Review – A virtual night at the theater

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, April 17th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Enjoying a night at the theater … while at home.

Reviewer Emily Whitten now to help you navigate some good options.

EMILY WHITTEN, REVIEWER: Every year or two, our family saves enough birthday money to take in a musical downtown. Last June, we headed to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. Just in time, we slipped into our plush, crimson fold-down seats. A gigantic curtain rose, and then…magic. 

AUDIO: A fiddler on the roof, sounds crazy, no?

That’s Andy Warlow playing the part of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. So wonderful.

Of course, now that we’re all starring in the mixed review production called Quarantined, a trip to the theater seems light years away. Thankfully, online streaming outlets bring horizon-expanding culture right to our home theaters. 

My favorite new option for families might be a U.K. theatrical version of The Sound of Music filmed live in 2015. You can watch it for free on the PBS website or app via Amazon Fire Stick among other venues as part of their Great Performances. Here’s Britain’s Kara Tointon as Fräulein Maria:

AUDIO: The hills are alive with the sound of music, with songs they have sung for a thousand years.

In my mind, no one will ever top Julie Andrews in the role, but taken on its own terms, this production has a lot to offer. The live take feels more immediate and dramatic in some ways. And Tointon’s version of Fräulein Maria is affectionate and warm. She nicely complements the strict but winsome Captain Von Trapp, played by stage, film, and opera veteran, Julian Ovenden:

AUDIO: Blossom of snow, may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever. Edelweiss, Edelweiss, bless my homeland forever.

Some of the best theatrical productions for families aren’t new. You can stream the 1971 version of Fiddler on the Roof from plenty of outlets, including free on Netflix. And there are lots of ways to stream the 2012 film version of Les Miserables starring Hugh Jackman. Younger kids will probably need to skip it, though, due to PG-13 violence and sexuality.  

AUDIO: Sweet Jesus, what have I done? Become a thief in the night, a dog on the run?

One excellent theatrical show for families with teenagers is Max McLean’s stage production of C. S. Lewis’s life story. Lewis is best known for his Narnia series. This production, entitled The Most Reluctant Convert, draws on Lewis’s autobiography and his apologetic writing. You can stream it for free if you have an Amazon Prime subscription. Or you can buy a DVD copy online from several sources. 

Admittedly, the recording quality isn’t fantastic. That in turn makes some of the lighting and sound effects feel hokey. Still, McLean’s storytelling and acting are top notch. 

AUDIO: If Jesus’ statements are false, Christianity is of no importance. If they are true, it is of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.

McLean uses many of Lewis’s own words to trace his journey to mature faith in Christ. Some of that journey includes frank but not graphic discussion of sexual temptation, occult practices, and other sins. That’s probably why McLean recommends the presentation for ages 14 and up. For those old enough to follow his logic, McLean lays out a powerful apologetic.

AUDIO: I thought Chesterton the most sensible man alive, apart from his Christianity. I was beginning to think Christianity was quite sensible apart from its Christianity.

Music lovers may feel overwhelmed right now with all the livestream options. One favorite of mine is the 2019 version of Handel’s Messiah recorded live from the Sydney Opera House. It’s available on Youtube. With over 600 choir members in the piece, it’s a powerful performance.

MUSIC: [Handel’s Messiah Live]

Die-hard ballet and opera fans might want to consider Marquee TV. It contains quite a plethora of on-demand dance, opera, and theater, including shows from the Bolshoi Theater in Russia and the Royal Shakespeare Company. You’ll have to give them your credit card number, though, to get the free two week trial. But teachers and students get half off a yearly subscriptions.

I’ll end with an offbeat selection for the littlest ones. It’s a 2013 recording of a Christian magic show. Just search YouTube for Karl Bastian Family Fun Nite Magic Show. Bastian is spelled B-A-S-T-I-A-N.

AUDIO: Go ahead and open both hands. Show ’em what you’ve got. And she’s got ’em both. Give her a big round of applause! 

This admittedly simple show includes lots of corny laughs as well as serious gospel object-lessons. It’s the sort of amateur performance you might catch at the church down the street on a normal Thursday night. And while it won’t win any awards, Bastian may hit the spot for families missing their time at church these days.

For now, theater lovers are stuck inside. But with new performances added online daily, maybe your family will enjoy a night IN at the theater enough to make it a tradition.

MUSIC: Tradition, tradition, tradition, tradition!

I’m Emily Whitten.

(Photo/YouTube) Anthony Warlow and Company, Fiddler On The Roof

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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