Dear readers! With June just around the corner, many of you are likely dreaming of weekends filled with punch-happy grad celebrations, firefly-studded evening grill-outs and sun-soaked family road trips. For many others of you, though, the arrival of June is just as likely to mean one thing, and one thing only: Tony season.
Of all the televised awards ceremonies that unite Twitter for a single night, once a year, the Tonys are a frontrunner for the most entertaining. Still, as fun as it is to watch scenes and musical numbers from some of Broadway’s best current bets, catching just a few minutes of a few shows, over the course of one lonely night, has nothing on the experience of getting to watch exceptional theater firsthand.
Available to audiences in both the United States and close to 20 other countries, BroadwayHD is a subscription streaming service that, like other niche streamers we’ve covered in previous editions of Scrolling, offers its users access to a specially curated collection of streaming content for a monthly fee. In BroadwayHD’s case, that curated collection includes more than 250 productions from Broadway, Off-Broadway, the West End, Cirque du Soleil, and various foreign theater scenes. You want to catch the most recent, award-winning performance of An American in Paris? BroadwayHD has that! Have you been lamenting the fact that you never got to see Hugh Jackman play Curly in a 1999 run of Oklahoma!? Yes, friends, BroadwayHD has that, too. And although nothing beats experiencing live theater, you know, live, BroadwayHD has worked hard to maximize the dynamism of each filmed performance to fit streaming audiences’ needs, too. The site’s sharp, high-contrast design and the closed captioning automatically turned on to accompany each performance makes this particular mode of experiencing live theater especially accessible.
As of publication, the subscription cost for access to BroadwayHD’s regularly updated collection is $8.99/month, or $99.99/year. (Alternately, if there’s a single show you’re interested in, or that you know a friend would be interested in, there is an option to rent a title for 48 hours via a “Give as Gift” button at the bottom of each show’s description box. However, given that the cost of this scheme—$14.99 per rental, a fact that’s hidden until the step after payment information is captured—is more than half again as expensive as a single month’s subscription, which can also be given as a gift, this is a feature that is currently better in theory than in practice.) Understandably, a catalog not even 300 titles deep might not seem worth taking on one more monthly subscription for, given the seemingly endless streams of content already on offer from platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and even Hulu for similar monthly fees. In the age of so much streaming excess, though, having such a carefully curated collection of high-quality performances to draw from is a relief. Plus, if you remember to turn auto-renewal off, you can dip in and out of your subscription as BroadwayHD’s rotating collection of available performances dictates.
That said, like any subscription service worth its streaming salt, BroadwayHD does offer a free week-long trial period, which means there’s no reason for anyone who loves live theater not to give the service a shot now that another Tony season is upon us. And although we couldn’t possibly highlight every performance we love that’s currently available, we have come up with nine titles that are each worth the monthly subscription fee by themselves.
Editor’s note: The following list contains titles available as of PUB DATE. Availability subject to change over time.
Production Date: 2019
Starring: Bonnie Langford, Tom Lister, Clare Halse, Philip Bertioli, approx. one million dancers
Runtime: 130 minutes
The technical lengths to which BroadwayHD went to make the West End’s most recent production of 42nd Street, directed by Mark Bramble and choreographed by Randy Skinner, pop for streaming audiences—filming in 4K, employing 8 cameras at three different performances—are definitely astounding, but given the scope of the dance extravaganza they were tasked with capturing, they couldn’t have been anything less. Exuberant and full of fun, familiar songs (“We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway”), 42nd Street is a real musical lover’s musical. As the newest addition to BroadwayHD’s digital shelves, though, 42nd Street has plenty of new fans still to win over. Feel free to make yourself one of them!
Production Date: 2016
Starring: Holland Taylor, Julie White
Runtime: 111 minutes
Taking full advantage of the stage-to-screen adaptation process, Ann opens with behind-the-scenes shaky cam footage of the one-woman play’s crew and director getting writer/star Holland Taylor ready for the show. This perspective continues even after the play begins, the camera cutting between audience’s perspective of the cool transparent screen that makes Taylor look like she’s the real Texas Governor Ann Richards in original television footage from the Democratic National Convention in 1988, and backstage close-ups of Taylor as she is performing from behind said screen. Ann is a sharp piece of writing and acting on its own, but the layers the camerawork adds for streaming audiences stuck watching a flat screen at home stands as a perfect example of the kind of dynamic viewing experience BroadwayHD is aiming to provide.
Chekhov Comedy Shorts (various)
Production Date: 2010 (BBC)
Starring: Steve Coogan, Philip Jackson, Sheridan Smith, Matthew Horne, Mackenzie Cook, Johnny Vegas, Julian Barratt, Julia Davis, Reece Shearsmith
Runtime: 20-40 minutes each
These three episodes, comprising four of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s comedic short works, were commissioned to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Chekhov’s birth, and originally aired on the BBC. As such, their production is already tailored to the screen—a few of them, The Proposal in particular, read more like tense Russian sitcoms than anything else—but the theatricality of each is still obvious. Other productions on BroadwayHD might be flashier, but Chekhov is a classic for a reason, and the brevity of each of these three productions, none running longer than 40 minutes, makes them the perfect option for when you want a spot of theater, but don’t have time to settle in for a whole Broadway musical.
