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Lockdown Viewing: Watch These Fantastic Musical Theatre Documentaries

Lockdown Viewing: Watch These Fantastic Musical Theatre Documentaries

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Why not use the lockdown period to catch up on your musical theatre history? From the making of iconic shows to fascinating backstage tales and industry insight, these documentaries help to fill the stagey void.

Original Cast Album: Company

The Broadway production of Marianne Elliott's sensational musical reimagining, which wowed the West End, is on hold for now. But why not see where it all began? D. A. Pennebaker's documentary takes us inside the recording studio for the original Broadway cast album, with a young Sondheim and Hal Prince, and - iconic - Elaine Stritch grappling with "Ladies Who Lunch" in a late-night session. See also: the peerless Documentary Now spoof about doomed musical Co-op, available on Amazon Prime (John Mulaney's Sondheim impression is just *chef's kiss*).


Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened

Another Sondheim classic - and this bittersweet documentary perfectly encapsulates the time-bending, sorry-grateful, regretful-happy spirit of his work, and musical theatre's fickle fortunes. Lonny Price talks to the creators and fellow cast members of the original, fatally over-conceptualised Merrily We Roll Along, examining why it failed and what impact that had. It's particularly poignant hearing from the performers - most just teenagers at the time, and who went from elation at this incredible opportunity to devastation. Some are still traumatised and risk-averse, while others can look back with fond nostalgia. Watch on Netflix.


ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway

Focussing on the 2003-4 Broadway season, Dori Berinstein's riveting film follows four new musicals: Wicked, Avenue Q, Caroline, or Change, and Taboo - from rehearsal (amazing footage of the original companies) through opening, reception and the competition for Tony Awards. With actors, creatives, producers, fans and critics offering a variety of opinions, it illustrates the industry's competing forces and differing interpretations of what makes a great musical, plus the unpredictability that makes this such a thrilling - and risky - enterprise. Watch the full film here!


Les Misérables on 20 20

As America prepared to welcome Les Mis for the first time, this 1987 TV segment examined the rise of a musical phenomenon. Enjoy these rare glimpses of the original West End cast in action, plus wonderful insights from Cameron Mackintosh, Trevor Nunn, John Caird, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. And prepare for goosebumps as they describe (and we glimpse) the truly religious experience of Colm Wilkinson singing the prayer "Bring Him Home".


Every Little Step

A documentary about Michael Bennett's A Chorus Line was always going to be a winner: it's the ultimate showbiz musical, and its audition format matches perfectly with the reality of performers trying out for the show while wishing "I hope I get it!". This film simultaneously delves into the creation of A Chorus Line and the mounting of the 2006 Broadway revival - showcasing both the jubilation and heartbreak of this dedicated tribe who "won't forget, can't regret" what they did for love. Watch on Amazon Prime.


In The Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams

Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton is lauded as a game-changer - with good reason - but his earlier musical In the Heights was plenty ground-breaking too. This superb series explores the creation and development of a show that not only featured a relatively unknown cast, and mixed rap and Latin music in its radical score, but also explored the immigrant experience with unusual sensitivity and complexity. It adds an extra level of emotional engagement from the cast - like Mandy Gonzalez identifying with the pressure that Nina feels to succeed, as well as her sense of being caught between two worlds.


The Heat Is On: The Making of Miss Saigon

The original production of Miss Saigon was a mammoth undertaking, with the creative team circling the globe to find their cast - in particular, a young actress with the dramatic range and vocal chops to play Kim. Enter Lea Salonga, whose audition in Manila is one of those spine-tingling musical theatre moments. You can also see Jonathan Pryce's now-controversial, but nonetheless powerful performance as the Engineer, plus director Nicholas Hytner trying to protect his company from the impressive yet lethal set...


Gander's Ripple Effect: How a Small Town's Kindness Opened on Broadway

Come From Away was one of the final shows I saw pre-lockdown, and the one I can't wait to return to when theatres reopen - its generous spirit and celebration of community heal the soul. This lovely film tells the incredible true story of Newfoundlanders taking in stranded airline passengers on 9/11, via interviews and footage shot at the time, and how that then translated into a surprise musical hit - with the Gander goodness very much still intact. Welcome to the Rock!


What's your favourite theatre documentary? Let us know @BroadwayWorldUK!


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From This Author Marianka Swain