Tag Archives: BroadwayHD

Pipeline – Streaming on Demand

Pipeline is one of those thrilling intimate dramas that pulls you into its core with genuine emotion and basic human truths.  Written by Dominique Morisseau and presented at Lincoln Center Theater one year after the completion of her famed trilogy, The Detroit Project, it won the Edgerton Foundation New Play Award.  Every one of the well-drawn characters has an arguable viewpoint, proving that the most provocative and intelligent questions rarely have straight answers.

The entire cast of six is perfectly calibrated to provide an affecting high-energy 90 minute ride.  Each character is under pressure, but despite their shared sense of oppression they simply can’t manage to give each other a break.  The story opens on an earnest Karen Pittman as Nya, a teacher in a typically underfunded public school.  Although she is fiercely dedicated to creating relatable materials for her inner-city students, she has agreed to send her only child Omari —  an appropriately grave Namir Smallwood — to a private boarding school.  He is clearly bright enough to compete academically, but privilege isn’t contagious and Omari has been undone by the environment.  His long-brewing rage has boiled over during a lesson on Richard Wright’s Native Son, a controversial book often criticized for bolstering a destructive stereotype of young black men.

As mother and son work along their distinct paths in search of conflict resolution, we also meet two of Nya’s co-workers: Tasha Lawrence as a frustrated and mouthy white fellow teacher, Laurie, and Jaime Lincoln Smith’s Dun, a caring security guard who has history with Nya.  Providing some lightness to the mood is a delightfully sincere Heather Velazquez as Omari’s girlfriend, Jasmine.  Perhaps most critical to setting all the events in motion is Morocco Omari’s Xavier, Nya’s ex-husband who is out of step with both her and their son.

Namir Smallwood as Omari and Karen Pittman as Nya in Lincoln Center Theater’s Pipeline.

Thanks to a partnership between LCT and BroadwayHD, the work is currently available to viewers nationwide with rewarding results.  Blending recordings from August 22 and 24 of 2017, Habib Azar’s direction for the screen(from stage direction by Lileana Blain-Cruz) draws the audience even deeper into the profound rage and passing joys of the characters.  Significant details from a bandaid to a tremor are more visible in closeup.  The short scenes are keep flowing by using film clips as bridges.   Presented in three-quarter round with the audience as a classroom, this production also serves as an introduction to the jewel box of a house that is the Mitzie Newhouse.

The creative team has supported the required fast pace.  Scenic designer Matt Saunders defines the space with a wall of white washed concrete masonry and simple set pieces.  Location is further established using projections by Hannah Wasileski.  Yi Zhao’s variations of light and shadow along with Justin Ellington’s sound work together to increase emphasis of key moments.  

At a time when public schools are increasingly lacking in financial and community support, Pipeline draws sharp lines from a personal story to the bigger picture.  The questions it raises are sure to linger in your heart and mind long after the last curtain call.  In honor of Black History Month, Pipeline is featured with a stellar line-up that also includes 2010 Tony Award-winner for Best Musical, Memphis; American masterpiece, Porgy and Bess recorded in San Francisco’s splendid War Memorial Opera House; and the incomparable Audra McDonald in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.  Learn more by visiting https://www.broadwayhd.com/categories/celebrating-black-artists.

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Kiss Me Kate on BroadwayHD

Wonderful news for those who missed the Tony Award winning 1999 revival of Kiss Me Kate.  Its sister 2001 West End production, nominated for 8 Olivier Awards, will arrive on BroadwayHD this Sunday, with a stellar creative team and four gifted stars in the leads.  Initially winning for Best Musical in 1949, Kiss Me Kate took home awards for Bella and Samuel Spewack’s  snappy script and Cole Porter’s witty songs, some of which might sound familiar even if you didn’t know their origin.  The original cast recording is so woven into our cultural fabric, it resides in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.

The vehicle is a welcome addition for lovers of big splashy musicals since the action revolves around a big splashy musical.  It is the Baltimore opening night of a new musical production based on William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, conceived, directed and starring the dedicated but egotistical Fred Graham.  Despite their tumultuous relationship, he has asked his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi to play Katherine to his  Petruchio, hoping that her brief stint in Hollywood films will attract financial backers.  Graham has also started a flirtation with Lois Lane, the actress playing Bianca.  She in turn is involved with cast member Bill Calhoun who, using Graham’s name, has racked up a large debt to a loan shark.  Viewers will benefit from doing as the song says and brushing up their Shakespeare in order to follow the threads from Taming of the Shrew as the focus swings back to the Fred and Lilli storyline.  Period should be kept in mind since many plot points hinge on way-pre-#metoo era behavior.

