No matter which side you're on, the stagehands' strike has depressed everyone who loves Broadway. (For the best coverage of the strike check out my blog buddy Steve on Broadway, who’s been doing a terrific job of keeping us all up-to-date). In an effort to relieve some of the gloom, I've been trolling the Internet, visiting the official websites that nearly every Broadway show now has. Some, like the one for Cyrano de Bergerac, are little more than online Playbills that simply list the credits of the cast and creative team. But others offer a cornucopia of treats for theater lovers, including production photos; audio and video clips of scenes from the shows; interviews with actors, directors and writers; newsletters with updates on events like which shows will be in this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (look for the casts of Legally Blonde, Mary Poppins, Xanadu and Young Frankenstein); downloadable wallpaper and screen savers for your computer; ringtones for your cellphone, online stores that sell cast albums, souvenirs and tickets; and fan forums where the most devoted can obsess even more about the show and its stars.
Here, in ascending order, are my Top 10 [just click the titles to visit the sites]:
10. The Little Mermaid
I'm not a big fan of the Disney sites, which seem kind of chintzy given the resources they have. But this one made it onto the list because it gives a sneak preview of the costumes and set design for the show (one of the four that has postponed its opening due to the strike). The designs look to me like "under the sea" versions of those for Wicked. I'll leave it up to you whether that's a good thing or not.
9. The Homecoming
It's obviously harder for plays to create entertaining sites than it is for musicals and this one for the revival of the Harold Pinter classic scheduled to open next month is still a work-in-progress. They haven't posted any photos or video clips yet and director Dan Sullivan has written only one entry on his blog. But it makes my Top 10 because of its wonderfully informative timeline of the Nobel Prize-winning writer's work on Broadway and in the movies, illustrated with the original posters from each production.
8. A Bronx Tale
You wouldn't expect a one-man show to offer much but in addition to clips of Chazz Palminteri's engaging performance, there's an audio clip in which he answers questions that fans have posted on his MySpace page.
7. The Drowsy Chaperone
Truth be told there's not that much really special about this site. But what it does—all the basics: photos, video clips, and an archive of articles about the show—it does really well. And that attention to detail includes making sure that the latest replacements, as well as the original cast, are included in the photos and video clips.
All the expected stuff is here (video clips of the big numbers, audio clips of favorite songs, production photos of the various companies) but what I love most is an absolutely silly interactive "Cow Toss" game that's completely in the zany spirit of the show and totally addictive.
This site pulls out all the stops. There's a history of the show's evolution from the local Baltimore dance show that inspired the John Waters film to the Tony winning musical now in its fifth year on Broadway. And there are video clips of some of the stage show's big numbers, a "jukebox" that plays audio versions of the songs, and a karaoke section that features sing-along instrumentals for hundreds of familiar tunes.
4. The Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom folks clearly know how to market a show and they don't disappoint here either. There are photos and videos from the show's numerous companies around the world and over the years. And the many, many extras include a Cliff-notes style study guide that talks about subjects like the role of the outcast in literature, a list of interesting facts and numbers connected to the show (total ticket sales $3.2 billion, and counting), and a rundown of all the song numbers with the ability to download some of them for free.
3. Les Misérables
Everything you could possibly want to know about the show is on this dazzlingly comprehensive site. There's a scene-by-scene breakdown of the show, over two dozen photos, video clips of four production numbers, 10 audio clips and an "education" section that includes a mini-biography of Victor Hugo and a history of his classic novel. The online store offers souvenirs from both the US and UK productions.
2. Rock 'n' Roll
There's something for everyone on this site. History buffs will appreciate the timeline covering the real events, from the Prague Spring of 1968 to the present, that inspired the play and short background articles on major events and players that figure in the action including the Czech rock band The Plastic People of the Universe and founding Pink Floyd member Syd Barrett. Music fans will enjoy the soundtrack area where they can listen to clips of the 22 songs that underscore the plot during the performance. And for theater lovers there are more than a dozen articles about playwright Tom Stoppard.
1. A Chorus Line
What makes this website stand out above the rest is the way it replicates the experience of the live performance. The best feature is a series of video clips in which each of the actors talk about what dance means to their lives, just the way the show’s characters do in the "audition" to become part of the chorus line. The webmasters also tie the site to the show by inviting visitors to put themselves on the line by video-recording stories about their lives and uploading them to YouTube. It sounds hokey but some of the entries are surprisingly sweet.
Wow, this is a great idea! I've looked at some of these sites, but not all of them. And some of them I've just glanced at. I will definitely be checking out the ones I've missed. Cow Toss does sound like fun!
The Drowsy Chaperone and Curtains sites also have some nice e-cards for different occasions that I've sent to friends. Some shows have e-cards that are basically just advertisements for the show and nothing more. But those two are pretty good.
And I have to admit, I've watched the video clips on the Mary Poppins site a few times.
The Curtains site is a pretty good one, too. In addition to the e-cards, it has video clips, a message board and articles that have been written about the show, links to interviews with the cast.
And btw, I've really enjoyed reading all of your previous lists of favorite Broadway-themed podcasts, books and DVDs.
Thanks so much for commenting, Esther. I actually kept going back and forth between Drowsy Chaperone and Curtains when making the list so you and I are definitely on the same page. And I'm delighted that you've enjoyed the other lists too. They provide an excuse for all the time I spend listening, reading and watching all of this Broadway stuff--I can tell myself it's really just research!
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