BroadwayCon 2018

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BroadwayCon this year took place on January 26-28. Fortunately I was able to go for the third year in a row and got to spend a Broadway-filled weekend in one of my favourite cities. If you are not aware, BroadwayCon is a 3 day (Friday-Sunday) convention full of Broadway-related programming: panels, performances, meet and greets, and so much more! The last two years the convention has taken place at the Javits Center in New York City (the first year it was at the New York Hilton Midtown). This post will highlight my favourite experiences from this year’s convention (which I have organized by event type)!

MainStage Events

MainStage events at BroadwayCon include a bit of everything. There were panels, performances, games, and more fun Broadway-related activities! Some amazing moments took place on that stage!

  • The BroadwayCon 2018 Opening Ceremony (Friday)
    This was the first MainStage event of the weekend and my first event at BroadwayCon besides autographs, a photo and wandering around the Marketplace. The Opening started with Billy Porter, Betsy Wolfe, Anthony Rapp and Ben Cameron singing “On Broadway.” Other performances included Betsy Wolfe singing “Meadowlark,” Kelli O’Hara singing “Pure Imagination,” and Billy Porter singing “And the World Goes ‘Round.” I was especially excited to see Kelli O’Hara perform!We also got to sing “Happy Birthday” to the Phantom with Ben Cameron onstage in a cape and Phantom mask.
  • ¡Attención! In the Heights Reunites 10 Years Later (Friday)
    The Opening Ceremony was followed by the In the Heights reunion panel. I am a big In the Heights fan and when I heard there was going to be a reunion panel this year, I knew I had to be there! The panel included Janet Dacal, Chris Jackson, Mandy Gonzalez, Karen Olivo, Olga Merediz, Priscilla Lopez, Seth Stewart, Javier Muñoz, Quiara A Hudes, and Lin-Manuel Miranda and was moderated by Luis A Miranda Jr (Lin’s Dad). I always love hearing background information and inside stories from shows. Everyone on the panel talked about their involvement with the show and where in the process they became involved. They talked about the changes that occurred throughout the process and even gave some snippets of cut songs! It was really fun seeing Karen Olivo just as excited as everyone for Chris to sing part of Benny’s cut song. Lin even jumped on the piano to play a little bit of another cut song! It was such a great panel. And Luis Miranda is wonderful!
  • Show Spotlight: CHICAGO- The Landmark Institution of Razzle Dazzle (Friday)
    I have never actually seen Chicago live. I have seen (and like) the movie but I have not seen the stage production. But when I saw the legends that were taking part in this panel, I knew I wanted to see it. Joel Grey, Bebe Neuwirth, William Ivey Long (the amazing costume designer) and Kandi Burruss (who just joined the cast) were on the panel with Paige Davis moderating. It’s also worth noting that Joel Grey came out wearing the Phantom mask that had been used in the Opening. It was so interesting hearing about the show at different points of its 21 year run. Hearing how the costumes have changed, how it went from an Encores production to the full revival, it was fascinating!
  • Show Spotlight: Frozen (Friday)
    I was already excited about Frozen coming to Broadway but I’m even more excited after having attended this panel! Greg Hildreth, who will be playing Olaf, was moderating with Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez talking about the show and previewing bits of the new songs. They also announced that 4 of the new songs will be released weekly starting February 23rd and having heard the previews I am very excited for these releases! The panel ended with Greg singing “In Summer” and it was great!
  • I’m Here: Celebrating the Leading Women of Broadway (Friday)
    You’ve got to love a panel full of amazing women. This was another moment when it was great just to be in the same room as these people. Jennifer Tepper moderated with Ruthie Ann Miles, Vanessa Williams, Priscilla Lopez, LaChanze, and Janet Dacal filling out the panel. Hearing them talk about their careers (and they’re all at such different points in their careers) was amazing. I also like when Jennifer Tepper moderates panels because she is so knowledgeable and passionate about all things Broadway (and is another successful woman in the theatre world).
  • BroadwayCon Jukebox (Friday)
    This one is always fun. Broadway stars come “prepared” with four song options and the audience gets to vote on which one they will sing. This year Janet Dacal, LaChanze, Anthony Rapp, Max Crumm and Kathryn Gallagher took part. They were all great with highlights including Anthony Rapp singing “Valerie” (the closest I will ever get to being serenaded by Anthony Rapp and yes, I voted for that song and yes, I got video!) and Kathryn Gallagher singing “Totally F*****” (as soon as there was a Spring Awakening option, it was obvios it would be picked). LaChanze’s daughter also made an appearance during Kathryn’s second song, “You Oughta Know.”
  • BroadwayCon Feud (Saturday)
    Another staple BroadwayCon event, the BroadwayCon Feud is a Broadway centred version of Family Feud with teams made up of Broadway stars and BroadwayCon attendees. This year Hannah Elless, Denée Benton, Patrick Hinds, Donna Lynne Champlin and James Snyder took part with the amazing Jenn Colella once again acting as host. It’s always interesting to see what the answers end up being. The results come from polling Broadway fans but they aren’t always what you expect or think they should be, which in some ways makes it more entertaining!
  • Show Spotlight: Dear Evan Hansen (Saturday)
    I have not yet seen Dear Evan Hansen (someday!!) but I was interested to attend this panel. I actually missed the Dear Evan Hansen panel last year. This year the panel included book writer, Steven Levenson and the two replacement Evans, Noah Galvin and Taylor Trensch. It was interesting to hear from Noah and Taylor about coming in as replacements and I always love when the writers are a part of show panels. A big take away from this panel was that I still really really want to see Dear Evan Hansen!
