18 Must-Watch Documentaries for Broadway Musical Fans

Lists   18 Must-Watch Documentaries for Broadway Musical Fans
 
These essential documentaries capture some of the most fascinating and legendary entertainers, writers, and musicals in Broadway history.
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This list has been updated as of March 24, 2020.

Broadway’s beloved characters, its iconic stars, and groundbreaking productions have fascinated theatregoers and documentary filmmakers alike.

Here’s an updated list of 18 documentaries that capture some of musical theatre’s most compelling documentaries and where you can stream them online, or rent them on DVD. Of course, streaming services continue to update their catalogs, so keep an eye out.

EVERY ACT OF LIFE

An in-depth look at the life and career of groundbreaking playwright Terrence McNally, who wrote everything from comedies about contemporary gay life to musicals about long-lost Russian royalty. Those interviewed include Christine Baranski, F. Murray Abraham, and Angela Lansbury.
Available on: Amazon Prime

HAMILTON’S AMERICA

The 2016 documentary film delves deep into the creation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical phenomenon Hamilton. We follow Miranda through his writing process, and journey with the cast and creators of the downtown musical at the Public Theater just before it takes Broadway by storm in summer 2015. Filmmaker Alex Horwitz utilizes stunning video from the Broadway production that captures extensive musical sequences from show’s irreplaceable original cast. (74 minutes)
Available on: Previously available on PBS Passport, we’ll be on alert for its next streaming destination, but it makes this list to keep on your radar

NOTE: Amazon Prime includes Hamilton: One Shot to Broadway in its streaming repertoire. Note that this is not the same as Hamilton’s America. The documentary by Elio España is self-billed as “unauthorized.” Nevertheless, Hamilfans looking for everything to do with Miranda and the Founding Father may want to devour all they can.


BEST WORST THING THAT EVER COULD HAVE HAPPENED

Original cast member Lonny Price directs this fascinating and bittersweet documentary about the short-lived 1981 Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical Merrily We Roll Along. Price splices never-before-seen rehearsal footage alongside interviews with Sondheim, director Harold Prince, and original cast members including Jason Alexander, Tonya Pinkins, Jim Walton, Ann Morrison, and more. (96 minutes)
Available on: iTunes, Netflix, and Vudu


CAROL CHANNING: LARGER THAN LIFE

A fitting tribute to a beloved Broadway legend, filmmaker and Broadway producer Dori Berinstein (The Prom, Legally Blonde The Musical) directs this chronicle of the life, loves, and historic career of Tony winner Carol Channing in this 2012 film. From her San Francisco childhood, to her 1941 Broadway debut (at age 20) and her iconic performance in Hello, Dolly!, Channing recounts the highs and lows of a life spent on the stage. Channing opens up about her personal life, including her four marriages and her relationship with her son. Showbiz groundbreakers, including Lily Tomlin, Chita Rivera, Debbie Reynolds, Phyllis Diller and more, offer heartfelt tributes celebrating Channing’s singular talent. (88 minutes)
Available on: Dramatic Forces, iTunes, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play


ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: COMPANY

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Packed with drama, D. A. Pennebaker’s documentary goes inside the recording studio for the original Broadway cast album of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s groundbreaking 1970 musical Company. Recorded (and filmed) over a breakneck 24-hour period, the behind-the-scenes account of the album’s creation is the stuff of Broadway legend. Sondheim and director Harold Prince provide illuminating insight, and performances by Dean Jones’ (“Being Alive”) and Elaine Stritch, who comes to a standstill during a frazzled late-night recording of “Ladies Who Lunch,” will leave you speechless. (58 minutes)
Available on: The Criterion Channel