Captured during its London run and adapted by Michael Blakemore from his own stage work, the streaming production is flowingly directed by Chris Hunt using a team of 7 high-def cameras.  His mixture of perspectives never breaks the illusion that we are watching a proscenium stage.  This is particular noticeable during the flashy dance numbers set to songs that actually forward the story and character development.  In a twist, the theater audiences is used as Graham’s opening night house.  Captivating choreography by Kathleen Marshall makes the most of the skillful ensemble, blending slinky dance styles with pure athleticism. Scenic designer Robin Wagner defines sense of place by flattening the Shrew sets and coloring them in storybook fashion while keeping the representation of backstage realistic and stark.  All the better to bring out the brilliant detailing of Martin Pakledinaz’s Tony Award winning on and off stage wardrobes (particularly Lois’s peek-a-boo outfits) and Paul Huntley’s delightful wig and hat designs.  

Rachel York as Lilli/Katherine and Brent Barrett as Fred/Petruchio in Kiss Me Kate. Photo provided by BroadwayHD.

It is always thrilling to see a stage filled with a large company such as the ensemble of 13 who here play Graham’s troupe.  The cast members led by Broadway veterans Brent Barrett and Rachel York all sing clearly with nuanced interpretation.  Nancy Anderson and Michael Berresse as Lois and Bill give us the playful duet Why Can’t You Behave.  The two strong opening act numbers — Another Op’nin’, Another Show and  Too Darn Hot — feature Kaye E. Brown as Lilli’s assistant Hattie and Nolan Frederick as Fred’s man Paul.  Even Jack Chissick and Teddy Kempner as two gangsters have their moment in the spotlight’s glow.

Kiss Me Kate is engaging family entertainment in traditional style.  Director Hunt eliminates intermission and uses movie-like blackouts to replace scene changes, so runtime is cut to 2 hours and 27 minutes.  This streaming exclusive will be available to BroadwayHD subscribers beginning January 15, 2023.  Visit https://www.broadwayhd.com for pricing options.

MCC’s Space Dogs on BroadwayHD

Over the last few years in particular, streaming theater has developed into a genuine and distinct art form.  Done right, it marries the excitement of attending a singular event in person with a profound level of intimacy.  Many shows have traveled well from one medium to the other.  Some — like MCC’s Space Dogs — are arguably even better viewed up close and personal.

Developed and performed by actors/musicians Van Hughes and Nick Blaemire, Space Dogs covers in impressive detail the story behind the early days of the Space Race.  In order to learn the effects of lower gravity and increased radiation on life, Russia’s Sputnik program took 40 stray dogs off the streets of Moscow and used them for testing.  The most famous of these is Laika, who was the first animal to orbit the Earth.  But Space Dogs takes great care to honor each and every one of these four-legged heroines.  (Yes, they were all female.)

Anyone familiar with Laika’s story will be aware that this tale doesn’t have a happy ending.  However, there is still a great deal of joy to be experienced throughout the show’s 90 minute running time.  Against a six paneled projection wall designed by Stefania Bulbarella and Alex Basco Koch, the good-natured and talented duo guided by stage director Ellie Heyman fly through dozens of roles with high-energy and knowing winks.  Among his line-up, Blaemire gives gentle voice to Laika, an unwitting participant to scientific history. And as part of his array, Hughes takes on the role of Sergei Korolev, known contemporaneously only as The Chief Designer, portraying him as a man torn between his compassion for his trusting “volunteer” and the hectic pace and lack of funds imposed on him by Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviet State.  The dogs are wonderfully represented by malleable stuffed animals that have been given tremendous personality by creator Amanda Villalobos.  

The actors employ cameras and use miniatures and green screen in order to bring the audience into sections of their small scale fuzzy world.  It is these techniques that allow Joe Lukawski, who directed the production for the screen, to more easily expand the audience to include those of us from home.  Footage from the four main cameras in the theater are fluidly mixed with the direct feeds already integrated into the performance.  This level of rapport with our storytellers is a perfect match for a script built around secrets.  And the simple technical effects and stripped down props fit this unique lens.

Van Hughes, Little Gnat, Laika, and Nick Blaemire in MCC Theater’s 2022 production of SPACE DOGS; Photo by Daniel J Vasquez

Based on classified documents that were only released in 2002, the story of political intrigue — AND DOGS — is clear and enlivened with humor, making it appropriate for older children as well as adults.  The varied score with intricate lyrics incorporates rock, electronic dance, rap and ballads.  “A Brief History of Dogs” loudly celebrates those special supporting characters.  “Fill the Void” creates an enveloping soundscape worthy of outer space travel.  And “Fuzziest Loneliest” sung from Laika’s point of view presents a particularly poignant moment.  A taste of the full cast album is still available at https://mcctheater.org/tix/space-dogs/.