  • Show Spotlight: SpongeBob SqaurePants (Saturday)
    I actually had an autograph session at this same time but having just seen SpongeBob I did not want to miss their panel and I’m really glad I didn’t! There were two parts to the panel. The first part included cast members Danny Skinner (Patrick), Ethan Slater (SpongeBob), Gavin Lee (Squidward), Brian Ray Norris (Mr. Krabs) and Wesley Taylor (Plankton). Again, it was fun hearing about all of their experiences with the show (Danny, Ethan and Brian are making their Broadway debuts with this show). They also talked a little about the foley work in the show (the live sound effects) and I’m just so impressed the more I hear about it (there are a lot of sound effects in that show). The cast then had to leave because they had a matinee that day and the second part of the panel featured Tom Kitt (music supervisor) and Tina Landau (director) and it was even more fascinating hearing from them, talking about how the show came about in the way it did both in terms of the direction and the music (which was provided by a plethora of artists). I also later found out Tina was wearing a shirt with the Electric Skates (the fictional band from SpongeBob) on it and SpongeBob shoes.
  • Theater People Live Featuring Laura Benanti (Saturday)
    I was really excited for this one. Theater People is one of my favourite podcasts and I am also a fan of Laura Benanti so the two combined meant there was no question of me attending this one! I really like Patrick Hinds’ (the host of Theater People) podcast style and I love getting to see him at BroadwayCon. Laura is not only extremely talented she is also really funny and I was so excited to see her in person! It was great hearing them talk about everything- stage, TV, Melania, parenthood. (She also came onstage wearing the Phantom mask from the Opening.)
  • Broadway Game Night (Saturday)
    This was the last event Saturday night and it was another exciting “game show” type event on the MainStage. This one put the Sharks (Alex Brightman, Sierra Boggess, Ann Harada and 2 BroadwayCon attendees) against the Jets (Brandon Uranowitz, Lesli Margherita, Emily Skeggs and 2 BroadwayCon attendees)  with Anthony Rapp acting as score keeper and Ben Cameron as host. The rounds included name-that-tune, listing things (ie. Andrew Lloyd Webber show, Sondheim shows, etc) in 30 seconds, Don’t Forget the Lyrics (where they had to finish the line of a song), Pyramid (one team member getting another to say a specific word), and a question round with videos of Kristin Chenoweth asking questions about Kristin Chenoweth. It was a very entertaining evening, especially when Sierra and Lesli were against each other. They did not know a lot of the answers. It was also quite entertaining when the audience knew the answers and those onstage did not, which actually happened a lot. I also loved that Alex and Sierra were on the same team since they had been in School of Rock together.
  • Journey to the Island: A Celebration of Ahrens and Flaherty (Sunday)
    This particular panel featured Lynn Ahrens, Christy Altomare, and Hailey Kilgore. I am an Ahrens and Flaherty fan and loved Christy Altomare in Anastasia so, again, there was no question of my wanting to attend this panel. The focus of the panel was Anastasia and Once On This Island and the strong female characters in each show. I was less familiar with Once On This Island going in to it but I loved hearing about both shows and hearing from Lynn Ahrens about these, and their other shows, was so great! We were also treated to two performances. Christy Altomare sang “In My Dreams” from Anastasia, and there was a suprise appearance and performance from Alex Newell who sang “Mama Will Provide” from Once On This Island (with Lynn and Hailey singing backup!). I already knew I wanted to see Once On This Island but this panel did make me want to see it even more!
  • BroadwayCon First Look (Sunday)
    This is always an exciting part of BroadwayCon during which upcoming Broadway shows are featured. This year there were performances from and features on The Prom (2 songs were performed), Children of a Lesser GodGettin’ the Band Back Together (2 songs were performed), Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (video from rehearsals), and Escape to Margaritaville (2 songs were performed). I had heard about a couple of these productions beforehand but it was great hearing more about them and the other productions. It sounds like it’s going to be an entertaining year on Broadway!
  • The Closing Ceremony (Sunday)
    The final event of the weekend. It’s always a bit sad getting to that point but it’s inevitable and they always know how to leave it. One particularly great moment had Denée Benton onstage where they talked about how her casting in Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 was announced at the first BroadwayCon at which she also sang “No One Else” from the show. She then proceeded to once again sing “No One Else, ” and it was beautiful and made me miss that show more! Stephanie J. Block also came onstage for a bit. The winners of the first ever BroadwayCon Lip Sync Battle performed, with Ben Cameron filling in for a member of the group who was sick. The whole thing ended with all of the BroadwayCon staff onstage and everyone onstage and in the audience singing along to “On Broadway.”
  • Fan Centred Events
    Throughout the weekend there were some other events on the Mainstage that you could describe as more “fan centred” (and usually hosted by Ben). There were YouTube Parties, which was just Broadway videos being shown on the big screens with everyone singing along. There was the first annual Lip Sync Battle. Though I didn’t attend them there were also cosplay and “rising star” events that took place on the MainStage.

