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New theater streaming service Broadway HD has a small selection but big potential

We live in an age when pretty much any entertainment can be streamed, in some form, over the internet. Not just movies and TV, either; music festivals and concerts, cute baby animal and zoo cams, even the storied Metropolitan Opera — all are just a web search, and possibly a small subscription fee, away.

The one major exception to this trend has been live theater, particularly Broadway, which outside of some shady YouTube videos and Tony Awards compilations has been difficult to access via our computer screens. Many movie theater chains do special cinemacasts of major theater events, but that still requires leaving the house — a big ask for your typical streaming-entertainment junkie.

A new streaming service called Broadway HD is aiming to change that by "extending the reach of Broadway and Broadway-caliber shows to anyone, anywhere." While it's free to subscribe to the service, most shows require a one-time payment (around $8) to stream — though there are a few free options, mainly short, behind-the-scenes stuff.

Broadway HD is a neat idea, especially for those who live far away from New York or urban centers that might luck into a touring production, and eight bucks is a hell of a lot cheaper than your standard theater ticket. Removing most people's two biggest barriers to experiencing Broadway productions — distance and cost — is an admirable mission, and the sort of thing theater needs to be experimenting with if it wants to survive and thrive in today's anytime, anywhere entertainment climate.

As of right now, though, Broadway HD's selection might be too limited to attract most casual theater fans. It currently has around 100 offerings, which are drawn from Broadway Worldwide's Direct From Broadway catalog, as well as BBC Worldwide North America and public television station WNET; that means the productions on Broadway HD are mainly the sort you'll occasionally see on PBS or at those aforementioned cinemacasts. There's a lot of Shakespeare and classics like A Doll's House and Antigone, but very little in the way of modern productions or musicals. Broadway HD's musicals selection is particularly paltry, featuring only five productions, the most recent of which is the 2010 Tony winner Memphis.

But for theater lovers who want to do a deep dive into the medium's contemporary history, Broadway HD is a great resource, a chance to see long-gone productions like the 2013 Orlando Bloom–starring Romeo and Juliet, and to witness master thespians such as Judi Dench, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, and more do their thing onstage.

Broadway HD founders Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley say they plan to update the service's offerings on a regular basis, and will focus on plays with limited runs, so as not to step on the toes of current productions hoping to draw paying customers. That means we probably won't be able to stream something like Hamilton anytime soon. But nonetheless, Broadway HD is an interesting experiment with the potential to take the medium somewhere many thought (or maybe hoped) it couldn't go: our living rooms.

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