Below are half a dozen shows launching on Netflix (and one on HBO) in the weeks before the end of 2020 that theater lovers are likely to love — and not just “The Prom” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” This list is followed by more than a dozen Broadway shows on film that are still available on Netflix or HBO Max.
The story of the Royal Family of Great Brtain focuses this season on Margaret Thatcher and the courtship and trouble marriage between Prince Charles and Diana Spencer
What makes this for theater lovers: Episode 9 has two different musical numbers, one of them from Phantom of the Opera, under particular circumstances that I will not spoil.
Between The World and Me
Launches: November 21 on HBO and HBO Max
A starry reading of excerpts from Ta-Nehisi Coates best-selling book framed as a letter to his son about the way Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of Black women and men
What makes this for theater lovers: It was originally a staged reading at the Apollo Theater, although now the performers are filmed mostly in their homes. The film’s director is Kamilah Forbes, the executive producer of the Apollo Theater.
Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker
Launches November 27
The work of Debbie Allen and her reimagining of the classic ballet performed annually by the gifted students of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA)
What makes this for theater lovers: Debbie Allen is an eight-time Broadway veteran as a performer, choreographer and director. You can bet that some of the students we see will wind up on Broadway.
Launches: December 4
1930s Hollywood is re-evaluated through the eyes of scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane for Orson Welles.
What makes this for theater lovers: Orson Welles was a seminal figure in theater as well as film
Launches: December 11
The film follows the emotional journey of six students as they advance through the high-stakes August Wilson Monologue Competition
What makes this for theater lovers: It’s August Wilson (see also Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on December 18)
Launches: December 11
A troupe of self-obsessed theater stars swarm into a small conservative Indiana town in support of a high school girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom.
What makes this for theater lovers: It was a musical on Broadway (with a different cast) My review of the Broadway musical
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Launches: December 18
Chicago, 1927. A recording session. Tensions rise between Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), and her ambitious horn player (the late Chadwick Boseman in his final role.) The white management is determined to control the legendary “Mother of the Blues.”
What makes this for theater lovers: The 1982 Broadway play by August Wilson is part of his ten-play Pittsburgh Cycle. Nearly everybody involved is a Tony winning Broadway veteran. George C. Wolfe directs, the adaptation is written by Ruben Santiago Hudson, the film is produced by Denzel Washington, who hopes eventually to film all of Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle (he’s already done Fences). My review of Ma Rainey
Homeschool Musical Class of 2020
Launched December 17 on HBO Max
Broadway performer Laura Benanti — “tired, freaked-out, unshowered” — posted a video on social media suggesting that high school seniors whose shows were being canceled because of the pandemic could share a video with her of their performing, using the hashtag #SunshineSongs.
“I thought I’d get 20-25 responses.”
She got thousands.
She has now produced a documentary in which she focuses on seven of the teenagers.
Film adaptations of Broadway shows currently on Netflix
Fiddler on the Roof
The 1971 film starring Chaim Topol of the beloved musical about a poor milkman and his three daughters in a 19th century shtetl, with music composed by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and a screenplay by Joseph Stein based on stories by Sholem Aleichem.
West Side Story
The 1961 film adapts the 1957 Broadway musical, that in turn adapted Romeo and Juliet for the gritty streets of Manhattan’s West Side
Film adaptations currently on HBO Max
Recordings of Broadway shows on Netflix
These films were direct (if often artful) recordings of the performances on the Broadway stage.
Oh Hello on Broadway
The 2017 recording of the 2016 Broadway sort of play, in which Gil Faizon (Nick Kroll) and George St Geegland (John Mulaney), are two delusional geriatrics who reveal curious pasts, share a love of tuna and welcome a surprise guest.
Shrek The Musical
A 2013 recording of the Broadway musical about “the greatest fairy tale never told” based on the 2001 DreamWorks animated film.