Cirque du Soleil (various)
Production Date: 1991-2016
Cirque du Soleil has been thrilling audiences around the world with their acrobatic theatrics for decades, but rarely does the opportunity come around to watch those decades unfold, let alone to do so from the comfort of your own living room. BroadwayHD’s collection of Cirque du Soleil performances, though minuscule in comparison to the company’s full portfolio, gives streaming viewers this very opportunity, allowing us to watch Cirque du Soleil in its younger, more carnival-esque years (Nouvelle Experience, 1991) and in its more visually sharp, cinematic later ones (2016’s Toruk: The First Flight, co-written by James Cameron). One can hope that as BroadwayHD’s partnership with Cirque du Soleil matures, its collection will grow, but in the meantime, you and your family will already have more Cirque than you’ll know what to do with.
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
Production Date: 2016
Starring: Audra McDonald, Shelton Becton, George Farmer, Clayton Craddock, Roxie
Runtime: 89 minutes
Audra McDonald’s ability to inhabit Billie Holiday is so stunning, that when her interpretation of Lanie Robertson’s 1986 play, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, had its Broadway run in 2014, it was such a hit that HBO brought the cast back together two years later to immortalize their performance in this production, filmed in New Orleans’ Cafe Brasil. Although anyone with an HBO subscription (hi, Game of Thrones fans) has had access to this production since it premiered, its inclusion in BroadwayHD’s catalogue makes it available to a wider, more global audience. Friends, give yourself this gift. (And if afterwards you find yourself jonesing for another biography-as-concert experience, aim your eyeballs at one of BroadwayHD’s most recent additions, A Night with Janis Joplin.)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Production Date: 2016 (BBC)
Starring: John Hannah, Nonso Anozie, Matt Lucas, Maxine Peake, Eleanor Matsuura, Richard Wilson, Bernard Cribbins, Colin McFarlane, Varada Sethu, Elaine Paige, Elliot Levey, Fisayo Akinade, Javone Prince, Paapa Essiedu, Matthew Tennyson, Kate Kennedy, Hiran Abeysekera, Charlotte Dylan, Marlene Madenge, Prisca Bakare, Charlotte Blake, Tia Benbow-Hart
Runtime: 90 minutes
It is very difficult to describe how immersively bizarre this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is, but once you realize that it was developed and directed by Russell T. Davies, for the BBC for their celebration of 400 years of Shakespeare, using much of the same production, design and FX crew that he had worked with on Doctor Who, you’ll come close. Balancing authoritarian brutalism and woodsy whimsy with a crackerjack cast, this is an interpretation of a Shakespearean classic sure to give something new to even the most Dreamed-out viewer.
Production Date: 2017
Starring: Kevin Kline, Kate Burton, Kristine Nielsen, Cobie Smulders, Bhavesh Patel, Reg Rogers, Matt Bittner, Ellen Harvey, Peter Francis James, Tedra Millan, Sandra Shipley
Runtime: 135 minutes
This production of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter, a comedy about a self-obsessed actor flailing about in a mid-life crisis, stars Kevin Kline as “theater’s favorite leading man […] caught between fawning ingénues, crazed playwrights, secret trysts, and unexpected twists.” One of our more straightforwardly “theater-y” picks, Present Laughter is just a solidly acted, sharply produced, thoroughly entertaining 2+ hours of dramatic delight. Sure, you’ll walk away from it wanting to organize a Kevin Kline marathon, but we ask you—who does that hurt? No one. Stream away!
Production Date: 2018
Starring: Langston Belton, Madeleine Bundy, Jessie Cannizzaro, Nick Carrillo, A.J. Ditty, Julie Ann Earls, James Fouhey, Andy Miller, Zac Moon, Eleanor Philips, Stephen Stout
Runtime: 111 minutes
Like Ann earlier on this list, the Harry Potter-adjacent Puffs takes advantage of the fact that it’s been adapted for the screen and layers in post-production elements that make the viewing experience for the audience at home almost interactive—Professor McG addressing viewers directly over the theater’s PA before the show begins, for example, and the director pasting text messages to viewers on the screen when one of the characters is given free reign to improv a scene in the play’s latter half. (“The actor playing Zach Smith is allowed to say whatever he wants during this scene. This is what he chose.”) As a production, the goofy, low-budget Off-Broadway production of Puffs is exactly the kind of thing that anyone living outside of New York could hardly dream of catching, even in a national tour, but it is exactly the kind of unpredictably, incredibly wild experience one always hopes to get out of a night at the theater, which makes it a perfect fit for BroadwayHD. (Which, BroadwayHD, if you’re taking requests: Get the tonally/literarily similar The Lighting Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical on your digital shelves, stat—streaming audiences deserve this double feature!)
She Loves Me
Production Date: 2016
Starring: Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi, Jane Krakowski, Gavin Creel, Byron Jennings, Tom McGowan, Peter Bartlett, Nicholas Barasch
Runtime: 130 minutes
The first Broadway musical ever to be live-streamed, She Loves Me is a 1960s classic from Joe Masteroff (book), Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics)—the latter two of Fiddler on the Roof fame—that even if you’ve never heard of, as the inspiration for You’ve Got Mail, you’ve definitely seen traces of throughout contemporary rom-com culture. This 2016 production, starring Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi and Jane Krakowski is a glittering joy, with a mind-bendingly cool giant dollhouse stage design that the stage-to-screen film adaptation, able as it is to cut in high-angle, bird’s eye views as the structures shift in between scenes, highlights amazingly well. Although we can only imagine how thrilling seeing this production in person might have been, this adaptation from BroadwayHD gets us as close to the real thrill as possible.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.