By MARGARET LYONS |
As far as maiden voyages go, the first live stream of a Broadway musical was mostly smooth sailing. Save for a few technical hiccups that were resolved by the end of the opening number, BroadwayHD’s stream of this enchanting revival of “She Loves Me” did everything right.
But theater broadcasts — or streams, or both — are not without their challenges. Contractual complexities aside, television and live stage productions go together like peanut butter and wine. You can, but that doesn’t make it a great idea.
In “She Loves Me,” which opened in March at Studio 54, Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi star as perfume store clerks falling in love through letters, all while loathing each other at work. (It’s based on a play by Miklos Laszlo, which also inspired the 1940 film “The Shop Around the Corner” and, later, “You’ve Got Mail.”)
BroadwayHD.com streamed the performance on Thursday at 8 p.m., live to anyone willing to pay $10. It was the first broadcast of its kind; while some opera and ballet performances live-stream in movie theaters, this event was for home viewers, online through Apple TV and Roku. And while it presented financial, artistic and technological complications, it also presented an opportunity to reach (and monetize) audiences who would otherwise not have access to Broadway productions.
One challenge, though, is that TV can sometimes turn theater spectacle into something puny: “She Loves Me” is set in a twinkling perfumery that sadly seemed wan and scanty on the screen. The 11 o’clock number, “Twelve Days to Christmas,” sung by the main characters and the ensemble, is full and frantic onstage, pushing the action of the show to its climax. On a laptop screen, that energy is diffused and remote.
None of this is the fault of the stage production. Ms. Benanti’s grand comic timing and Mr. Levi’s radiant affability outpace the dampening effects of broadcast, as does Jane Krakowski and Gavin Creel’s dance duet, which was broadcast a few weeks ago at the Tony Awards. Splits are splits, regardless of medium.
Splits, singing, comedy — so far so good. And “She Loves Me” had the tremendous advantage of having a live audience on set, unlike recent live, designed-for-TV productions of “The Sound of Music,” “Peter Pan” and “The Wiz,” which did not. That sterility, along with mountains of other issues, kept those productions from capturing the actual thrill of theater — or, in the case of “The Wiz,” kept anyone from laughing after jokes. Fox’s “Grease: Live!” did better, thanks in part to having an audience on set, though all these productions had to contend with commercial breaks, unlike “She Loves Me,” which had no commercials.
“She Loves Me,” even though it’s a better show than “Grease” in every possible way, isn’t quite better television than “Grease: Live!” Scale matters, scope matters, and cameras always alter the intimacy of a performance. Because “She Loves Me” was not designed for television broadcast, but was rather a streamed version of the staged production, it can’t compare apples to extravaganza apples.
The question is if that matters for audience members. “She Loves Me” closes on July 10. It’s not so hard to imagine someone’s seeing Ms. Benanti’s performance on the Tonys and thinking “Gee, I’d love to see that show,” and discovering that that was next to impossible, especially for out-of-towners. This is $10 very well spent for the home viewer.
You do lose some of the vibrancy, some of the majesty and all of the camaraderie of being there in the theater, which is true whether it’s a live or a taped broadcast. (Although Playbill reported that “She Loves Me” would be released in theaters in November, a theatrical release has not been confirmed, a publicist for BroadwayHD said.)
And unlike the audience for, say, “Sound of Music,” no one’s hate-watching “She Loves Me.” How could you? It’s such a sweetheart of a show.
Without Twitter’s collective schadenfreude, or the high-wire danger of larger-scale productions, the live “She Loves Me” became like the musical cigarette box in the show itself — more important as a symbol than as an actual product.
An earlier version of this article, citing a report in Playbill, said that a recording of “She Loves Me” would be released in theaters in November. A publicist for BroadwayHD says a theatrical release has not been confirmed.