Last week, streaming service BroadwayHD.com — which launched a few months ago offering video recordings of theatrical performances — scored its biggest coup to date by livestreaming a performance of the current Broadway revival of “She Loves Me,” which ends its limited run at Studio 54 on Sunday.
The recording can be viewed on BroadwayHD through July 7 for $9.99 (whereas a ticket to “She Loves Me” costs between $52 and $157) or by purchasing a subscription to the site. An edited version will return to BroadwayHD in a few months. It might also be screened in movie theaters.
For the most part, BroadwayHD’s catalogue is underwhelming, consisting of old, obscure recordings (i.e. 1970s BBC Shakespeare) and others that have already been commercially released (like David Hasselhoff in “Jekyll & Hyde,” which is best forgotten).
However, its interest in livestreaming is a very promising turn of events. Prior to “She Love Me,” it filmed the Off-Broadway hits “Buried Child” and “Old Hats.”
Although I have already attended two performances of “She Loves Me” at Studio 54, I was happy to pay $9.99 to watch Harnick and Bock’s exquisite 1963 musical romance on my laptop. It proved to be a well-made recording, reminiscent of “Live from Lincoln Center” on PBS.
An intimate musical packed with tender and clever solo songs, “She Loves Me” made a smooth transition to the screen. The presence and feedback of a live theater audience made the recording less flat than some of the recent television adaptations of Broadway musicals filmed at soundstages.
My admiration for the terrific performances from all the lead actors (including Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi and Jane Krakowski) only grew, even if their facial expressions appear outsized when seen in close-up. (When I commented on Twitter that Benanti keeps her eyes wide open and never blinks while in song, she astutely tweeted back “you try singing that high.”)
Watching a video recording of a Broadway play or musical (be it a bootleg posted on YouTube or a professional quality product) can never match the experience of seeing it live, but I am nevertheless in favor of (legally) recording as many shows as possible, thereby making them available to those who canat attend in person because of timing, location or money and preserving them for future generations.
I grew up treasuring the few video recordings that existed of Broadway musicals (such as “Pippin” and “Into the Woods”) and movie adaptations that faithfully recreated original Broadway productions (such as “The Music Man” and “1776”). In college, I visited the Theatre on Film & Tape Archive at the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center (where videos of New York and regional productions can be viewed for research purposes) on a weekly basis.
In recent years, prominent London productions from the National Theatre, Globe and Royal Shakespeare Company have been screened in movie theaters worldwide or made available online. For instance, I attended screenings of “One Man, Two Guvnors” and “The Audience” before those shows transferred from London to Broadway.
In New York, the Metropolitan Opera has also been very successful with movie screenings, but few Broadway or Off-Broadway productions have received the same treatment.
If BroadwayHD can fill the void by regularly recording Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, it will become indispensable.