NOTE: Not a true documentary, but a documentary-style parody, Documentary Now! spoofed Original Cast Album: Company with Episode 3 Season 3, Original Cast Album: Co-Op. From John Mulaney and Seth Meyers, the episode features Mulaney as the Sondheim-esque songwriter Simon Stephens with Taran Killam (Hamilton, Saturday Night Live) as producer Benedict Juniper. Broadway stars Renee Elise Goldsberry, Alex Brightman, Richard Kind, Paula Pell, stand out in numbers like “Holiday Party (I Did a Little Cocaine Tonight)” and “Going Up.” And in addition to the doc, Cirterion Channel also has a recent, virtual conversation with the "Co-Op" performers.
Available on: Netflix, Amazon Prime, IFC.com

THE HEAT IS ON: THE MAKING OF MISS SAIGON

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This 1988 documentary captures the creation, casting and original rehearsals for the London premiere of the Alain Boublil-Claude-Michel Schönberg musical based on Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. The film’s most compelling moments come during the casting process, which involved a global search to find the ideal “Kim” that culminates in Lea Salonga’s break-out audition for the role. (75 minutes).
Available on: Limited copies available for purchase through Amazon

THE HEAT IS BACK ON: THE REMAKING OF MISS SAIGON

Just as filmmakers documented the creation of the 1991 original, a crew captured the making of the 2017 revival. Original producer Cameron Mackintosh and director Laurence Connor reignite the musical for its West End and eventual Broadway revival. The documentary tracks the process of casting 40 actors from 18 different countries, to the reinvention of the staging, including the famous helicopter scene, from rehearsals to the star-studded opening night. Featuring interviews with Mackintosh, authors Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg and many of the award-winning cast and creative team, including Eva Noblezada and Jon Jon Briones, this is one of the most revealing documentaries ever made about how a major musical production comes to life.
Available on: Amazon Prime

ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME

“It's a little frightening for people to get into your life that much, but I don’t have anything to hide,” the late Elaine Stritch told Playbill during the filming. “There’s no point in doing a documentary unless you absolutely deliver the 100 percent truth.” Filmmaker Chiemi Karasawa began shooting the documentary in 2011, three years before Stritch’s death. The film is classic Stritch: unflinchingly candid, shrewdly funny, deeply moving and flecked with tension. Karasawa delivers a gripping film that captures a Broadway lion still capable of roaring in the final years of her life. (81 minutes)
Available on: Amazon Prime

SHOW BUSINESS: THE ROAD TO BROADWAY

The destiny of four Broadway musicals from the 2003–2004 season are captured in another must-watch 2007 documentary from Dori Berinstein. The movie offers a rare behind-the-scenes view of a show’s creative process—from casting to opening night. Critics, creatives, and Broadway’s biggest movers and shakers are the key players in this documentary that focuses on Wicked, Taboo, Avenue Q, and Caroline, or Change. (103 minutes)
Available on: Dramatic Forces, Amazon Prime

BROADWAY - THE GOLDEN AGE, BY THE LEGENDS WHO WERE THERE

While the PBS documentary may come in at six-hours, this invaluable and nostalgic film about Broadway from the 1940s through the 1960s offers archival and personal footage—including rare clips of Ethel Merman in Gypsy, Angela Lansbury in Mame—alongside interviews with John Raitt, Angela Lansbury, Hume Cronyn, Carol Channing, Jerry Orbach, Robert Goulet, Jerry Herman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and more. (111 minutes).
Available on: Amazon DVD

SIX BY SONDHEIM

Stephen Sondheim’s frequent collaborator, James Lapine, directed this 2013 HBO documentary exploring the composer-lyricist’s prolific career. Lapine executive-produced the film with Frank Rich. Sondheim offers a glimpse into the creation of such songs as West Side Story’s “Something's Coming,” Merrily We Roll Along’s “Opening Doors,” A Little Night Music’s “Send in the Clowns,” Follies’ “I’m Still Here,” Company’s “Being Alive” and Sunday in the Park With George’s “Sunday.” The documentary is punctuated with a series of musical performances from stars including Audra McDonald, Darren Criss, Jeremy Jordan, America Ferrera, and more. (86 minutes)
Available on: HBO, YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, Amazon Prime


