Multi-Tony-Award-winning producers and married couple Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley are no strangers to pumping out world-class entertainment. Together they’ve been involved in producing dozens of Broadway shows, including, most recently, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, On Your Feet!, and the revival of Sunset Boulevard. A couple years ago, Lane and Comley decided to take their producing skills a step further with the birth of BroadwayHD, a streaming service where subscribers can view Broadway, West End, and regional plays and musicals at their leisure. NY1 entertainment reporter Frank DiLella recently caught up with the couple to talk about bringing the best of theater to the masses in digital form.
Why create BroadwayHD?
BONNIE COMLEY: Stew and I have been involved in filming Broadway shows for years. Stew’s first one was The Will Rogers Follies back in 1991. That was filmed and shown for pay-per-view in Japan. Japan Satellite Broadcast was a producer of the musical for the purpose of doing a pay-per-view in Japan. And part of that was that it wasn’t going to tour — it wasn’t going to Japan — and there was no fear of cannibalizing the tickets for the Broadway show because it was never going to be broadcast in the U.S. Then we did Legally Blonde: The Musical for MTV, and we did a Grease reality show, where we discovered Laura Osnes.
STEWART F. LANE: Over the years, the technology has evolved from watching shows on PBS, to pay-per-view, to now streaming.
BC: And over the past couple years we looked at each other and we’re like, “What’s the business here?” And we thought, “It’s a streaming service!”
SFL: And also, culturally, things started to change. Live theater has become more popular — shows like Smash and America’s Got Talent. And Pitch Perfect 1, 2, and 3 and La La Land: Musicals are coming back. And live theater is more popular than ever.
Talk about the evolution of BroadwayHD.
BC: When we put together the website, BroadwayHD.com, we had only worked on about 10 shows. But we needed more shows for content, so we thought when we get 100 shows, let’s put it up there as a streaming platform. So two years ago, we launched with 110 shows, and now we’re up to just about 200 full-length stage plays and musicals. We started aggregating all this content into one place. So we made it a destination for stage-to-screen pieces.
What’s the mission of BroadwayHD?
BC: It’s to make theater available to everyone. We’re bringing down the barriers of economics, geography, or any sort of physical limitation. We just were able to caption our entire catalog. It’s also for people who’ve aged out — a lot of people are becoming disabled as they get older — so their hearing is impaired, and so they don’t go to the theatre anymore because they have trouble. So out of a demand for it, people were writing to us. So we’ve had a bunch of organizations write to us saying, “Your show catalog is amazing!”
SFL: When we live-streamed the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of She Loves Me, we were streaming to more than 84 countries — and that was in a one-time shoot!
How does BroadwayHD work?
BC: It’s a subscription service. You can sign up for a month [$8.99] or a year [$99.99].
What’s your proudest achievement to date with producing and hosting content on BroadwayHD?
BC: I think we’re a gateway to the live theater experience. We’re not trying to replace the live experience; we’re trying to bring it to people who haven’t seen it or don’t have an opportunity to see it. We believe people who see this digital capture of a show, they’ll want to go see live theater — and that’s our goal.
SFL: From my point of view, I’m excited for this new frontier that’s opened up, with the endless possibilities to explore. It’s almost like what television must have been like in the early days. We’re not regulated, we’re experimenting, and new audiences are discovering us.
What do you say to the folks who are against digital streaming of Broadway shows?
BC: It’s not the same experience. It’s like watching a football game in a stadium compared to being at home. They’re two totally different experiences.
Who’s your core audience?
BC: It’s kind of everybody — which is shocking! We thought our audience was going to be the same as the Broadway demographic, which is the 45-plus female who’s better educated — and they’re there — but there’s this whole other younger segment of the population that’s there, and they just keep signing up.
What’s next for BroadwayHD?
BC: I think we’re going to have the subscription numbers so that we can live-stream something at the beginning of a show, and then we’ll be able to prove that this is an additive — not something that will take away from the Broadway experience.
SFL: We appeal a lot to the 18–24 age group — the theater fans who are growing into the market. And I think that’s where we’re a big step ahead!
If you could pick a dream project to film for BroadwayHD, what would it be?
BC: [Laughs.] We would say the same thing: Hamilton.
SFL: If we can shoot an opening night of a show, it will be the greatest marketing tool ever!