17 Documentaries for Musical Theatre Students to Stream Online

Back to School   17 Documentaries for Musical Theatre Students to Stream Online
 
Check out what's available to watch on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and more.
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Broadway’s beloved characters, its iconic stars, and groundbreaking productions have fascinated theatregoers and documentary filmmakers alike for decades. As students get ready to head back to school this semester, we've compiled a list of films that capture some of musical theatre’s most compelling stories.

Check out a list of documentaries available to stream below, all available to stream for free or with a subscription. Students get 6 months of Amazon Prime free.

AUGUST WILSON: THE GROUND ON WHICH I STAND

One of the first feature-length documentaries about the Tony- and Pulitzer-winning Black playwright, who passed away in 2005, includes new interviews with film and stage luminaries and his family, scenes from his award-winning plays, and more. Sam Pollard directed the film, which features interviews with James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Laurence Fishburne, Viola Davis, Charles Dutton and Ruben Santiago-Hudson, among others. Wilson is perhaps best known for his Pittsburgh Cycle, a collection of ten plays set in and around the Pennsylvania city, including Fences, Jitney, King Hedley II, and Radio Golf.
Available on: Prime Video

BATHTUBS OVER BROADWAY

Winner of the Best New Documentary Director at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, Steve Young was a comedy writer for The Late Show With David Letterman when he stumbled upon vintage cast albums—only they weren’t from any musical he’d ever heard of. Young takes a deep dive into the world of industrial musicals of the 1950s to the 1970s written for brands like General Electric and McDonald’s. Directed by Dava Whisenant, the doc won Best Documentary Screenplay at the 2019 Writers Guild Awards, featuring David Letterman, Martin Short, Jello Biafra, Chita Rivera, Don Bolles, and more.
Available on: Netflix

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–George Furth musical Merrily We Roll Along. Price splices never-before-seen rehearsal footage alongside interviews with Sondheim, director Harold Prince, and original cast members including Jason Alexander, Tonya Pinkins, Jim Walton, Ann Morrison, and more.
Available on: Netflix

BLACK THEATRE: THE MAKING OF A MOVEMENT

Using interviews with luminaries like Ossie Davis, Amiri Baraka, James Earl Jones, and Ntozake Shange, and clips from several plays, this film documents the history Black theatre inspired by the Civil Rights movement.
Avilable on: Vimeo

BROADWAY IDIOT

This documentary follows Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong as he works to turn the band's hit rock album into a Tony-nominated musical. Directed by Doug Hamilton, the film follows Armstrong from Madison Square Garden to Broadway with the help of Tony-winning director Michael Mayer (who co-wrote the book with the frontman), Tony-winning orchestrator Tom Kitt, and Olivier Award-winning choreographer Steven Hoggett.
Available on: Prime Video (free with ads)

CAROL CHANNING: LARGER THAN LIFE

A fitting tribute to a beloved Broadway legend, filmmaker and Broadway producer Dori Berinstein (The Prom, Legally Blonde The Musical) directs this chronicle of 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 20) 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. (88 minutes)
Available on: Prime Video (with add-on trial)

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: Prime Video (with add-on trial)

EVERY ACT OF LIFE

An in-depth look at the life and career of the late Terrence McNally, who wrote everything from comedies about contemporary gay life to musicals about long-lost Russian royalty. Among his works are Love! Valour! Compassion!, Master Class, and the books to Ragtime and Kiss of the Spider Woman. Those interviewed include Christine Baranski, F. Murray Abraham, and Angela Lansbury.
Available on: Prime Video

EVERY LITTLE STEP

This backstage look at the 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line goes meta in documenting the hopes and dreams of the latest round of dancers auditioning for a spot on the line to play dancers auditioning 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 doc 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.
Available on: YouTube (free)

