BroadwayHD brings Broadway into your living room

Netflix led the way in the digital streaming revolution. Bringing films and TV into the living rooms of millions of viewers allowed for that instant gratification of being able to see content on demand. Hulu followed, bringing new TV shows to viewers who missed the original broadcast of them. Prime tied in the powerful online retail giant, Amazon, to enter the entertainment world and proved that it is a force to be reckoned with. These entities have provided awesome entertainment, but there was one area that was being underserved. Live theatrical productions. There were those who said that live theatre should stay on the stage, but if you are unable to attend a live show due to the rising costs of tickets, difficulty traveling to a major urban theatre town, or you just didn’t have the time to take a trip, you were not able to witness the magic of live theatre.

“We have been trying to expand to new audiences for years,” says Stewart Lane, one of the co-founders of BroadwayHD, an online streaming service that delivers live Broadway productions to audiences in their own living rooms. “We had this idea to stream shows online, but the technology just hadn’t been able to catch up.”

Lane and his wife Bonnie Comley, two longtime Broadway producers, have spearheaded this effort to bring live theatre to other medias, with the goal of filling the appetite of hungry theatre lovers who might not be able to travel to New York to see a Broadway show.

“Currently the demographics for live Broadway shows are those who are 45 years old or older, but on BroadwayHD, we are able to captivate the 18 years and older age group,” says Lane.

Before BroadwayHD, there was only a few options outside of going to New York City to see a Broadway show. “There was PBS, that showed a few productions here and there, and there were DVD’s that could be purchased, and there was pay-per-view, but we are able to reach so many more people, who might actually want to buy a ticket to see a live show down the road. It is a digital gateway,” says Lane.

The Broadway Leauge, the organization that represents producers, theatre owners and operators, has been tracking demographics for years. In the 2018-2019 season, Broadway experienced the greatest season ever, selling 14 Million tickets, and bringing in just under two-billion dollars, with sixty percent of all tickets being purchased by people coming in to visit New York. It is safe to say, that Broadway is a viable industry.

“Broadway content is luxury content,” says Lane, “BroadwayHD is able to open it up to the rest of the world.”

By creating a streaming service of content, one needs to acquire the content to deliver to the consumer. “We started having to figure out how we could get content,” says Comley, “we were filming shows over the years and we had 10 of them ready, we needed to make our service the destination for Broadway streaming, so we had to figure it out.”

Comley says that BroadwayHD works with many producers in securing the rights to their productions, writing up the proper contracts to stream the shows, and works diligently to grab the content that will be exciting to the audiences. “We are happy that just over 4 years into our service, we have over 300 titles available,” says Comley. Luckily, many producers see the value in this operation.

It should be said that BroadwayHD is not just a platform for shows that are filmed with one camera in the back of the auditorium while the show is happening, true production quality is put forward. “At Lincoln Center there are digital archives of performances that were originally intended for educational use,” says Comley, “they were stripped down versions of shows. We didn’t want that, we wanted to give the audience the true experience. We have quality.”

Comley says that attention to detail is given to all the productions they film. “We use three to fourteen cameras in the productions, and we want to match the eye experience that you would have if you were actually sitting in the theatre.”

Lane and Comley are very proud of their newest acquisition for BroadwayHD, the UK tour of “42nd Street.” “We read about the production, and we went after it,” says Comley, “we did everything we could to track it down.”

“42nd Street” is arguably the first backstage entertainment story. Telling the tale of a young Peggy Sawyer who comes to NYC to attempt to start her career as a song and dance girl, “42nd Street revived Broadway back in the 80’s,” says Lane, “before that we didn’t even have enough shows for the ‘best musical’ category at the Tony’s.”

Lane discussed how “42nd Street” also was a big victory for America. “We were going through the British invasion on Broadway, we had ‘Cats’, and ‘Phantom’ and ‘42nd Street’ was an American created musical for families. Before Disney, there would only be one family musical a decade.”

Lane and Comley have set the bar high for themselves and for their product. “We are excited about the new material we have coming out,” says Comley, “and we know that our audiences will too.”

Two Buffalo Students give their summer to Shea’s Restoration

Jayla Baldenegro, Doris Collins, and Natalie Horner at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre.

Summer vacation. For most, it is time away from the classroom and the books and studies. It is a time for traveling, and for relaxation. For Jayla Baldenegro and Natalie Horner, they can return to class and tell their friends that they spent their summer restoring the crown jewel of the Buffalo theatre community, Shea’s Buffalo Theatre.

“These two girls cleaned statutes, repaired plaster, painted area’s around the box office, and even had the opportunity to work with joint compound,” says Doris Collins, the Restoration Consultant at Shea’s. “They even helped with some of the seven thousand square feet of stenciling around the theater.”

For those who have visited Shea’s, it is clear when you walk up to the building that there is plenty of splendor and grandeur, and in order to restore it to the way that it was when Shea’s first opened it’s doors as a movie and vaudeville house, you need committed volunteers.

