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'Romeo and Juliet' coming to theaters for Valentine's Day

by MARK KENNEDY AP Drama Writer on January 15, 2014 10:59 AM

NEW YORK — This Valentine’s Day, why not offer your loved one a timeless Broadway romance — without ever leaving your neighborhood?

Content provider Screenvision and the new company BroadwayHD teamed up to record the recent Orlando Bloom-led production of “Romeo and Juliet” and broadcast it to movie theaters across the country.

Before it closed in December, high-definition cameras recorded the show on Nov. 27 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre under the direction of Emmy Award-winning Don Roy King. That recording — the first time in over 36 years “Romeo and Juliet” had been on Broadway — will be available in more than 2,000 movie theaters in all 50 states from Feb. 13-19.

“It’s so great to capture it because who knows when it will be on Broadway again,” said Darryl Schaffer, an executive vice president at Screenvision. “It’s just such a great production. We’re excited to bring it to movie theaters.”

Bloom made his Broadway debut as Romeo in director David Leveaux’s revival of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy opposite Condola Rashad, who has back-to-back Tony Award nominations for “Stick Fly” and “The Trip to Bountiful.”

Screenvision, which began broadcasting stage works in 2008, recommends individual ticket prices at $20, though each exhibiter can set its own price. The average ticket price on Broadway was $78, with a top premium ticket fetching $223.

The move is just the latest to seize on technological improvements and a willingness to let live shows be recorded, following in the pioneering digital footsteps of The Metropolitan Opera and London National Theatre’s NT Live series.

Producers see such broadcasts as a win-win for everyone. Movie theaters get content for off-peak times, theatrical producers can see a new life for their work, and audiences who never got to see Broadway offerings can now catch shows for a fraction of the price.

“The timing is right. There are enough platforms out there. Technology has advanced. Now we’re getting cooperation from unions and the industry as a whole. So I think now is the moment,” said producer Stewart F. Lane, who co-founded BroadwayHD with fellow theater producer Bonnie Comley. Together, they’ve produced such shows as “War Horse,” “Jekyll & Hyde” and “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.”

“New York’s got the greatest pool of talent in the world and not everybody gets to see that,” said Lane. “I am a theater person at heart and this I’m hoping will help bring theater into the 21st century.”

Nine cameras situated in front-row seats or tucked around the stage captured an up-close “Romeo and Juliet” over two performances in front of audiences. “It gives it a certain intimacy and urgency,” Lane said. “What we’ve done here is create a whole new art form.”

The show features Bloom roaring onto the stage on a Triumph motorcycle, has a set with huge pipes that spit fire and costumes that include knit caps, slip dresses and gray zip-up jackets. Reviews were poor and the show struggled at the box office. Both Schaffer and Lane see recorded versions of Broadway and West End shows as an increasingly mainstream phenomenon, particularly if big stars continue to show up for limited runs.

Plus, there likely will still be lives for the shows after the movie theater — Netflix or on-demand are options.

While “Romeo and Juliet” doesn’t end that happily for its star-crossed lovers, Schaffer thinks it’s a perfect fit for Valentine’s Day. “It is one of the greatest love stories ever written,” she said.

Online: www.BroadwayHD.com

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