Panels

When it comes to the panels at BroadwayCon there are so many to choose from on any number of Broadway and general theatre related topics. Sometimes it was hard to decide which panel to go to, they all sounded so interesting and I missed some I wish I could have attended! Whether you are interested in the onstage or offstage side of things, or general fandom, there are panels for everyone! A cool added feature this year was the rooms for the panels: each one was named after a woman from theatre history!

A favourite panel that I attended was called “From Annie to Because of Winn Dixie, A Training Demonstration or Broadway’s Most Famous Canine Actors with Bill Berloni” and featured Bill Berloni (the Broadway dog trainer) and some dogs of the stage. There was Macy, who was Sandy in the most recent Annie revival; Dusty, who played Toto in a production of The Wizard of Oz; Chico, the original Bruiser from Legally Blonde (the first dog to have “lines” in a Broawday musical); Trixie, who has the most Broadway credits of the dogs there having appeared in Bullets Over Broadway as well as another play; and Bowdie who was in Peter Pan Live, Sesame Street (Mr. Noodle’s dog) and who will be in Because of Winn Dixie. During the panel Bill talked about getting all of the dogs (who are all rescues!), training them for each of their roles and the unique requirements for each role and the varying commands (vocal, visual) that go with it. It was fascinating (and adorable) to watch when he demonstrated the “tricks” with each dog!

Autographs, Photos & Celebrity Sightings

At BroadwayCon autograph and photo booth opportunities are given out via lottery system. (Though if you get the more expensive tickets you get some guaranteed autographs/photos.) You enter the lottery ahead of time by picking which autographs and/or photos you are interested in from a list, ranking those from most to least interested and then it is up to the lottery system to pick which one(s) you get. I lucked out this year and got quite a few including some of my top choices! My Friday morning was actually spent mostly in autograph and photo lines, this being one of the time where I had to choose between autographs or panels and I went with autographs! I got a photo with and autograph from Ben Fankhauser (original Davey in Newsies on Broadway and Barry Mann in the Beautiful tour) which I was extremely excited about! I got him to sign a programme from the Toronto run of the Beautiful tour, which I don’t think he was expecting! It was a great conversation starter! I also got autographs from Donna Murphy, Liz Callaway, Tim Federle and Jennifer Tepper. It was definitely an exciting weekend for autographs! (And Tim Federle sang my name when I was getting his autograph, which also made my day!)

