Among the many industries to collapse amid the COVID-19 pandemic was live theatre. Broadway is dark, national touring companies are grounded and I can only imagine high schools and community organizations are stalling productions as well. It’s, in a word, bleak. But there is some hope for theatre geeks who are missing the thrill of live performance right now. There are currently a number of ways to experience filmed productions online at this very moment. There are plenty of movie musicals available on major streaming services pretty much all the time, but there’s just something special about watching actors on a stage, even if it’s via a recording.
If you’re a true, rabid fan, you can’t go wrong with a BroadwayHD subscription. For $9 a month (either attached to your Amazon Prime account or as a separate package), you’ll have access to hundreds of taped on-stage productions and plays including Kinky Boots, Cats and Sunday in the Park with George. There are also tons of ways to rent your favorite filmed productions on Amazon Prime, Apple, YouTube and more. But for those who just want a taste of what it once felt like to see live theatre on stage, there are several shows already available on major streaming services. Below we’ve rounded them up for your convenience. Happy viewing!
Hamilton opened on Aug. 6, 2015, in Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre, where, if it were not for the ongoing pandemic, it would still be showing six nights a week. It went on to win 11 Tony Awards (and the Pulitzer Prize) and proved to be one of the hottest tickets in New York City, as well as nearly every major city in the U.S. during a slew of national tours. It has earned more than $1 billion across all ticket sales and merchandising. Last month, after a dramatically rushed release date, a recording of a Hamilton performance from summer 2016 featuring the original cast landed on Disney+ just before July 4, swiftly thrusting the musical back into the zeitgeist (like it ever left!). Finally, a musical that was once an incomprehensible privilege for most and enjoyed only by the elite is now available for the masses to enjoy. A global audience of fans was thrilled. Meanwhile, think-pieces exploded across the internet, including a few unfavorable ones. These newly-floated criticisms of Hamilton in a new era of Black Lives Matter protests are very valid. Miranda himself agrees. And there’s one glaring one we absolutely cannot overlook: The rapping, shimmying Founding Fathers (and their “Werk!” wives) portrayed in the story owned slaves. Casting people of color in these roles doesn’t change that fact. But may I be so bold as to say that you shouldn’t write off Hamilton altogether simply because of this glossier-than-reality depiction. As Strong Black Legends host Tracy Clayton described on Twitter, we possess the nuanced ability to engage with problematic material and hold it to higher standards than we would have five years ago. We can recognize the issues here as well as the brilliance.
Watch on Disney+
Stephen Sondheim’s smash musical about the Grimm Brothers’ fairytales was adapted into a film starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine and others in 2014. You can watch the live-action movie on Disney+, but if you fancy the original Broadway production from 1989, you’ll be delighted to discover it’s available in full for free on YouTube. A taping of the musical with its full opening night cast (except Cindy Robinson subbed for Jean Kelly in the role of Snow White) aired in 1991 as part of PBS’s American Playhouse, and some soul was kind enough to upload it to YouTube. You can watch it right here. Notably, Broadway dame Bernadette Peters plays the witch in this production.
May stars forever fall on the wonderful people at MTV who orchestrated the live Broadway production of Legally Blonde to be broadcasted on TV sets across the country in 2007. MTV’s screening of a live Broadway performance of Legally Blonde, adapted from the Legally Blonde book by Amanda Brown and 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon of the same name, aired ahead of the network’s reality program called Legally Blonde: The Musical – The Search for Elle Woods, which followed the search to replace Laura Bell Bundy in the role of Elle Woods. In the 2007 production, however, Bundy does star as Elle alongside Christian Borle and Annaleigh Ashford. The show captures the same spirit as the movie, full of vibrant pink costumes and go-getter energy. There’s also one of the most impressive and complicated dance numbers I’ve ever seen in a Broadway show (for the song “Whipped into Shape”) and a real-life chihuahua playing the role of Bruiser Woods. You can watch the full show on YouTube right here.
Filmed in Los Angeles in the summer of 2016, this taping of the Newsies Broadway musical includes some—but not all—of the original cast reprising their opening night roles. Based on a 1992 Disney film (a notorious box office flop) of the same name starring Christian Bale and loosely based on the 1899 New York City newsboy strike, Newsies debuted on Broadway in 2012 and even landed a national tour. While the movie initially received poor reviews, the music itself has aged superbly and attracted innumerable new fans around the country.
Watch on Disney+
Shrek The Musical, which is based on the popular 2001 animated DreamWorks movie and ran on Broadway from 2008 to 2010, is one strange show. It’s not exactly what you would call prestige theatre. But it’s still good family fun, and fans of the movie will undoubtedly enjoy watching their favorite characters come to life in the land of Far Far Away. It just so happens that this fabled Broadway goofball-of-a-show stars one of the industry’s finest: Sutton Foster, who you know from chatty TV shows like Bunheads and Younger. She’s one of the best triple threats to cross Broadway’s stages in the last two decades or so, and here she plays Princess Fiona. Is she over-qualified? Probably. But is her performance still a joy to behold? Absolutely. She even tap dances with a chorus line of rats. If this sounds like the Broadway show for you, you can luckily watch it on Netflix right this very minute.
Watch on Netflix