How do you get to Broadway?
Live stream, live stream, live stream.
Broadway Producer Bonnie Comley MA ’94, an Emerson overseer, launched BroadwayHD in October 2015, offering anyone with Internet access a passport to a library of professional stage productions, as well as a few live streams of Off-Broadway shows.
On Thursday, June 30, 8:00 pm, BroadwayHD will make history when it streams Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of She Loves Me live from Studio 54.
“This is the first time a Broadway show is being live streamed,” said Comley, co-founder of BroadwayHD with husband and Tony Award-winning producer Stewart F. Lane.
She Loves Me, a 1963 musical adapted from a Hungarian play, is the story of rival shop employees unaware that they are each other’s romantic pen pal. The original play, Miklos Laszlo’s Parfumerie, was made into two previous musicals, and later inspired the 1998 Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan film You’ve Got Mail.
Viewers can watch the June 30 live stream for $9.99, or for free with a $169.99 annual subscription. Tickets to the live performance purchased on the Roundabout website range from $52-$152.
The UK’s National Theatre has broadcast live productions via satellite to cinemas around the world since 2009, but BroadwayHD makes plays and musicals available to audiences wherever they are, on their smart phones, laptops, or TV sets.
Comley said she’s noticing a couple of trends in who’s been using the site. One involved where the viewers live.
“In our surveys we’ve done, the people who live in the Tri-State area [New York, New Jersey, Connecticut] are the ones who can drive in and see a Broadway show,” Comley said. “They were pleased, [they’d say] ‘Oh, that’s a nice website.’ [But] people who were outside of that area were throwing roses at our feet. That’s really who’s our fanatical audience right now is people outside of the the New York/Tri-State area.”
The second trend has been more surprising. The traditional demographic of live theatergoers is well-educated, affluent women over 45, Comley said.
“For this, it’s skewing a lot younger, and we’re getting male,” she said. “So everybody is sort of surprised, it’s like, ‘Oh my god these young guys are into theater!’ I don’t think it was on their radar before.”
One driver of that trend is that when BroadwayHD launched, it was only available on mobile devices and computers – which is where younger viewers watch everything anyway, she said. Older theater fans started asking to watch shows on their TVs, which they now can, via Apple TV, Roku, or Google Chromecast, which will likely increase viewership among middle-aged and older audiences.
The site is also picking up a surprisingly robust international audience, Comley said, so much so that they had to change their payment collection service to accommodate foreign currencies.
The fact that younger viewers and audiences farther afield are using the site is a good indication that Comley is achieving her goal with the site: Get an entirely new audience hooked on plays and musicals, so they’ll be more likely to show up to an actual theater when a production comes to town.
Comley said they picked She Loves Me to kickoff the Broadway live streaming service because Roundabout Theatre Company is known to do quality productions, and the show has a cast featuring actors recognizable to people who are more familiar with television: Zachary Levi (Chuck), Laura Benanti (Nashville), and Jane Krakowski (30 Rock, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). And, it’s “just a really positive, upbeat, hummable-songs musical.
“If somebody was going to be introduced to a Broadway musical for the first time, this is just a really good example of what a Broadway musical is about,” Comley said.