Why are home video releases of Broadway shows so rare?

edited February 2014 in Theater
This doesn't pertain specifically to the works of Howard Ashman, but it's a question I've had on my mind for awhile and I've yet to find a definite answer. A lot of Broadway shows have already been recorded for archival purposes, and there's apparently a library in New York that lends them to qualified researchers.


I can't imagine it would take much effort to get these recordings on iTunes or some other digital distribution platform.


  • From the section on the New York's Public Library's about the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive: "TOFT does not lend, copy, sell, or distribute any of the videorecordings physically or electronically in accordance with its contracts with the various theatre unions and guilds that permit videorecording of live theatrical productions."

    I think that's the same reason why most theatrical shows don't get a DVD release like "Shrek" or "Love Never Dies." Agreements have to be made with all the guilds and unions involved with the production, and it's something not everyone wants to do for sort-of a niche market. Even for shows like Legally Blonde and The Nance, that were taped for TV, might not ever come out on DVD or home-video because the original agreement was ONLY for TV. The producers of the Legally Blonde MTV special have said, basically, "Right now, we can't release it. Until the original Broadway production closes, it can't happen, and even then we would have to go in and make a whole new set of agreements, because our original agreements only allowed for a certain number of airings on MTV and nothing else."
  • Looks like Justin pretty much nailed this one. It's all about rights and contracts.
  • edited February 2014
    Absolutely right, all. I'm just glad for what we have available from PBS and the like.
  • Aha! I've got it!

    If I understand what you said, Justin, then DVDs of Broadway shows are rare because it's very difficult to procure the rights to a specific production. Buuuttt what if instead of just songs, companies started releasing entire shows on iTunes as audio dramas? *holds out hands like Rod after his revelation in Avenue Q*
  • edited February 2014
    That is the thousand dollar question. I think it has to do with the producers want people to come see the show, so they don't include most of the dialogue and a few songs. (One of the reasons "The Wicked Witch of the East" was left off the Wicked album was because the producers felt it gave away too much of the plot.)

    But I do wish more producers did what the original producers of Sweeney Todd did and just not give a hoot. The OBC recording of Sweeney Todd, as I remember, only cuts out Pirelli's death scene and nothing else. All of the dialogue and every song is there, and I love it because of that.
  • 1) The Sweeney Todd original cast recording is far from the entire show minus Pirelli's death, but it is a satisfyingly full recording, content-wise. There's a lot of little score cuts and nowhere near all of the dialogue. As that show is one of the ones I like to listen to the whole shebang when I listen to it, I usually listen to the BBC radio Broadcast of the Royal National Theatre production from 1994. They presented it as a radio drama, Julie Mackenzie is Mrs. Lovett, and it is fantastic.

    2) It also bears mentioning that those archive tapings are not edited for filming at all. I don't mean the content of the show, or taking out scene changes etc. I mean the lights are at stage levels, makeup is still stage makeup, etc. When things are produced for television and home video release, they have to edit the lighting design to be appropriate for film (basically way brighter), they have to soften the stage makeup so as to not look so garish up close, and generally they do quite a bit of taping without an audience so that they have shots to use that are not general stage shots. Basically, they shoot things that require a cameraman being in a place that would be distracting to a live audience. Then they mix the two so it looks like an audience was there. Unless we're talking Passion, Cats, Joseph...

    Obviously I wish these recordings were more readily available. I'd be all over them. However, it will never happen, and that is primarily because of the union restrictions in place to get them shot in the first place. Luckily, it is quite easy to see them at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts. It seems like they make a huge "to-do" about allowing access only to "qualified researchers," but anyone who's used this resource knows it isn't difficult. Anybody with a library card can walk in and say they're preparing for an audition and get to watch basically whatever they want, unless it's something the author has restricted further. They make you fill out a form with the "specific reason for watching," so just have a theatre name in mind. I think it's largely a formality to keep it from just fully becoming a free movie theatre to all theatre fans who walk by.

    Since we're on a Howard Ashman forum, I should point out that the Lincoln Center archive contains tapings of the Off-Broadway "Little Shop of Horrors" (sadly without Ellen Greene, but Marsha Waterbury is a wonderful replacement in every way. It also has the three original urchins, or rather two original urchins and and Leilani Jones, who replaced two weeks into the run).

    They also have the Broadway "Smile," which is pretty remarkable given it was a flop in a time at which they did not generally tape everything. It's too bad they didn't get to archive the version of the show Howard wanted and ended up reverting to for licensing, but there's lots of good in the Broadway version as well. The performances, particularly, are top notch. Marsha Waterbury, Jodi Benson, Anne-Marie Bobby... all worth seeing.

    Of course I assume they have "Beauty and the Beast" and "Little Mermaid" too, though I've never gone to watch those. Ditto the Broadway "Little Shop of Horrors."
  • ^ I surprisingly find a lot of people don't care about film editing when it comes to shows. A lot of people are satisfied with awful bootleg quality from a handheld camera taped in the audience, after all. The archives can't be worse than a lot of the stuff that gets leaked to YouTube, regardless of the angles it's shot in.
    It's not exactly easy for everyone to just go see them at the Lincoln Center Library. If I lived anywhere near New York I'd be seeing shows in theatres because it would be an option. (Honestly, because of the earlier mentioned reasons, I'm actually slightly surprised more shows don't leak online from these recordings. Not that I'm advocating for that or anything, I'm just surprised.)

    I'm sad that more shows aren't recorded for home video releases after their initial run has finished. Not everything will be made into a movie, and it kind of makes me sad that I'll never be able to see certain shows in any shape or form because I live over 3500 miles away. Though I guess they feel it might hurt the chances of a national tour or revival.

    Personally, I think the audio drama idea is really cool. I don't see how that would hurt the chances of anyone SEEING the show. It's not like Phantom and Les Miserables has gotten less popular because of the movies. People know the plot and what happens already, but they still want to see the SHOW. Different mediums. But what do I know.
  • Actually, I remember that they released "Cats" on DVD some time back (I've watched it twice). However, I would really like it if the original "Little Shop" stage show, as well as "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater", and the Disney Theatrical Group's shows (particularly "Aida", "Beauty and the Beast", and "Tarzan") were released, as well.
  • "I surprisingly find a lot of people don't care about film editing when it comes to shows. A lot of people are satisfied with awful bootleg quality from a handheld camera taped in the audience, after all. The archives can't be worse than a lot of the stuff that gets leaked to YouTube, regardless of the angles it's shot in."

    For a theatre fan, yes. Unfortunately, that's a much smaller demographic than we inside of it realize. Not large enough to make many releases like these worth it for someone to finance. As it is, few of the ones we get end up making any money. The national tour taping of "Sweeney Todd" was out of print for most of my childhood before finally making a DVD appearance, and even THAT is out of print now. I recently learned that the taping of "Elaine Stritch: At Liberty" is out of print as well. That should be telling as to the sales on titles like that, and both are top notch pieces of literature and performance. When more things begin to be offered digitally, that will take away the cost of producing physical copies, but not of securing the rights and preparing the material for release.

    Le sigh. Get kids interested in the theatre, folks!
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