“We are lucky to get volunteers like Jayla and Natalie,” says Collins, who has been heading up the restoration efforts since the project began in 2000, “we are able to give them community service hours for their efforts, and they get to be part of restoring something very special.”

So, how do you coax a pair of middle schoolers to give up their summer to help paint walls and fix damaged plaster? Apparently, all you have to do is ask. “My family knows Doris, and she asked me if I would be interested in coming to help her,” says Baldenegro. “She brought me to see “Wicked” and “The Lion King” and when I saw the theater, I thought it was beautiful. I wanted to help so that the people who come here in the future will be able to enjoy it.”

“I’m friends with Jayla, and she told me that she was going to start volunteering at Shea’s,” says Horner, “I thought that it would be something fun to do.” Horner adds that she too has come to visit Shea’s to see shows. “I think that it is important that we keep the theatre looking like it did before, so that we can all continue to enjoy it.

Baldenegro and Horner take their work seriously, and plan on checking up on what they have done and to show it off when they come to visit.

“It is wonderful that we are able to have young volunteers help with this project. It makes it all the more special,” says Collins.

You can see the restoration progress for yourself in September, when Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” comes to Buffalo to launch it’s national tour, September 21 – 29, 2018.

For more information about Shea’s, click here.

First Look: ‘Aladdin’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

Disney Theatrical Productions under the direction of Thomas Schumacher presents Aladdin, the US tour, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, book and additional lyrics by Chad Beguelin, opening night April 19 at Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago, starring: Adam Jacobs (Aladdin), Anthony Murphy (Genie), Isabelle McCalla (Jasmine), Zach Bencal (Babkak), Mike Longo (Kassim), Philippe Arroyo (Omar), Jonathan Weir (Jafar), Reggie de Leon (Iago) and JC Montgomery (Sultan) directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw

Millennials finally have disposable income, and when it comes to the nostalgia of yesteryear, we are first in line to see anything that will take us back to our childhood. The 1992 Disney film, “Aladdin” lives in nostalgia as one of those films that makes us feel good. It is funny, we remember the songs, and we love the characters. It is only fitting that one of the most successful Disney films of all time be made into a Broadway musical. A musical that will be coming to Buffalo, August 8 – 19.

When it comes to well known properties like that of Disney films, the audience has many expectations that need to be upheld. “Aladdin” is no different. “The show comes from well known source material,” says Jonathan Weir, who will be playing Jafar on the tour, “we talk about it in rehearsals that we have a certain responsibility as actors to uphold expectations and make sure that we give the audience a show that they will absolutely love.”

The National Tour of “Aladdin” is not a scaled down production, the Broadway show is literally delivered to every city it visits. “The production quality is awesome,” says Weir, “Nothing is scaled down. There are 350 costumes and tons of magic. Our audiences definitely get the quality of show that Disney is known for.”

Weir has a long history working for the House of Mouse, and was excited to get a chance to play another Disney villain. “I worked for Disney for the last 15 years, as a stand by for various tours and on Broadway. When I learned that they were casting for the National Tour of ‘Aladdin’ I walked my resume to the stage door of the New Amsterdam Theatre. It was very 1940’s of me,” laughs Weir. He was a standby for Scar and Pumba in “The Lion King.”

The North American Touring Cast of Disney’s “Aladdin.”

“Over the course of a few years, I had auditioned a few times, and I was offered the part of Jafar,” says Weir, “I was able to create the signature voice that is so well known.”

In a story that is so well known, one wonders if there are certain parameters that an actor needs to follow when working on a Disney piece. “We were encouraged to make the characters our own, and to bring our own humanity to them,” says Weir.

Weir laughs that he has been cast as two well known villains, Scar from “The Lion King” and now Jafar. “The two have certain similarities, they are both second in command, and they do whatever it takes to get power, but this also causes both of their demises. It is a joy to play the antagonist!”

Audiences are sure to enjoy this production. “This isn’t a children’s show by any means. Children love it, Millennials love it, everyone can find something to enjoy about this story. Nothing can replace the true theatre experience,” says Weir, “the power of laughter is magical, and there is a lot of magic in this show.”

“Aladdin” opens on August 8 and runs until August 19, 2018. It is performed at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

The National Comedy Center to open in Jamestown

The National Comedy Center will open in Jamestown this August.

During the 2011 Lucille Ball Comedy Festival, festival curators worked on reestablishing the festival, by trying to bring comedy back to the area. “Lucy always wanted to be remembered for her comedy,” says Steve Neilans, one of the Festival organizers, “that was her vision for Jamestown.”

Lucille Ball was a trailblazer in the comedy world, being ahead of her time, and leaving a lasting impact on, not only the entertainment industry, but on the world. “Desi and Lucy made the comedy that we see today,” says Neilans, “if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have re-runs, we wouldn’t have the three camera set up, and we wouldn’t have had “I Love Lucy.”

Lucille Ball not only revolutionized television comedy, but she was the first woman on television to be part of an interracial marriage, the first woman to be pregnant on television, and she was the first female head of a major studio. “I Love Lucy” also holds the highest Neilsen rating ever, when Lucy gave birth to Little Ricky. “Ninety-eight percent of all televisions that were turned on that night, was tuned in for that episode,” says Neilans, “that record will never be broken.”