HAROLD PRINCE: THE DIRECTOR'S LIFE

Originally aired as part of PBS’ Great Performances series, the 2018 documentary predated the 21-time Tony Award-winning producer and director’s death in the summer of 2019. Over six decades on Broadway, Prince shepherded such shows as The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, West Side Story, Fiorello!, She Loves Me, Cabaret, Company, Follies, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, A Little Night Music, Candide, Fiddler on the Roof, Sweeney Todd, and Parade. Prince made an unprecedented mark on theatre—one unlikely to be replicated. The documentary features testimony from Prince himself, as well as collaborators Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Mandy Patinkin, John Kander, Susan Stroman, and Angela Lansbury.
Available on: PBS Passport

LEONARD SOLOWAY’S BROADWAY

The documentary, directed by Jeff Wolk, dives into one of the Great White Way’s most influential people—one whose name is not often mentioned in the history books—and follows the producer’s latest effort to mount a show on the Main Stem, Tappin Thru Life. Narrated by the star of Broadway’s A Christmas Carol Campbell Scott, Leonard Soloway’s Broadway uses interviews and archival materials to celebrate the producer’s seven-decade career and honors his personal life as an always out and proud gay man. Some of his Soloway’s well-known productions include Waiting in the Wings with Lauren Bacall and Rosemary Harris, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, A Moon For the Misbegotten, and Mark Twain Tonight! with Hal Holbrook.
Available on: Prime Video, BroadwayHD

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, but 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: Prime Video (with add-on trial)

LORRAINE HANSBERRY: SIGHTED EYES/FEELING HEART

When A Raisin in the Sun bowed on Broadway March 11, 1959, it was the first play written by a Black woman to hit the Main Stem. This documentary from PBS American Masters explores the playwright's life and artistic contributions. Narrated by LaTanya Richardson Jackson (Tony-nominated for her role as Lena Younger in the 2014 revival of A Raisin in the Sun), and directed by Tracy Heather Strain, the film features Tony winner Anika Noni Rose (who also earned a Tony nod for the 2014 revival) as the voice of Hansberry. The documentary also includes interviews with Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte, and Louis Gossett Jr.
Available on: PBS Passport

ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: COMPANY

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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 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,” that will leave you speechless.
Available on: The Criterion Channel

NOTE: Not a true documentary, but a documentary-style parody worth a watch, Documentary Now! spoofed Original Cast Album: Company with Episode 3 Season 3, Original Cast Album: Co-Op. From John Mulaney and Seth Meyers, the episode features Mulaney as the Sondheim-esque songwriter Simon Stephens with Taran Killam (Hamilton, Saturday Night Live) as producer Benedict Juniper. Broadway stars Renee Elise Goldsberry, Alex Brightman, Richard Kind, Paula Pell, stand out in numbers like “Holiday Party (I Did a Little Cocaine Tonight)” and “Going Up.” And in addition to the doc, Criterion Channel also has a recent, virtual conversation with the "Co-Op" performers.
Available on: Netflix

RAÚL JULIÁ: THE WORLD'S A STAGE

Another PBS American Masters presentation, this is a portrait of the late performer’s journey from his native Puerto Rico to the creative hotbed of 1960s New York City, to prominence on Broadway and in Hollywood. Juliá’s career, which helped pave the way for many Latinx artists today, was cut short by his death 25 years ago at age 54. The stage and screen star was a four-time Tony nominee for his performances in Nine, The Threepenny Opera, Where's Charley?, and Two Gentlemen of Verona. His film work included Kiss of the Spider Woman, Moon Over Parador, Romero, Presumed Innocent, and The Addams Family.
Available on: PBS Passport

SHOW BUSINESS: THE ROAD TO BROADWAY

The destiny of four Broadway musicals from the 2003–2004 season are captured in another 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.
Available on: Prime Video (with add-on trial)

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 West Side Story’s “Something's Coming,” Merrily We Roll Along’s “Opening Doors,” A Little Night Music’s “Send in the Clowns,” Follies’ “I’m Still Here,” Company’s “Being Alive” and Sunday in the Park With George’s “Sunday.” The documentary is punctuated with a series of musical performances from stars including Audra McDonald, Darren Criss, Jeremy Jordan, and America Ferrera.
Available on: HBO Max, Amazon Prime (with HBO subscription)

Looking for even more? Check out this list of 18 documentaries, many of them available to purchase digitally.

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