A thoroughly gratifying and impactful entry to the BroadwayHD library, Space Dogs manages to be not only informative but playful, and not just because of the dogs.  It can also serve to introduce a world wide audience to the marvelous MCC, one of New York’s leading nonprofit Off-Broadway companies.  Captured live in MCC’s Susan and Ronald Frankel Theater and available exclusively to BHD subscribers, this production was made possible through a collaboration with HMS Media.  The holiday rate of $99.99 for a full year of membership is available through December 8 ($129 after that date.) Visit https://www.broadwayhd.com for more information.

Mr. Saturday Night on BroadwayHD

Launched in 2015 by veteran producers Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, the intention of online platform BroadwayHD is to replicate the Broadway experience for those who do not have access to the Great White Way.  Added to initial listings like She Loves Me are now hundreds of shows including family favorites like Kinky Boots and classics from the Royal Shakespeare Company.  The service provides a comfortable entry for those who don’t want to gamble $125 per person to introduce family members to the theater as an entertainment option.

Their latest addition is Mr. Saturday Night, a musical comedy starring the always amiable Billy Crystal who also serves as Executive Producer.  Filmed live at the Nederlander Theater on August 31, 2022, the production is based on Crystal’s self-directed 1992 movie of the same name.  It follows the career of Buddy Young Jr., a fictional Borscht Belt comedian who rose to stardom hosting a Saturday evening television variety show.  His reputation in tatters after an on-air incident, he is now performing before disengaged nursing home residents.  But his mistaken inclusion in the “In Memoriam” portion of the Emmy’s brings him much needed attention from a surprising source.

Whether this offering leaves you kvelling or plotzing will depend in large part on the level of admiration you hold for classic comics such as Phil Silvers, Totie Fields and Buddy Hackett.  (Thanks to YouTube, this admiration needn’t be restricted to those of a certain age.)  The revised script by Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel doesn’t solve the problem of the original film and Buddy remains a character that is hard to like much less root for.  However, Mr. Crystal’s live performance allows the audience to bathe in his suburb timing and delivery.  In his hands, even the broadest of jokes makes it easy to admire the craft even if it’s not your preferred style of humor.  It should be noted that some of the material is quite blue and may not be suitable for younger family members. 

Crystal has surrounded himself with a terrific, energetic cast.  Shoshana Bean lends her soaring expressive voice to the role of Buddy’s struggling daughter, Susan, while Randy Graff brings deep dimension to Buddy’s loyal-to-a-fault wife Elaine.  The reliable David Paymer reprises his Oscar nominated performance in the more stereotypical role of jealous brother, Stan.  Jordan Gelber, Brian Gonzales, and Mylinda Hull do a lot of heavy lifting playing several roles apiece and giving variation to each.  While the charming Chasten Harmon overflows with warmth as Annie Wells, a young and exuberant agent trying to help Buddy rise again.  In a wonderful twist on the original casting, the adults play their teenage selves.

The company of Mr. Saturday Night; photo by Matthew Murphy

As is true with most streaming productions, the show has two directors.  Tony winner John Rando handled the stage production and Matthew Diamond translated it for the home screen.  Sometimes presenting camera angles that would not be seen by a live audience, Diamond— who previously directed The Wiz Live for NBC — employs a style more similar to a television show than a recreation of a theatrical experience.  But this is a musical that relies more on exchanges among two or three characters and less on big production numbers.  Clever projections by Jeff Sugg that enhance a set designed by Scott Pask are well incorporated by the camera work.  And Diamond’s more intimate framing allows home viewers to observes details such as the framed photo of Crystal and his Comic Relief cohorts on the walls of the Friar’s Club set as well as enjoy the moving facial expressions of the entire ensemble.  There are also moments when the live audience is included in a shot and their enthusiastic responses are contagious.  Putting the end credits over individual actor’s faces is a nice touch.  Uptempo music by Jason Robert Brown with lyrics by Amanda Green supply enjoyable interludes in the storytelling.  The players’ annunciation is excellent, but there are easy-to-read captions available.

Though modestly produced by Broadway standards, Mr. Saturday Night is lifted by Billy Crystal’s generally appealing performance.  And the central theme of second chances is given unusual spin.  Runtime is two and a half hours, though Act II is clearly marked if you need a stretch break.  Exclusive to BroadwayHD subscribers, this production was made possible by a special arrangement with Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures.  Visit https://www.broadwayhd.com to sign up for a special holiday offer of $99.99 for one year (available through December 8) or dip your toe in their stream for $11.99 a month.  The fees make it possible to offer the entire catalogue ad and interruption free.