LIFE AFTER TOMORROW

This 2006 documentary includes interviews with over 40 women who played orphans during the original 1977–1983 Broadway run of Annie. The challenges and joys of being a child star, and returning to a “normal” childhood after they grew out of their roles, are explored as these Annie vets take a look back. Noticeably missing from the film is original star Andrea McArdle, but the film does include interviews with writers Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse as they prepare to bring the production back in 1997. (72 minutes)
Available on: YouTube, Amazon Prime, and Google Play


EVERY LITTLE STEP

This backstage look at the 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line goes meta in documenting the hopes and dreams of the latest round of dancers auditioning for a spot on the line to play dancers auditioning for a spot on the line. Directed and produced by James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo, along with executive producer John Breglio (who controls rights to the landmark musical), Every Little Step provides an intimate look at the rigors of the audition process, and the highs and lows that come with it. The 2008 doc also explores the late Michael Bennett’s creation of the original production. The documentary includes testimonials from A Chorus Line's initial workshop tapes, which feature the voices of the original 1975 cast members. (93 minutes)
Available on: Amazon Prime, Vudu, Google Play, YouTube

FOLLIES IN CONCERT

This documentary of the legendary all-star 1985 New York Philharmonic concert presentation of the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical Follies includes interviews and rehearsal footage, as well as segments from the concert that starred Barbara Cook, Mandy Patinkin, George Hearn, Lee Remick, Elaine Stritch, Carol Burrnett, and more. (90 minutes).
Available on: Amazon, though not currently streaming. Bookmark this link and feel free to check back. Also available for purchase on Amazon DVD.


BROADWAY THE AMERICAN MUSICAL

Julie Andrews narrates this ambitious, six-part, six-hour PBS documentary that explores 100 years of musical theatre history from vaudeville and operetta through Show Boat, Oklahoma!, West Side Story, Company, Cats, and Wicked. Highlights from numerous original performances are featured throughout. An additional four hours of bonus material is featured, including Sondheim performing “Someone in a Tree,” interviews with Rent’s Jonathan Larson, the 12-minute “bench scene” from Carousel, and a behind-the-scenes look at Wicked. (360 minutes).
Available on: DVD box set for purchase on Amazon


HAROLD PRINCE: THE DIRECTOR'S LIFE

Originally aired as part of PBS’ Great Performances series, the 2018 documentary predated the 21-time Tony Award-winning producer and director’s death in the summer of 2019. Over six decades on Broadway, Prince shepherded such shows as The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, West Side Story, Fiorello!, She Loves Me, Cabaret, Company, Follies, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, A Little Night Music, Candide, Fiddler on the Roof, Sweeney Todd, and Parade. Prince made an unprecedented mark on theatre—one unlikely to be replicated. The documentary features testimony from Prince himself, as well as collaborators Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Mandy Patinkin, John Kander, Susan Stroman, and Angela Lansbury.
Available on: PBS Passport


BATHTUBS OVER BROADWAY

Winner of the Best New Documentary Director at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, Steve Young was a comedy writer for The Late Show With David Letterman when he stumbled upon vintage cast albums—only they weren’t from any musical he’d ever heard of. Young takes a deep dive into the world of industrial musicals of the 1950s to the 1970s written for brands like General Electric and McDonald’s. Directed by Dava Whisenant, the doc won Best Documentary Screenplay at the 2019 Writers Guild Awards and features David Letterman, Martin Short, Jello Biafra, Chita Rivera, Don Bolles, and more.
Available on: Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, Netflix


FIDDLER: A MIRACLE OF MIRACLES

In the new documentary Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles, filmmakers Max Lewkowicz and Valerie Thomas explore how Fiddler grew into a global intergenerational phenomenon—a musical that, since its debut in 1964, has played every single day somewhere in the world. In interviews, producer Harold Prince shares why he hired Jerome Robbins to direct; composer Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick reveal how they wrote their infamous score—including clips of private demos. Cast members from productions of the years (such as Danny Burstein and Alexandra Silber), directors of productions (such as Bartlett Sher and Joel Grey), and stars from the film (such as Chaim Topol) all speak to the impact of the timeless musical.
Available on: Vudu, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play

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