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.
Hamilton Filmed on the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theatre in June 2016, the live capture of the Pulizter- and Tony-winning musical was slated for an Octopber 2021 theatrical release—until COVID-19 preempted that plan, resulting in the movie dropping on Disney+ July 3. After five years of buzz, the streamed version—featuring creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tony winners Leslie Odom Jr. and Renée Elise Goldsberry, and most of the original cast—lived up to fans' expectations, and created another wave of Hamilton frenzy.
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 Kantor, Will Chase, Michael McElroy, Rodney Hicks, Tracie Thoms, Eden Espinoza, and Telly Leung.
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, legendary makeup 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.
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 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 on DVD. The 2011 concert production is available on DVD. Original Cast Album: Co-op is available on Amazon Prime, Netflix and IFC.com.
Falsettos William Finn and James Lapine’s 1992 musical Falsettos is actually a combination of two earlier one-act musicals, March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland. Together, they tell the story of Marvin, a gay man trying to navigate his relationships with his former wife, their child, and his boyfriend, all against the backdrop of 1980s New York when all of this was completely uncharted territory.
Lincoln Center Theater’s 2016 Broadway revival featured a cast made up of Broadway favorites, including Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells, Brandon Uranowitz, Stephanie J. Block, Tracie Thoms, and Betsy Wolfe. It was also filmed for television broadcast—part of Live From Lincoln Center—but it ultimately found its way to movie theatres, and is now available for streaming online.
Sunday in the Park With George Though revived in 2017 to acclaim in a production starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford, the original production of Sunday in the Park With George remains a particular favorite among theatre fans. Tony Straiges’ Tony-winning scenic design stands up over 30 years later for how brilliantly it realizes impressionist painter Georges Seurat’s iconic painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, and it doesn’t hurt that the original cast included Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin.
Nicholas Nickleby The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby brought Charles Dickens’ novel—about a young man who has to support his mother and sister following the death of his father—to the stage, and it wasn’t an experience for the faint of heart; the complete play consisted of separate full-length parts that together made over eight hours of theatre. The show started in London, with a cast that included Roger Rees in the title role. Nicholas Nickleby did later transfer to Broadway with the London cast, winning 1982 Tony Awards for Best Play and Leading Actor in a Play for Roger Rees.
The filmed version of Nicholas Nickleby actually happened shortly before the work’s Broadway transfer, but didn’t receive its inaugural television broadcast until 1983. Given the play’s immense length, home viewing might be the best way to watch; you can take an intermission whenever you like.
Billy Elliot the Musical Elton John and Lee Hall’s Billy Elliot the Musical tells the story of a little boy in a small British town who prefers ballet to boxing, much to the dismay of his conservative working-class community. When it opened on London’s West End in 2005, it became an immediate hit, winning four Olivier Awards. The production’s Broadway transfer was equally successful, winning 10 Tony Awards, including a history-making joint win for all three young actors who shared the title role.
Though the Broadway production closed in 2012, the London production ran through 2016 and was filmed live on stage in 2014. The live recording doesn’t feature the original cast, but it does include Broadway and West End star Ruthie Henshall as Mrs. Wilkinson, the ballet teacher.
Elaine Stritch at Liberty Elaine Stritch was nearly as famous for her onstage performances as she was for her offstage persona—and her storytelling. In Elaine Stritch at Liberty, her 2002 solo show that played Off-Broadway at The Public Theater before moving to Broadway, Stritch takes you through her entire life, from childhood to Sail Away to Company, and beyond. And she does it wearing nothing but a white blouse and black semi-sheer pantyhose.
Elaine Stritch At Liberty wasn’t filmed on Broadway, but when Stritch took the show to London’s West End, cameras captured a performance for release on DVD. If you’re fond of backstage anecdotes, show tunes, and dry wit, you won’t want to miss this one.
Into the Woods Before it was a hit movie starring Meryl Streep and James Corden, Into the Woods was one of Sondheim’s most successful Broadway shows. It’s still one of the most produced works at schools and regional theatres across the country. This mash-up of fairytales that dares to go beyond “happily ever after” is one of Sondheim’s most accessible works, and has certainly been the Sondheim entry point for more than a few theatre fans, largely due to the video of the original Broadway production with the original Broadway cast, including Bernadette Peters and Joanna Gleason in her Tony-winning performance.
