Broadway is making an exploratory attempt at a digital cinema series, with stage-to-screen production company Broadway Worldwide pacting with distributor SpectiCast for a fall series of theatrical screenings of legit library titles.
Effort is inspired by the continuing success of live-entertainment cultural offerings packaged as alternative bigscreen content, as exemplified by the Metropolitan Opera’s eight-year-old Live in HD series of high-def cinemacasts and the ongoing NT Live programming from London’s National Theater.
But whereas the programs from the Met and the National capitalize on timeliness, lining up shows drawn from each org’s current season (many of them initially screened live), the Direct from Broadway titles will face a challenge in that the newest outing on the slate is “Memphis,” the 2010 Tony winner that closed last year.
The other shows on the Direct to Broadway roster, pulled from Broadway Worldwide’s catalog, are of an even older vintage. Also on the list are 1981 Duke Ellington tuner “Sophisticated Ladies,” 1995 Leiber and Stoller revue “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” the 1999 Sondheim retrospective “Putting It Together” (starring Carol Burnett) and the 1997 musical “Jekyll and Hyde” filmed in 2000 when David Hasselhoff was the topliner. All shows are captured live in performance, as opposed to being filmed adaptations of the musicals.
“We want to see what people think,” Broadway Worldwide prexy Bruce Brandwen said of the initiative. “Is there an audience for this, and will they come out for it? We believe they will, but with this we hope to get some real data back.”
He added that he’s already encouraged by the response the Direct from Broadway series has generated in the 15 or so international markets in which it has played, including South Korea and, soon, 37 locations in Brazil. For exhibitors, the alternative content can draw new crowds to screens during traditionally slow times such as weeknights; it can also sustain ticket prices higher than those for wide-release films.
Broadway Worldwide’s deal with SpectiCast makes Direct From Broadway accessible to hundreds of U.S. exhibitors, which can program some or all of the five titles on the slate. In addition, Broadway Worldwide has made a separate deal with non-theatrical distributor Swank Motion Pictures to get the Direct from Broadway offerings onto cruise ships, where live Broadway-style fare is already a regular component of shipboard entertainment.
The goal is to use this initial cinema series as a stepping stone to more regular programming that features, ideally, contemporary Broadway fare. Despite the production challenges, such a series might be closer to materializing than it has been in the past, as legit producers increasingly recognize the branding and marketing benefits of a presence on the big or small screen — particularly as a means toward bumping up national awareness before a show hits the road for a tour.
The five titles in the Direct From Broadway series will be made available to exhibs on a rolling schedule this fall, beginning with “Memphis” Oct. 9.