Missing Broadway? Here Is How to Watch a Classic Musical or Play at Home

Alexis Soloski

There are no chorus lines just now. No encores, no curtain calls, no fervent monologues to bring an audience to its feet. Unless that audience is you, on your sofa, and you need more crackers. With Broadway marquees dark and off-Broadway and regional theaters shuttered too, a theater fix doesn’t come as easy as it once did. Still, there are online options, and even the priciest ones are cheaper than a balcony seat.

Movie musicals have long been available, of course, as are shaky phone recordings on YouTube. But if you want the kick of a live performance without the queasiness of a handheld shot, plenty of streaming services and theaters have partnered to bring past performances to your nearest screen. Other theaters, like Berkeley Rep, are planning to bring recent shows online.

Some of these options are not exactly escapist. Berlin’s storied Schaubühne has released a schedule of feel-bad favorites like Hedda Gabler and Woyzeck. Maybe you’ll find those cathartic. But because there is enough pity and terror in the world already, here are comedy, musical, and cabaret choices to cheer you—familiar favorites and vanguard offerings too. Fill a sippy cup with white wine, and stretch out.

Cats

No, not that Cats. In 1998, two decades before the big-screen debacle, Andrew Lloyd Webber arranged for a film of the stage musical, with Elaine Paige wailing her feline way through “Memory.” If it’s too soon to revisit the Heaviside Layer, BroadwayHD, which is offering a seven-day trial, is also hosting Love Never Dies (Lloyd Webber’s divisive sequel to Phantom) and plenty of other musicals too.

One Man, Two Guvnors

England’s National Theatre was an early adopter of stage-to-screen technology, with its celebrated NT Live broadcasts. Via YouTube, they are making one available each Thursday, beginning with this Richard Bean update of a commedia dell’arte classic. James Corden stars as Francis, a hungry, thirsty, and inimitably enterprising employee. The season continues with Jane Eyre, Treasure Island, and Twelfth Night.

James Corden One Man, Two Guvnors - photocall held at the National Theatre. London, England - 23.05.11

James Corden in “One Man, Two Guvnors.”
WENN Rights Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Much Ado About Nothing

The Public Theater has partnered with PBS to release last summer’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy. This version, relocated to an Atlanta suburb and directed by Kenny Leon, favors a broadly comic style. But there are thoughtful, timely nods to #BlackLivesMatter and contemporary feminism. See it particularly for Danielle Brooks’s joyful, soulful, sharp-tongued Beatrice.

Oh, Hello on Broadway

If you love theater, then you probably also love to grumble about it. But no one can kvetch like Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, the crotchety 70-something characters created by the comedians Nick Kroll and John Mulaney. In this 2017 iteration of their comedy, filmed for Netflix, they prank Steve Martin with an overstuffed tuna sandwich. Broadway royalty Matthew Broderick drops by too.

Arias With a Twist

Oh, Hello contains an inspired piece of tuna-related puppetry. The puppeteer? Basil Twist, a superstar with an avant-garde approach to inanimate objects. On Wednesday, April 15, HERE Arts Center, the downtown performance space, will devote its Facebook page to his 2008 collaboration with the cabaret legend Joey Arias. As Twist unveils delight after delight—like a fleshy puppet chorus line—Arias sings his way through sensual adventures.

SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

For a more kid-friendly approach to hallucinogenic design, try this 2017 musical, available on Amazon Prime. Inspired by the Nickelodeon cartoon and teeming with songs by David Bowie, Lady Antebellum, and John Legend, this insanely colorful Tina Landau production is retina scarring and heart brightening. Its message—of generosity, inclusion, and love—feels apt and very necessary.

"She Loves Me" Broadway Opening Night

The Broadway cast of the 2016 revival of “She Loves Me."
Getty Images

She Loves Me

As long as you’re already on the PBS website, scroll through its remarkable Great Performances catalog, which collects filmed theater, as well as opera, dance, and classical music. Start with this 2016 revival of Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock’s pellucid book musical. Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi play perfume-shop employees and secret pen pals. And watch for Jane Krakowski, lovelorn even as she does the splits.

Kiki & Herb, Live at the Knitting Factory

The cabaret scene becomes a duller, safer place whenever this duo—a terrifying singer and her long-suffering accompanist, created by Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman—are absent. Now you can have them right in your living room. This 2007 concert, streaming on Stage, includes horrifying anecdotes and horripilating covers of “Heroin” and “Luka.”

The Tempest

If you are feeling adrift, you can come ashore for a few hours on Prospero’s island, via the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Shakespeare’s romance. Marquee TV, which is now offering a 30-day free trial, is streaming Gregory Doran’s 2016 production, starring the magnificent Simon Russell Beale as a sorcerer who grudgingly learns forgiveness.

Ghost Quartet

YouTube also has legitimate videos of more recent works, like this Dave Malloy chamber piece, his spooky follow-up to Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, filmed five years ago at the McKittrick Hotel. In this intimate show about two sisters shipwrecked on the shoals of time, the subject matter can skew grim. But its music is beautifully eclectic and its tone compassionate, even giddy.

“We’re Gonna Die”

Not everyone will feel like contemplating mortality at this moment, but this gentle rock musical, written by and starring the playwright Young Jean Lee, makes the evanescence of human existence feel less scary. Lee has made the complete show free on her website—every dance, every song, every horrifying anecdote about a torn cornea. Want to see it again? Vimeo has the version with David Byrne.

Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway

A show about a community enduring through a plague may feel somewhat on the nose right now, but if Jonathan Larson’s 1996 musical is uncomfortably opportune, it is also affirming in its celebration of human dignity and mutual care. For $12.99, you can buy this 2008 film recording of the closing night of the original Broadway run and see stars in the making like Renée Elise Goldsberry, Tracie Thoms, Will Chase, and Adam Kantor.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A wild night in the Athenian woods sounds pretty good right now. Live vicariously via the director Emma Rice’s production at Shakespeare’s Globe, streaming on the Globe’s site. Rice’s tenure as the Globe’s artistic director was brief and controversial, but this ardent, rollicking, gender-bent comedy is Rice at her best. With the cabaret queen Meow Meow as Titania and Hippolyta.

Whatever, Heaven Allows

A weepie might make some of us fall apart right now, but this madcap tribute to Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows by the experimental troupe Radiohole should keep the tears in check. On the Boards, a site devoted to leading-edge performance, is streaming this 2010 show, which intercuts the Sirk flick with Paradise Lost and includes a sexy deer.

Funny Girl

Metaphorical parades are the only kind we have right now. But don’t rain on Sheridan Smith’s. Exuberant, with perfect pipes, she stars in Michael Mayer’s 2016 London revival of the Bob Merrill and Jule Styne show about Fanny Brice, an earlier era’s musical-comedy goddess. If we can’t have other people right now, at least we can have Smith’s “People,” via the U.K. site Digital Theatre.

Into the Woods

To turn your sofa into a Stephen Sondheim birthday party, call up this wondrous ’80s musical. YouTube has the original Broadway production of these reimagined fairy tales, beautifully interleaved in James Lapine’s book. Bernadette Peters, Joana Gleeson, and Chip Zien give unimprovable performances, and the show includes, “No One Is Alone,” a vital anthem for an isolated moment.

Originally Appeared on Vogue