Kiss Me, Kate With a classic Cole Porter score that includes such tunes as “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” “So in Love,” “Too Darn Hot,” “Always True to You in My Fashion,” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” Kiss Me, Kate became an almost instant classic when it debuted on Broadway in 1948. The 1999 Broadway production won the Tony Award for Best Revival, directed by Michael Blakemore, choreographed by Kathleen Marshall and Rob Ashford, and starring Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie. The 2019 revival starred Will Chase and Kelli O’Hara.
The 1999 revival production was filmed after it transferred to London’s West End in 2003. Neither of the Broadway leads were still with the production when it was filmed, but the great news is that they were replaced with Brent Barrett and Rachel York, both Broadway stars in their own right.
You can also stream a 1958 TV adaptation starring original leads Patricia Morison and Alfred Drake on Amazon Prime.
Peter Pan J.M. Barrie’s classic story of the flying boy who never grows up has been one of the most frequently adapted stories out there since it premiered in 1904. Though there have been several musical adaptations of the story, it is the 1954 musical with a score by Moose Charlap, Jule Styne, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Carolyn Leigh that tends to be the best known amongst theatre fans.
This version of the story was filmed four separate times. The first three feature the musical’s original stage star, Mary Martin, in the title role, a performance for which she won a Tony Award. Though they were not filmed on a stage, all three are faithful recreations of the original Broadway production in a television studio. The first filming, broadcast live on TV in 1955 within weeks of the show’s Broadway closing, features the complete original cast.
A revival of the show starring Cathy Rigby, the most prolific stage Peter Pan of the last 30 years, was filmed live on stage in 2000 and was released on DVD.
The 2000 revival is available to stream on BroadwayHD and Amazon Prime. The 1955 and 1956 black and white broadcasts are available on Blu-ray from Amazon. The 1956 black and white broadcast is available on DVD from Amazon.
Present Laughter Kevin Kline earned his third Tony Award playing Garry Essendine in a revival of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter, which follows a few days in the life of a highly successful and egotistical actor. Appearing alongside Kline in this most recent production were an all-star cast that included Kate Burton, Kristine Nielsen, and Cobie Smulders. This 2017 production was filmed on stage before the curtain fell for the final time.
Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Sweeney Todd is regarded by many as a masterpiece, and with good reason; the original Broadway production won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Score. The story is a grisly tale of revenge and murder, with a famous plot twist that has the denizens of London gobbling up human flesh in the form of meat pies. Don’t let that deter you, though; Sweeney Todd is more a Victorian melodrama than a gore-filled horrorfest.
The original Broadway production, directed by Harold Prince, was filmed during its national tour. Though the complete original cast was not captured, the recording does feature Angela Lansbury (in her Tony-winning performance), Ken Jennings, and Edmund Lyndeck. Broadway replacement George Hearn stars in the title role.
She Loves Me You’d be hard pressed to find a theatre aficionado who isn’t fond of She Loves Me, Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Joe Masteroff’s 1963 musical about two co-workers who hate each other while unknowingly being romantic pen pal partners. The score contains such favorites as “Tonight at Eight,” “Will He Like Me?,” “Dear Friend,” “Vanilla Ice Cream,” and “She Loves Me.”
The 2016 Broadway revival from Roundabout Theatre Company boasted a cast that included film and TV star Zachary Levi, Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski, and Gavin Creel. It was this production that made theatre history when it became the first Broadway show to be live streamed, and only the second to be broadcast live (following Carol Channing in Show Girl in 1961, which was broadcast live on pay-per-view TV in Canada).
Newsies Based on the 1992 film of the same name, Disney’s Newsies tells the story of the real-life New York City newsboys strike of 1899. With a score by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, the movie had long been a cult favorite, so when Disney decided to bring it to the stage with an expanded score, excitement was high. Luckily, Newsies met the hype and became a big hit on Broadway.
The Broadway production was filmed on stage during a Los Angeles stop on the national tour, and much of the original cast returned to their roles for the filming, including Jeremy Jordan, Kara Lindsay, Ben Fankhauser, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, and Tommy Bracco. This recording was initially released as a limited release in movie theatres in February 2017, but a few months later it became available for digital download.
Passing Strange A young Black Californian who feels trapped by his suburban upbringing goes on a coming-of-age odyssey to Bohemian Amsterdam and Berlin in the musical narrated by the rock musician Stew, who co-composed the score with Heidi Rodewald. The production was captured by Spike Lee on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre, Following a successful Off-Broadway debut at The Public Theater. The show stars Daniel Breaker, de'Adre Aziza, Eisa Davis, Colman Domingo, Chad Goodridge, and Rebecca Naomi Jones with Stew as the narrator. Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video