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Broadway's Closed, But TV's All In On The Great White Way

Television has made Broadway more accessible than ever in quarantine.
  • Ben Platt Live From Radio City Music Hall debuts on Netflix today. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Netflix)
    Ben Platt Live From Radio City Music Hall debuts on Netflix today. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Netflix)

    Broadway fans will be well-fed today. Not only is Tony-winning Dear Evan Hansen star Ben Platt's Live From Radio City Music Hall special hitting Netflix, but The Actors Fund and People magazine are also streaming the 2015 Bombshell in Concert benefit show. That concert, held in New York City and reuniting the cast of NBC's musical drama Smash, has never been publicly available before — and tickets for those who could physically attend back then were quite pricey.

    If you're a theatre nerd, this double-header of Broadway content available at home is thrilling — but it's also increasingly becoming the norm in this age of social isolation. From a star-studded (and technical glitch-riddled) concert for Stephen Sondheim's 90th birthday to Andrew Lloyd Webber shows streaming on YouTube, the last two months have seen an explosion of Broadway-related programming. Nearly every network or creator has tried something like this: The two Disney Singalong specials on ABC have brought together musical theatre stars from all corners of the Broadway world, Seth Rudetsky's Stars in the House series on YouTube has drawn millions of views for its virtual reunions of the casts of broadway (and television) shows, and very early on in quarantine, Rosie O'Donnell revived The Rosie O'Donnell Show for a one night only livestream.

    What's most impressive about all of these events is just how accessible they've been. While several have been benefits designed to raise money for relief efforts, almost all have been available for free. Even those with some barrier to entry are pretty low: Platt's special, for example, requires a Netflix subscription.

    Meanwhile, a subscription to Disney+ will grant Broadway fans access to the fast-tracked premiere of Disney's Hamilton recording, which will premiere on the service on July 3rd. The recording, which features the original Broadway cast and was originally set for theatrical release in October of 2021, makes a show that has been notoriously inaccessible since its debut in New York City — due to high demand and high ticket prices — broadly available.

    Broadway itself has been tremendously hobbled by the coronavirus pandemic, and will not feasibly be able to return to normalcy after the pandemic ends. The same day that the Hamilton early premiere and Smash concert stream were announced, the Broadway League confirmed that the theatre district will remain closed until at least September. There's no easy path forward.

    But if anything, the accessibility of Broadway talent during the pandemic has provided hope: There is still tremendous interest and investment in theatre. The audience is there, it's just a matter of finding new ways to reach them. "Broadway" doesn't just refer to the district of theaters, after all — it refers to the art of theatre, the people and the energy that fuel it. Quarantine is proving theatre can live anywhere. 

    Ben Platt Live From Radio City Music Hall drops on Netflix today. 

    Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles. Follow his musings and rantings on Twitter @kevinpokeeffe.

    TOPICS: Ben Platt Live From Radio City Music Hall, Disney+, Netflix, Ben Platt, Rosie O'Donnell, Seth Rudetsky, Hamilton