging by the live audience reaction, Burnett's last performance of Sondheim's "Old Friends" demonstrated that, cameras or no, she had delivered one of the more meaningful dramatic moments of the season.