The Lucille Ball Comedy Festival has been a staple in the Jamestown community, so it would only be fitting that The National Comedy Center be opened there. “It isn’t a comedy hall of fame,” says Neilans, “its a place where the art of comedy can be celebrated.”

This 50 Million dollar project has renovated the former Jamestown Rail Station into a 37,000 square foot attraction. “Comedy is very personal,” says Neilans, “what you think is funny and what I think is funny might be two completely different things.”

The National Comedy Center will allow visitors to customize their own comedy experience. Visitors will be asked “what do you find funny?” and after the comedy profile is established, a customizable experience will be started.

“The Center celebrates the comedy of Vaudeville all the way to the comedy of now,” says Neilans.

The Center has also been in the news as of late for acquiring the archives of George Carlin and Shelly Berman, which will be on display for visitors.

Lily Tomlin, Amy Schumer, and Dan Aykroyd.

The Center will open in August, and to celebrate, this year’s Lucille Ball Comedy Festival will be very special. Big names like Lily Tomlin, Amy Schumer, Dan Aykroyd, the original “Saturday Night Live cast members, and more are scheduled to attend. “This year we also have comedy showcases, where lesser known comics get to perform,” says Neilans, “and we have The Tropicana Room, which is a recreation of Ricky’s Manhattan Night Club. We also have comedy programming aimed for children where actors will take stories written by kids and will act them out. It is a full weekend of events. It is great for the area.”

Neil’s says that if you are interested in attending any of the events, you need to get your tickets early. “The tickets sell out quickly, so you should act fast.”

The Lucille Ball Comedy Festival takes place August 1-5, 2018 in Jamestown. For more information, click here.

Remembering Scot A. Kaitanowski

Scot A. Kaitanowski in the Lancaster Regional Players production of “Run For Your Wife.”

Before I was involved as heavily as I am in the local theatre community, I was a film student in the Television and Film Arts program at SUNY Buffalo State. I was working on a project about  two middle aged superheroes who had just lost their health insurance benefits, and who were thinking about becoming villains to regain what they had lost. I held some auditions, and that is where I met Scot. Scot delivered a headshot, he read for me, and he gave me a DVD of a production that he had been in with Rocking Horse Productions where he willingly threw himself down a set of stairs. The show was ‘Noises Off.’ He was an actor if I had ever seen one, or incredibly out of his mind, both which may be considered one in the same. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a part for Scot in the original installment of the production, but we kept in touch.

My buddy, Kyle Mecca, an up and coming filmmaker in the area, cast Scot in a film that I was helping on, and that is where I really got to know him. His sense of humor had me in stitches, and his presence was warm and welcoming. At the time “Rachel from Card Holder Services” was a frequent caller to my house and his, and we would call each other on the prop phone used on the film, giving her a backstory and setting up strange circumstances for which she would call. It was an inside joke that lasted for years, even up until the last time I saw Scot, a few weeks ago.

Years later, I finally had a role for Scot in a film project I was working on, the spin-off to the superhero comedy. I had the honor and privilege of working with him, and getting to know him more. His work ethic and professionalism was astounding, and he was always dependable. He was just a fun guy to be around.

As a theatre reviewer, I had the opportunity to review Scot’s performances a few times, and I was always impressed by his stage presence, and his ability to take a character that may be one-dimensional, and make them fun and entertaining. My two favorite roles of his was Scot in “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some)” – read review here – and as Patsy in “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”

Scot A. Kaitanowski and the Cast of “Every Christmas Story Ever Told” at ACTS Alden.

I returned to acting in 2016, and Scot came to see the production of “Little Shop of Horrors” that I was in. He stayed after to say hello and offer his kind words. Even though he knew most of the cast, I felt that he was there just to see me. He was always supportive of his friends in their acting and theatre endeavors. Supportive is not always a word that can be used to describe members of an artistic community, but Scot branded that support. We had talks about working together one day, hoping to be cast in the same show, but sadly, that chance did not come around.

When I learned that Scot was sick, I wasn’t very nervous, because I knew that he was a fighter, and that he wasn’t going to go quietly. I knew he would give it his all to get back to health, to get back to his dogs, to get back to his friends, and to get back to the stage. It was completely heartbreaking to find that his fight with the illness was taking a rapid toll on him, and that we would lose him so quickly.

As soon as I heard Scot had passed, the somber feeling of emptiness took over, and instantly I felt a void. The outpour of support from the theatre community, sharing stories, pictures, and messages was a magical thing. We lost a good man, way too soon. If I learned anything from Scot’s passing, it’s that we need to tell those in our lives who mean something to us, what they mean to us. Life is too short, and also, life can be extremely unfair. 

The next time Rachel from Card Holder Services calls, I’ll laugh as I hang up on her, knowing Scot would appreciate it.

Rest easy, my friend.

Scot A. Kaitanowski