How to Stream Sondheim's Musical Passion - The Lost Archive

How to Stream Sondheim's Musical Passion - The Lost Archive

Is Sondheim's filmed stage production of Passion lost forever? Having a Broadway show filmed for release is an uphill battle - from budgets that can compete with the original capitalization for the stage show, to complex contracts with multiple unions that all have to green-lit the expensive capture.

While over 150 Broadway productions were filmed to date, a sizeable portion of them has either only managed to reach agreements for very limited releases or got lost forever due to expired distribution rights.

From one-night cinema showings to limited TV airings, our Lost Archive looks at all the shows that spent millions on being professionally filmed - but have been long lost. We detail the history of each production and try to understand the reasoning behind the limited release, and ultimately try to locate the lost recordings.

This week we'll look at Best Musical winner, Stephen Sondheim's Passion:



Passion, the 1994 Stephen Sondheim musical, is the late composer's fourth collaboration with James Lapine after Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, and Merrily We Roll Along.

The musical is based on the 1981 film Passione d'Amore, and is known for being one of the few musicals Sondheim conceived by himself (such as Sweeney Todd).

The story centers around a remote military outpost in 1863 Italy, where a handsome army captain, separated from his beautiful (and married) mistress, is forced to re-think his feelings about love when he becomes the object of the obsessive love of Fosca, his Colonel's sickly cousin.



Passion opened "cold" on Broadway in May 1994, without having any substantial workshops or pre-Broadway engagements. This led to a long preview process, which included multiple changes to the score, book, and direction on stage at Broadway's Plymouth Theatre.

The original cast included Donna Murphy as Fosca, Jere Shea as Giorgio, and Marin Mazzie as Clara. Joining them were Gregg Edelman as Colonel Ricci, Matthew Porretta as Ludovic, and Tom Aldredge as Doctor Tambourri.



The title role was originally offered to Patti LuPone who turned it down to star in the West End premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard. LuPone eventually played the title role years later in a concert version, starring alongside Michael Cerveris and Audra McDonald.



The show opened to rave reviews from New York critics. In his Variety review, Jeremy Gerard said:

'Passion' is a great, great show. Not just because Stephen Sondheim has finally approved the notion of love as more than a conjugating verb, though that is certainly the show’s chief revelation. It’s great because, with 15 musicals behind him, our theater’s most provocative composer and lyricist is still reinventing the form while honoring it, still writing shows that tell haunting tales while delighting the ear and the eye, still prodding us to think about love even as his protagonist concludes that beauty is skin deep but love, as one character sings, 'is as permanent as death.'

Passion managed to fill the medium-sized Plymouth Theatre (now called The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre) at 90% capacity in its first couple of weeks, but even after the help from New York critics, grosses quickly started to slip with the show only managing to fill half of the Plymouth's 1080 seats.

Several weeks later, Passion became the most nominated musical of the 48th Broadway season with 10 Tony Award nominations - including ones for the complete leading cast along with Lapine's book and direction, Sondheim's score, and the lucrative Best Musical award.

Ticket sales were not helped by the numerous nominations, with producers hoping winning awards at the ceremony would help the show's brand recognition outside New York.

On June 12, 1994, Passion went on to win four Tony Awards including Best Musical which, at the time, was considered a guarantee for an increase in box office intake.



Unfortunately, the ceremony and awards did not manage to help ticket sales. The show saw an increase of 25% in capacity the week following the awards but then slipped again to 50% capacity.

When the show reached an all-time low of 35% capacity during the holiday weeks of December 1994, it was announced Passion would close on Broadway in January 1995.

With a disappointing run for a Best Musical winner, it was decided to film Passion for television shortly after the show closed on Broadway. Known for filming their classic musicals, Sondheim and Lapine collaborated in the past with PBS when both Into the Woods and Sunday in the Park with George were filmed for release.

Unlike those productions, Passion was filmed without an audience in an empty theater. The musical was filmed, and not taped, to give the final product a more cinematic feel.



Passion was broadcast on PBS' series American Playhouse in September 1996, but was not made available on home distribution until 2003, when Image Entertainment paid for the distribution rights to release the film on both VHS and DVD.

The 114-minute DVD cut is taken directly from the PBS broadcast and also features several special features. Stephen Sondheim, James Lapine, Donna Murphy, Jere Shea, Marin Mazzie, and Ira Weitzman met together to record a special audio commentary track while watching the recorded program together.

The disc also features an audio-only extended version of the song "No One Has Ever Loved Me" performed by Jere Shea, as recorded live at Broadway's Plymouth Theater.

While the musical ran a total of 280 performances on Broadway and was named the shortest-running musical ever to win the Tony Award for Best Musical, thanks to the popularity it gained through its PBS broadcast the show had multiple international productions and is revived to this today all over the world.



How to watch "Passion" today?

While the Broadway production of "Passion" was distributed on DVD and VHS through Image Entertainment, the home distribution deal expired in 2014, nearly a decade after its original release. 

Unlike similar releases such as Into the Woods and Sunday in the Park with George, major retailers stopped the sale of Passion DVDs in January 2014 and no other distributor has acquired the distribution rights since. The show is not available to stream online as no streamer was granted the rights to the capture.

Thanks to its original release, the DVD of the musical can still be found through third-party distributors in very limited quantities, typically at a price higher than its original MSRP of $24.99.