How Broadway is learning from Netflix and revolutionizing theater for the streaming age
In June 2016, the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of "She Loves Me" became the first musical ever to be streamed live thanks to BroadwayHD. Then on January 14, the two entities partnered again to stream a newer Roundabout production, "Holiday Inn."
"Up until now, you never have been able to experience live theater [beyond the stage]," Corbin Bleu, star of "Holiday Inn," told Business Insider in a recent Facebook Live interview. "With Netflix, you can stream right away. Now it's the same for theater."Bonnie Comley and Stewart Lane founded BroadwayHD a few years ago in order to create an aggregation of digitally captured plays and musicals.
More than a dozen shows - from "The Phantom of the Opera" to "Into the Woods" - have been filmed live onstage and then edited into films available to a wider viewing audience via movie theaters or DVDs.
The stream of "She Loves Me" was revolutionary, however, in that it allowed an audience, outside of its New York City theater, to watch a live, unedited performance of a musical that was currently on Broadway from their homes. (The show has since closed.)
And it came without the Broadway price tag: $14.99 for a monthly BroadwayHD subscription is essentially nothing compared to the hundreds a patron could shell out on Broadway. It seems like only a matter of time before a show as hot as "Hamilton" is as convenient to consume.
Just as importantly, Tony Award winner Laura Benanti, star of "She Loves Me," said she was particularly excited that the show was being seen as the artists intended - staging, sets, lighting, and all.
"People were already coming in and taking crappy, hidden videos and then posting them on YouTube and that is not the way that theater is meant to be seen or experienced," she recently told Business Insider. "It gives people an opportunity to see something that they wouldn't normally see."Benanti doesn't want it to stop there. She hopes a stream will spark viewers' interest to see community theater or touring companies.
"You're not going to be covered in the itch if you're never bit by the bug, and I think that this is a great way to get bit by the theater bug," she said.
BroadwayHD is centered on doing just that by extending the reach of live theater, Comley said.
"I'd love to see it be the norm," she told Business Insider. Just as most musicals sell a cast album, Comley hopes streams and digital captures will be another marketing tool for shows to use.
Benanti's costar in the musical, Zachary Levi (of "Chuck" fame), has some interesting ideas as to how Broadway can be taken to the next level in digital.
"How far are we from a camera sitting in the middle of the orchestra section and people at home getting to watch the show as if they're sitting in that incredible seat and they can look around and there's people sitting next to them? I mean that's pretty tremendous," Levi told Business Insider in a Facebook Live interview. "And then you'll have Smell-O-Vision and you'll have little spurts of whatever it smells like in an old theater with some old lady next to you with a gin and tonic and Sour Patch Kids - like that's gonna really put it over the edge."
But as much as Levi lets his imagination run, he has a warning."We have to be very careful about cannibalizing the art - not permeating it so far out that people are like I don't have to go anymore, I'll just sit here and watch it at home," he said. "It's a balance."
For now, Bleu - much like his character in "Holiday Inn" - is taking his moment to be happy.
"It's a different experience sitting in front of the television and watching it," he said. "But I think we're still getting a chance to share the magic of what happens in this room with a lot more people so I think it's a beautiful thing."