Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 16 2020 01:00PM

Last week’s online premiere of a new musical version of Pride and Prejudice, streamed for free by Streaming Musicals, drew a more than respectable audience: 160,000 viewers from fourteen countries, according to Variety.


Compared to the audience for a new theatrical production, P&P’s viewership numbers are staggering: Broadway theaters seat between five hundred and nineteen hundred people. Compared to the audience for network TV, not so much: The most popular show (NCIS) is averaging nearly twelve million viewers a week and even the least popular (Dynasty) is still pulling in more than 360,000.


The goal of Streaming Musicals, however, is not to compete with TV but to broaden access to theater, and in that context, Friday’s numbers look pretty good. Viewers got to see a live-on-tape performance filmed in front of an audience last year, during P&P’s run at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, CA. The show is the brainchild of Tony-nominated composer Paul Gordon, who wrote the book, the music, and the lyrics.


After sitting through Friday’s airing, I must admit that I’m not a big fan of this P&P, which sold many tickets but got mixed reviews during its original theatrical run. I'm a purist, though: My hackles were up from the moment that Elizabeth Bennet strolled onto the stage, spoke the novel's famous opening line, and changed one of the words.


If you missed the online premiere but would like to judge for yourself, you can still catch the performance, albeit no longer for free: It’s available to buy ($19.99) or rent ($4.99), as is Gordon’s earlier musical version of Emma.


By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 4 2018 01:00PM

Musical theater is an expensive art form, and fans on a budget – or those who live far from the major cities where original productions flourish and touring companies visit – may get few opportunities to experience their passion.


Enter Streaming Musicals, a new experiment in making live musical theater affordable and accessible for audiences, and remunerative for the artists involved. Professional productions are staged and filmed live, but without an audience, in a theater or on a soundstage; then the show is made available via the internet for rental or purchase. Everyone involved shares in the profits from this hybrid of the live and the recorded, with the income stream continuing as long as internet viewers are willing to pay.


And there’s an Austen connection! Streaming Musicals launched last night by offering a musical version of Emma, adapted by Tony-nominated composer Paul Gordon and staged and filmed earlier this year in New York. Viewers pay $7.99 to rent the two-hour film, or $19.99 to buy it.


At least four previous musical versions of Emma exist, and although some of the publicity touts the Streaming Musicals show as “new,” Gordon’s Emma is in fact one of the four: It was first produced in 2006-7, winning excellent reviews for several regional productions.


Judging from photos, however, the older productions were traditional period pieces, whereas the new version updates the setting and costumes to the mid-twentieth century. Whether this choice is bold or foolhardy remains to be seen: It’s sometimes tricky to make Austen’s stories work in modern contexts, as legions of fanfic writers have learned to their – or our -- cost.


I haven’t had a chance to watch yet, but the musical snippets available online seem charming. And it’s hard not to root for a venture that hopes to give more people access to both live theater and Jane Austen.


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