One of the fun things with BroadwayCon is also just seeing Broadway stars walking around whether on their way to a panel or an autograph or photo session or a specific booth in the Marketplace or just wandering. I saw Betsy Wolfe, Sydney Lucas, Alex Brightman, Andrew Kober, Laura Osnes and so many more. And that’s how I met Lynn Ahrens. We were walking around the Marketplace and I happened to have just bought a flower made out of a Rocky Playbill when we walked by Lynn Ahrens. I couldn’t resist going back to meet her and have her sign the flower. The timing couldn’t have been better and it was a definite highlight of the weekend!

Marketplace Highlights

As much as the panels and everything else I was also really excited to spend time (and money) at the BroadwayCon Marketplace. Some of my favourite stops included:

  • Scenery Bags- They sell bags made out of the backdrops from (closed) shows. I went in knowing I wanted to buy these (one for me and one for my mom) and as soon as I saw that they had bags made from a Rocky backdrop I knew I would be buying those!
  • Broadway Green Alliance/SomeOtherMe- I already have a collection of Playbill flowers from SomeOtherMe and I knew I would be adding to that collection at BroawdayCon. By the end of the weekend I had picked up Bandstand, Rocky, and Phantom of the Opera flowers as well as two “I rescue Playbills” tote bags!!
  • Lights of Broadway Show Cards- I actually started my card collection at the first BroadwayCon and, again, I went into the weekend with the intention of adding to my collection, which was exactly what I did! And of course I had to pick up the BroadwayCon exclusive cards! (At this point the cards do not ship outside of the US, so I have to take the chances I can get to pick more up!)
  • I was also excited to stop by the TeeRico booth, where I picked up two notebooks. (TeeRico offering merchandise that is officially licensed by Lin-Manuel Miranda.)

There was so much to look at in the Marketplace! I obviously couldn’t buy everything I liked but it was a lot of fun to walk around looking at everything and being surrounded by all of these things I can’t always get back home. There’s also a great atmosphere to the Marketplace. There’s excitement in the air. The excitement of finding the merchandise you were looking for or didn’t know you were looking for, the excitement of seeing your favourite Broadway stars walking around. It’s a great place! (Though dangerous for the wallet!) The BroadwayCon Museum was also in the Marketplace which was a cool place to see bits of Broadway history both old and new (costume pieces, set models, props, lighting paperwork, and more!)

Cosplay is also prevalent at BroadwayCon. Seeing all of the amazing costumes that people come with makes me wish I had the talent, time, tools and budget to create costumes like that! There were a lot of impressive ones! If I were to cosplay (in general) I would want to be a character from a musical, and have actually for a few Halloweens, but at least at BroadwayCon people would actually get it!

I had such a great weekend at BroadwayCon and I already can’t wait to see what next year has in store!

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(If you have any questions about BroadwayCon or want to know more about any of the particular panels let me know!)

 

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Stars in the Alley

If you saw my last post on this blog, you know that I was in New York City recently on a very theatre-filled trip. What I didn’t include in that post was another theatre related event we attended during our time there and decided to dedicate a separate post to this most Broadway of events: Stars in the Alley!

For those of you who are not aware, Stars in the Alley marks the end of the Broadway season and takes place in Shubert Alley, located beside the Shubert Theatre (the current home of Hello, Dolly!).

As we were planning our trip we found out that Stars in the Alley was happening on the day we were going to be leaving the city. Thankfully we were able to work out our travel plans to accommodate a few hours at Shubert Alley before flying home. I always hear about events like this (and things like the Broadway Flea Market, Broadway Barks, Broadway in Bryant Park, etc) but have never been in the city when they were happening so I was so excited to be able to fit this one in! (It is still a goal of mine to someday be in the city for the Broadway Flea Market!) When we were originally planning our trip we were thinking of going a couple of weeks earlier which would have actually coincided with Broadway Bakes (when Broadway actors are selling cookies at Schmackary’s), which would have also been exciting, so it was nice that the timing change worked out to include a different Broadway event!

