All The World’s A Stage

Great Neck producers use BroadwayHD to bring live theater to the masses

The cast from the 2017 West End revival of 42nd Street:
From left: Clare Rickard, Ella Martine, Jasna Ivir, Clare Halse, Emma Caffrey
(Photo by Brinkhoff/Mogenburg)

You can say that theater is in Stewart F. Lane’s blood. The proud Great Neck High School North alum has spent the past four decades plying his trade as a Broadway producer (Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Legally Blonde) and director on top of prior experience as a playwright and actor. Lane’s passion for the stage, shared with wife Bonnie Comley, led the duo to launch BroadwayHD, a live theater-streaming platform, back in 2015.

For the price of $8.99 a month (or $99.99 a year), subscribers have access to an aggregate of 300-plus full-length, ad-free musicals and plays to choose from. Six years later, Lane and Comley have essentially cornered the market for this kind of service. While he declined to provide numbers, Lane says they’ve enjoyed a major growth spurt that’s seen their base grow 110 percent from 2018 to 2019 alone. Not unlike how Hollywood movie studios received the advent of television, the live theater world had reservations about the BroadwayHD concept when it initially launched.

Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley on stage at the Palace Theater
(Photo courtesy of BroadwayHD)

“One of the challenges we faced in starting out is that we’re dealing with 17 unions and guilds,” Lane explained. “One of the advantages I had was that I’ve been producing on Broadway for 40 years, so they know me. It’s been a little easier than for someone who might be coming in from the outside. But now we’re seen as an additive. People in the industry see that we encourage audiences to seek out live theater. I will also cite this as a statistic. The Broadway audience for the past 35 years has been around 45 or older—it’s usually women from a higher economic bracket who are better educated and are buying the tickets. For the first time in 2018, they lowered the median age to about 40 or 41 and I’m sure that’s because of our BroadwayHD subscribers, who are more 18 to 25 versus mid-40s to 60s. We’re definitely a younger audience. We’re the future of Broadway because we are bringing younger audiences in and are the gateway to Broadway.”

Matt Henry (Lola) front and center in the 2017 West End production of Kinky Boots
(Photo by Matt Crockett)

Comley agrees with her spouse and business partner on the important role their platform plays in preserving live theater’s legacy, in part by ushering it into the digital era.
“BroadwayHD’s mission has always been twofold,” she said. “We are a streaming entertainment service but we are also a member of The Broadway League and therefore a service business to the Broadway industry. We serve Broadway fans and future Broadway fans by giving them a platform to engage digitally 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the art form that they love and we are committed now more than ever to preserve and promote the live Broadway stage industry.”

The confluence of technology, the continued explosion of live theater’s appeal and a younger generation comfortable with different ways of accessing content led to the a-ha moment that inspired Lane and Comley to launch BroadwayHD.
“When we started out, most people looked askance at us,” Lane recalled. “People had tried to monetize other aspects of live theater—whether it was on pay-per-view on cable, the DVD market and even more recently, in cinema. But there wasn’t enough of a populous out there that supported the theater that could maintain this kind of investment. Around the time we talked, things were changing, especially the audiences. The younger audiences that loved the theater and their love of it kept increasing among young people. They watched how their entertainment kept changing and how it moved from movies and TV to iPads, iPhones and laptops. Bonnie saw this transition happening and we wanted to be in the forefront of this. That’s always been a mandate of ours—celebrating live theater and sharing it with the world, so it can be geographically accessible to those who can’t make it to Broadway. And make it as affordable for those who can’t afford to buy a ticket once they get to Broadway.”

Clare Rickard, Christopher Howell and Ella Martine
high stepping it in the 2017 West End revival of 42nd Street
(Photo by Brinkhoff/Mogenburg)

The pandemic has proved to be a boon for streaming platforms and BroadwayHD is no exception. With Broadway marquees dimmed for the foreseeable future and people accessing entertainment from the safety and comfort of their couches, Comley said 2020 had been a jump year for BroadwayHD. And while Lane wouldn’t share subscriber data. Comley pointed out viewer numbers doubled since the coronavirus outbreak.
“We made deals with major content distributors, vastly improved the quality of service and started seeing brand recognition growth in the outlets covering BroadwayHD,” Comley said. “We definitely had some hiccups in 2020, especially when trying to react quickly to pandemic, but we are coming out of the last year in a much stronger position.”

From left: Killian Donnelly (Charlie) and Matt Henry (Lola)
from the 2017 West End production of Kinky Boots
(Photo by Matt Crockett)

She also admits how close to home COVID-19’s devastation has hit.
“It has been a difficult year for everyone,” she said. “The theater industry, which we rely on for content and awareness, has been hit incredibly hard. At BroadwayHD, we’ve been lucky in that we have been able to seamlessly deliver content and been able to continue the subscriber growth that started before the pandemic. We’ve been able to procure content while still passing on a heavily discounted rate for a luxury good.”

Lee J. Cobb and Mildred Dunnock in Death of a Salesman
(Photo courtesy of BroadwayHD)

Among the offerings the BroadwayHD site has are productions of Kinky Boots, 42nd Street, Smokey Joe’s Café and Cats alongside other up and coming fare like Hetty Feather and Brokeback Mountain: The Musical. With a premium put on productions that either have a Broadway-caliber cast or directors, Lane and Comley have shot shows at venues on Broadway, Off Broadway, London’s West End and esteemed regional theaters including the Geffen Playhouse and Manhattan Theatre Club. The site has also added a number of archived productions including the 1949 version of Death of A Salesman starring the late Lee J. Cobb and Joe Papp’s revival of The Pirates of Penzance featuring Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline.

With the global reach of the web, Lane has been delighted to receive emails from ecstatic subscribers from roughly 122 counties around the globe including Nigeria, Argentina, Japan and Mexico. It’s all about the democratization of live theater that’s at the heart of what BroadwayHD represents.


“One of the most rewarding parts of the whole experience are the emails we get from all over the world from people who have never been to a Broadway show but know what it is,” Lane says. “They thank me and say that it’s changed their life. That’s exactly what you want theater to do to people—affect and stay with them.”

Visit www.broadwayhd.com to find out more about BroadwayHD.

Dave Gil de Rubio
In addition to being editor of Massapequa Observer and Hicksville News, Dave Gil de Rubio is a regular contributor to Long Island Weekly, specializing in music and sports features. He has won several awards for writing from Press Club of Long Island (PCLI).

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