A common lament in the New York theater world is that the business has become increasing Hollywood-ized. Especially on Broadway, the prevailing trend for some time has been toward spectacles with big name stars (often from the film world) and elaborate feats of technical theater, both of which may or may not spell success—witness the not-so-stellar reception afforded 2010’s The Addams Family or last year’s spectacular hit/failure Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark.
Yet the trend in fact shows some sign of reversing itself. Earlier this week, two New York media companies, Broadway Worldwide and Supervision Media, signed a multi-year agreement to take four Broadway musicals on the road. These four shows, though, instead of going on the usual international tours, are taking a different trip: they’re coming to movie theaters.
If movie theaters can digitally screen filmed opera, why not filmed theater? Supervision Media is releasing the four filmed musicals under the brand “Direct from Broadway.” Its partner, Broadway Worldwide, is an industry leader in the production and distribution of filmed live entertainment—earlier this year, it brought a filmed version of Memphis, a 2010 musical co-written by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan about Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips, to the U.S. and Canada.
Supervision and Broadway Worldwide’s new venture is less North America-focused: Memphis will open in the UK and Ireland in late November, with distribution in Europe, South Africa and Hong Kong by the end of the year and a further expansion in 2012. The other three “Direct from Broadway” shows will launch in Europe in 2012, then expand globally.
Memphis is certainly the feather in the series’ cap. It won four Tony Awards in 2010, including Best Musical and Best Original Score, and continues to be a crowd favorite. Supervision’s other three shows are Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical (which earned a tepid response when it opened in 1997), Putting It Together, a musical review of the work of legendary composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and Smokey Joe’s Cafe, another revue from the mid-1990s.
Still, the two companies may be on to something. This year’s smash success on Broadway has been Book of Mormon, a Tony-winning satire from the Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of South Park (TOH’s interview is here). Any distributor would kill to bring that to multiplexes across America. But smash shows are more likely to hit the road–take Wicked, which is milking its global theatrical potential before Universal green-lights a filmed movie version) for all the dollars they can muster before hitting your local cinema with a big-budget movie version. (Parker and Stone deny a film version of Book of Mormon is in the works.) Less commercial shows will be the ones to get the filmed-for-your-local-cinema treatment. Perhaps it won’t be too long until we buy popcorn before seeing a Broadway show.