We got  to Shubert Alley early for the event, which ended up being a lot of fun because we got to see the sound checks for a lot of the performances which meant we got to see some numbers twice, or in some cases three times if they went through it twice during sound check. Tituss Burgess was hosting Stars in the Alley this year (and yes, I am a Kimmy Schmidt fan) and Brandon Uranowitz was the social media correspondent, so it was really cool seeing both of them! Brandon even walked right by us a few times! It was so cool getting to see performances from so many of the current Broadway shows, most of which I was familiar with already but there were some that I didn’t know very well or at all. Just the fact that so many Broadway shows are featured/take part- both new shows from the current/most recent season and other longer running shows (including some of the longest running like The Phantom of the Opera and Chicago) is amazing.  I liked that plays were also included too, with cast members coming out to talk about their shows. I often don’t know as much about the plays as I do the musicals so I like learning more about them (and really should look into them more on my own) and it is nice to see them getting the attention too because when it comes to Broadway a lot of the focus is on the musicals.

As I’ve gone to New York more often in recent years I’ve gotten to see more shows, and more current shows, and to see performances at Stars in the Alley from some of these shows that I had actually seen, both on this trip and on previous trips, and getting to re-experience those songs/performances was so much fun! Shows like School of Rock (though the cast is mostly different from when I saw it), WaitressBandstandAnastasia, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. I got to enjoy encore performances of Corey Cott singing “Donny Novitski,” Christy Altomare singing “Journey to the Past,” and Christopher Fitzgerald singing “You Are Never Getting Rid of Me.” Dave Malloy sang from Great Comet and it’s always so cool seeing composers performing their own songs!

Then there were the performances from shows I have not seen. The Come From Away performance was amazing. They sang “Welcome to the Rock” and it made me regret even more missing it when it was in Toronto! The Dear Evan Hansen performance was also great. I wasn’t sure which song they would perform (and I was not surprised at all that Ben Platt wasn’t there) but it was great seeing Rachel Bay Jones (now Tony winner!), Will Roland and Kristolyn Lloyd perform “Good For You.” It pretty much goes without saying that I really want to see this show too! (We did try entering the digital lottery for it while we were in New York but, not surprisingly, we did not win.)

With events like this it’s fun to see which songs get performed from each show. There always seem to be some “standard” numbers that get performed, the ones that are sung at every similar event, but it’s still great to see them. It’s also fun to see the current casts of the longer running shows, like Abby Mueller who is currently playing Carole King in Beautiful on Broadway (and you can totally tell she and Jessie are related), and the casts of revivals, when you’re more familiar with previous casts, like Mamie Parris (who I did actually see in School of Rock) who is the current Grizabella in Cats.

The one downside to our experience was when it started getting sunny and a tent/cover was put up just a little ways ahead of us, which I’m pretty sure was to cover some equipment, which is totally understandable in itself BUT they put it up during one of the performances (I think it was the Kinky Boots performance) and then when it was up it was crooked with the front corner angled down, which affected our view of the stage. There was a screen visible to the side of where we were standing and we could see some of the stage, looking between the tent and the crowd, so we could still see what was happening on the stage but it was a bit disappointing. Overall though it was a good day- you can’t really go wrong with an afternoon filled with showtunes! The real downside to the day was having to fly home at the end of it!

I love that events like this exist and that I was able to witness this one! Also the fact that it’s a free event makes it even better! Anything that makes Broadway more accessible is a great thing! Broadway tickets are not always the cheapest things to obtain so it’s great that there are free ways to experience what Broadway has to offer. And I’m sure it doesn’t hurt ticket sales either since it also serves the purpose of introducing people to more shows. If I had been staying in New York longer some of these performances might have influenced which shows I would have bought tickets for. It’s also so great seeing that Broadway events like this (and things like BroadwayCon) can draw such crowds! And crowds of varying ages! It’s great to have these events/places where Broadway fans can go and celebrate Broadway and be surrounded by like minded people, where we can obsess to our hearts’ content! And really it just goes to show the impact that Broadway/theatre can have on anyone and everyone!