Not only was yesterday, the 22nd, my birthday, but it was also the first day of the very first BroadwayCon! My friend Jess pointed out that last year, the week of her birthday, we went to Elsie Fest, so the fact that BroadwayCon was on the weekend of my birthday was fortuitous.
We got day passes for Friday only, which was plenty fine because we saw and heard a lot! Plus, there’s a blizzard hitting us this weekend as well.
We arrived at the Hilton Midtown Hotel, where this “Comic Con for Broadway nerds” is being held on two floors of conference rooms, at 9 am, where we joined the back of a snaking line for check-in. Check-in went quickly once we got to the booth and we both received bright yellow swag bags, which included a Playbill for the entire weekend, a Sharpie, a pen, a sticker, some sponsors’ advertisements, and we received badges!
If I qualify at all as a musical theater nerd, it’s a combo of loving storytelling, memorizing lyrics quickly for some freakish reason, being a tad overdramatic, and going to college with a group of theater majors.
Writing is show business for shy people 🙂
There were different meet-ups in different rooms: one room for Sondheim fans, another for Lloyd Webber fans, etc. We went into the room for the “I Love Everything!” group, where a mic was passed around and people were asked to name their top three favorite musicals.
Jess and I drew our conclusions about people based on their answers. (“Oh, he likes dark stuff. She likes rock musicals. He likes musicals no one’s ever heard of.”)
Then that ended and we decided to hit some more meet-ups. First, we went to the room for RENT fans. RENT really made a huge impact on me when I was college, which was around the time the movie version was released. The room we were in was quite small, then the mic didn’t quite work, and then as people began to share their stories on how they came to be Rentheads, there was a heavy emotional component. People talked about losing loved ones and finding solace in the music or finding hope and strength in play’s message, so they could overcome huge challenges.
In the meantime, we could hear the Hamilton meet up next door and they were chanting and rapping the words to “Alexander Hamilton.”(Jess whispered, “They’re having more fun than us!” Me: “I feel like I’m in group therapy…”) So we cut out of the Rent room to check out the Hamilton room.
Hamilton is new and exciting and energetic–and that was definitely reflected in the meet up. People were in cosplay as Hamilton characters (I also saw Sideshow twins, a Tracy Turnblad, and an Audrey Two during the course of the day). We had a singalong. Super high energy.
Then we wandered down the hall to the less intense but very cute and fangirly Newsies fans. (I didn’t see the show, but Jess did). There was a trivia game and some of the fans danced. We wanted to sit in on the Producing 101 panel (“What the heck does a producer do?” We asked each other) but the room was too small and the crowd trying to get in too big, so we ended up in a room about Phantom of the Opera. I’ve never seen Phantom.
We stayed for most of the panel, but then realized that we’d have to stake out for the next panel we wanted to see because it, too, would be in a smaller room, so we took an opportunity to take a quick bathroom and snack break and sat out near the door.
The panel was about Diversity on Broadway, with panelists Erin Quill, Telly Leung, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Quiara Alegria Huedes, Tamika Lawrence, producer Alia Jones-Harvey, and producer Roberta Pereira, moderated by Andrew Shade, who runs BroadwayBlack.com. What followed was a super absorbing, respectful, mature discussion on what this year’s crop of diverse Broadway shows mean. Yes, it’s a diverse year on Broadway, but next year apparently isn’t. What does it mean to be representative? How can theater showcase a larger variety of stories? What is it like to be an actor of color going into an audition when the casting director isn’t necessarily looking for your type?
Everyone had a different perspective, which was interesting. Similar to the discussions of the need for more diverse stories in the publishing world, the panelists said that those in power (producers, directors, theater owners) are often white. Also, it isn’t merely enough to cast actors of color in productions–what about the playwrights and songwriters? Designers? Crew members? What kind of lens are supposed “black stories” or “Latino stories” or “Asian stories” being put through before being presented to an audience?
It inspired me. I’m an every-six-months-or-so type of theater goer, so yeah, I can vote, so to speak, with my dollars. Moreover, it makes me want to write more stories about women and minorities.
So after this, the two o’clock events didn’t particularly interest us, so we ran two blocks down to Chipotle for lunch. We ran because it was cold and we were too lazy to get our coats out of coat check. Also, the cafe in the hotel lobby was super crowded.
We were back in time for the official BroadwayCon opening–or so we thought. Actually, there was something like 3,000 people in this lobby area outside of the Main Stage and not much organization in terms of which lines were going where. After a period of massive confusion, lines were finally formed and we were able to stand in the back of the room for a performance that we ended up watching on TV screens mounted to the pillars.
Our next panel, the Hamilton panel, was in the same room, so we found seats. A good chunk of the cast was present and they talked about the show. There was closed captioning going on on the screens and we noticed that everytime someone on stage mentioned “rapping” that it was being typed as “raping.” Ugh.
Well, Lin-Manuel Miranda did a freestyle rap—which went like this:
And then we were able to sing one of the Hamilton songs back to the cast:
After that, Jess and I split up: she went to a Newsies dance class, given by the Broadway choreographer of Newsies, while I stayed in the Main Stage for “I Was a Teenage Diva,” where Broadway actors and actresses showed us video of when they were kids performing and then came out and told us about the clip, what kind of performances they did as kids, and even performed a little!
What I took away from I Was a Teenage Diva was that whatever we’re interested in as kids often carries through our lives.
The RENT panel was the next thing–it’s the 20th anniversary since the show opened on Broadway and several members of the original cast and others involved in the inception of the show were there to tell us about the very earliest days–from performers who only took the job because “it paid the same as the other one I was up for, but it was downtown, so it was closer” to the casting agent who said “I didn’t want to cast this thing!”
Daphne Ruben-Vega, the original Mimi, FaceTimed Jesse L. Martin during the panel. When he saw Wilson Jermaine Heredia, the original Angel, on stage, Jesse exclaimed, “Wilson!” so happily that the audienced “awwed.”
Our last event of this very long day was Broadway Jukebox, where Broadway stars came out and we voted on which song to make them sing as karaoke. Kerry Butler, Stark Stands, Ryann Redmond, Alisha Umphress, Jenn Colella, and Lena Hall were all freakin’ amazing. They make vocals like that sound so easy and so beautiful.
Then Anthony Rapp came out and sang a few songs to round out that Jukebox. It was nearly 11:30 and we were both tired, so Jess and I called it a night at that point. It was already snowing when we got outside and the subway journey took quite a while, so we wrote a verse to the tune of “Wait For It” from Hamilton.