Nothing can replace live theater.
But while we find our way through this time of theatrical shutdowns, there are options for viewing work on the stage — from your living room.
I’m not talking about movie adaptations. I’m talking about shows that were actually produced on stage and transported via cameras to your home — or, at least, stayed true to the theater script even if played without an audience.
Here’s a rundown of streaming options on where to find shot-from-the-stage gems.
(NOTE: This is a work in progress. If you know of others, let me know and I will update.)
The paid streaming service features productions you may have seen on PBS or elsewhere (Kinky Boots, Red, Indecent, the BBC’s complete Shakespeare from the 1970s and ’80s). But there are also recent dramas including Pipeline, Thom Pane (based on nothing) and If I Forget.
Gems including the Stratford Festival’s Love’s Labour’s Lost (my favorite Bard comedy — see below) and, for completists, King John. You’ll also find oddities such as the West End musical version of From Here to Eternity (with lyrics by Tim Rice) and a slate of Spanish-language plays.
More? On the Exhale, with an intense Marin Ireland, and Buried Child, with Amy Madigan and Ed Harris.
Another subscription service, this one is focused more on opera and dance. However, theater buffs can find plenty of treasures. Recent additions include the 2018 Julius Caesar from the Donmer Warehouse and a load of Classic Spring Theatre’s Company’s Oscar Wilde productions, including A Woman of No Importance.
The RSC and Globe Shakespeare productions alone are worth the price — and here I got to experience two productions of Love’s Labour’s Lost — but if the classics don’t appeal to you, there aren’t many other choices.
With a PBS subscription, you can see Danielle Brooks (Orange is the New Black) in the delightful Public Theatre adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, Laura Benanti in She Loves Me, Kelli O’Hara in The King and I and more.
If you are in the New York City viewing area, you are in luck. WNET’s outstanding Theatre Close-Up series has recorded productions of such shows as School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play, Richard Nelson’s Gabriel family trilogy, The Originalist, Buyer and Cellar and a breathtaking Uncle Vanya starring the great Jay O. Sanders. Some of their recordings, including On the Exhale, have found their way to other services. Here’s hoping more do as well.
Does Springsteen on Broadway count as a theater production? I say yes. But there’s more here, too, if you look deep — particularly if you like shows focused on a name entertainer or two being themselves.
Among the choices: John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons, Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget For the Rest of Your Lives and a bunch of Mike Birbiglia one-man shows, including his recent The New One. (I’ll let others debate the difference between these and stand-up comedy specials.)
Want a fuller stage? Netflix also has the Broadway production of Shrek.
Not exactly fitting into the shot-from-the-stage category but of interest to buffs, there are some made-for-TV obscurities — including 1955’s One Touch of Venus, the 1962 Arsenic and Old Lace with Tony Randall and Boris Karloff and 1956’s Bloomer Girl with Barbara Cook. There’s also the pretty-much-taken-right-from-the-stage Top Banana with Phil Silvers. You can also catch 1986’s Barnum, starring a pre-Phantom Michael Crawford and Del Shores’ Southern Baptist Sissies.
I’ll let others argue the difference between opera and musical theater. For now, let’s just agree on the coolness of the Metropolitan Opera streaming a different opera every night on its website.
The Pee Wee Herman Show on Broadway and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill would make for a very interesting double feature.
Tucked away in the midst of all of the animated characters are the real-life actors in Newsies: The Broadway Musical — not to be confused with the film version, which is also available through the Mouse’s streaming service.
The 2013 Broadway Romeo and Juliet with Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad is hidden here, along with Jesus Christ Superstar Live. (Again: I’ll let others argue, etc.)