Is Musical Theater Made for Small-Screen Consumption on the Horizon?
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there’s a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can’t quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
Netflix thinks so. In December, the streaming giant adapted one of the final performances of Springsteen on Broadway—Bruce Springsteen’s limited-engagement show at the Walter Kerr Theatre—into a film, released the day after the show closed. In February, Netflix produced what star Kerry Washington called a “movie/play hybrid” of American Son, which began filming just after the play finished its run at the Booth Theatre. And just last month, it was announced that two Broadway shows are being adapted into feature films by Netflix: The Boys in the Band, a play that ran last summer with a star-studded cast, and The Prom, which received seven Tony nominations (including Best Musical). If the trend continues, this could mean big things in terms of Broadway’s accessibility. People who can’t afford pricey tickets, don’t live in New York City or can’t snag seats to a sold-out show (ahem, Hamilton) could finally watch not-live-but-almost theater from their living rooms.
Netflix isn’t the only one with its eye on the Great White Way either. Fox announced earlier this year that it’s considering developing its own jukebox musicals (that is, shows using the songs of only one artist) for television—and the company has already approached a few pop artists it would like to work with. Fox has had varying degrees of success with its live performances of well-known musicals, like Rent (which aired in January to 3.4 million viewers) and Grease (their most-watched, with 12.2 million viewers in January 2016). Filming an already-written and time-tested musical for live television is a very different venture, of course, from creating one from near-scratch. But the network is no slouch when it comes to production value, at least. For example, Thomas Kail (the director of Hamilton on Broadway), stepped in as director of Fox’s Grease: Live—which cost $16 million to make.
As tantalizing as this news is for hardcore Broadway and couch-potato fans alike, it looks like only time will tell if Netflix’s and Fox’s plans pan out—and snag enough viewers to stay viable.