If you’ve ever wondered what the Annie orphans are doing now, or how hard it was to stage the boat scenes in Phantom of the Opera, then here are some great musical documentaries to spend a Sunday afternoon with. While getting to relive the onstage magic, you can also be informed of the drama behind the scenes that went on to make numerous careers, as well as theatre history.
Broadway the American Musical
This is a dazzling and enjoyable six part series that follows the evolution of musical theatre from Ziegfeld’s Follies, right through to the most popular musicals of the early 2000s. Hosted by the luminous Julie Andrews, and featuring star studded clips and anecdotes from Broadway’s best, this show will give you a complete history of the Great White Way. Featuring: Bernadette Peters, Ben Vereen, Elaine Stritch, Audra McDonald, Harvey Fierstein, Barbra Streisand, Nathan Lane and many, many more.
Broadway or Bust
Filmed in 2012, this 3-part series is about sixty high school students who travel to NYC, put on a show and compete against each other for $10,000 and the coveted ‘Jimmy’ award. They are coached for 5 days by musical theatre professionals (including Liz Callaway) and get to perform on a Broadway stage to a full house. Notable past recipients of the Jimmy award include Eva Noblezada, who won the part of Kim in ‘Miss Saigon’ after being noticed at the Jimmy’s by a casting director. It is incredibly hard not to get swept away by the passion and enthusiasm of these young theatre hopefuls, in a competition that will inevitably see some bitterly disappointed before the winners are crowned.
Life After Tomorrow
Life After Tomorrow chronicles the experience of the young girls (now middle aged women) who played Annie and the orphans in the original Broadway cast, the revival and the national tour. It provides a fascinating glimpse into the phrase ‘never work with children or animals’ (sorry, Sandy…) Full of heartbreaking personal stories about a life changing experience, most of the women still remember the choreography to ‘Fully Dressed’. Life After Tomorrow premièred in 2006 where it won Best Documentary and Best Director at the Phoenix Film Festival.
Every Little Step
Every Little Step will pluck at the heartstrings of any theatre fanatic. It is a documentary (and emotional rollercoaster) about the auditions for the 2008 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. This makes it something of an A Chorus Line inception, if you will. The stakes are high for many of the auditionees, many of whom have been unemployed for a long time and have dreamed their whole lives of being in the show. Baayork Lee choreographs the revival, and you see her cast ‘Connie Wong’, a part based largely on her own life. The Documentary also presents behind the scenes footage from the original production by Michael Bennett and Marvin Hamlisch.
Broadway Idiot is the hilariously titled 2013 documentary about Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ album’s journey from Madison Square Garden to Broadway. The filming grants unusual insight into the rehearsal of a Broadway show, as Billie Joe Armstrong attempts to bridge the rickety divide between punk rock and musical theatre and succeeds to great acclaim.
Behind the Mask
‘So how did a show about a man obsessed with a beautiful young singer, written by a man obsessed with a beautiful young singer become the biggest blockbuster in theatre history?’, find out with this must-see for any self-respecting Phantom of the Opera Phan. This documentary includes the awkward firing of Hal Prince and a number of early ‘phantoms’, the conductor fearing the collapsing chandelier, the understudy having to step up during previews, media reactions to the love affair that started it all, and never before seen footage from the earliest workshop; this all makes for phantastic viewing.
Six by Sondheim
Part greatest hits compilation, part biography, this is a wonderfully done overview of Sondheim’s career, with the likes of Jeremy Jordan, Laura Osnes, America Ferrara and even Sondheim himself performing six of his most beloved songs. This vibrant documentary is directed and produced by Sondheim’s long-time collaborator, James Lapine.
The Making of West Side Story
What happens when you have Bernstein directing the stars of the 70s opera scene in a new recording of West Side Story? Chaos, that’s what! The genius of Bernstein is shown in action as he conducts this recording. Highlights include a sheepish Jose Carerras getting told off for his thick accent (that’s what you get for casting a Spanish tenor as Tony). This doco will make any aspiring young singer feel a bit better, seeing that even the greats can have a frustrating time getting it right.
Filmed in 3 instalments, 1974, 1976 and 1994, this is a complete (if not sugar coated) history of the greatest movie musical factory ever assembled: MGM. With interviews and insights from an aging crowd of bona fide legends, Gene Kelly, Mickey Rooney, Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor, Howard Keel, Lena Horne, and many more, each instalment shows glittering number after lavish number. The DVD edition contains the first theatrical release of several outstanding forgotten musical numbers, such as ‘Mr Monotony’, about which Mickey Rooney describes as Judy Garland at the height of her career, despite it being cut form ‘Easter Parade’.
In the third film, Lena Horne describes her disappointment of not being cast in ‘Show Boat’, ironically due to the fact that she was African American. Censors of the time would not allow an interracial romance on screen, however her performance of ‘Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man’ can be seen here, from the 1946 movie, ‘Till the Clouds roll by’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Omb2kItC-JY,
That’s Entertainment! is not available on youtube, however That’s Entertainment! 3: Behind the Screen is; it is a half hour featurette on the making of.
In The Heights – Chasing Broadway Dreams
Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of In the Heights share stories about their own lives, which draw parallels to the show, especially for Miranda who not only wrote, but starred in In The Heights. The stakes are high for this group of talented new comers who are aware of just how risky the original production is – however that risk translates into something new and exciting on stage, ultimately scooping up 4 Tony Awards.
The Making of Miss Saigon
Notwithstanding a seedy opening (what would you expect from Miss Saigon? ) this documentary shows the exhausting search for a girl to play ‘Kim’ and the numerous rounds of auditions to choose between Lea Salonga and her childhood friend from the Philippines, Monique Wilson. The Making of Miss Saigon provides an interesting picture of the different roles that the producer, director and creators play in getting a show realised. Prolific West End producer, and personal hero of mine, Cameron Macintosh, conveniently disappears when the rehearsal process begins and reappears to collect the dollars on opening night.