Broadway Up Close

Broadway Up Close offers 5 different Broadway-related walking tours in New York City: Act I, Act II, Act III, The HamilTour, and The Ghostlight Tour.

I first heard about Broadway Up Close Walking Tours back in 2014 when looking for things to do in NYC and ended up taking both the Act I and Act II tours on that particular trip. We booked our Act I tour for a Sunday morning. We had so much fun on that first tour that, even though we thought it would be a complete long shot, we decided to see if it would be at all possible to book an Act II tour before we left on Monday (yes, the next day). To this day some of the best customer service I’ve ever experienced has come from booking these Broadway tours. When we were looking into booking the Act II tour we were sending emails between seeing the matinee of If/Then and the evening show of Rock of Ages to the owner of BUC, Tim Dolan, who was acting in a show at the time and responding during his intermission, and then finalising the details after all of the shows were done that night. In the end we were able to book a last minute Act II tour for the following morning.

Ever since I took those first two tours, every time they’ve announced a new tour (Act II, The HamilTour, The Ghostlight Tour), I knew I wanted to take them! I was really happy when I saw Broadway Up Close was going to have a booth at the BroadwayCon Marketplace this year. It was such a pleasure meeting Tim Dolan in person and that is where I was able to book my third tour with the company, the HamilTour. I was leaving the city the Monday night after BroadwayCon but had time to fill during the day and when I saw that the HamilTour was offered on Mondays, I knew I wanted to take it! At their booth I was also able to pick up a copy of the Act I Souvenir Program, which hadn’t been available when I took the tour. I’m looking forward to reading through it and re-experiencing the stories I heard on that first tour!

All three of the tour I’ve taken have been both extremely interesting and entertaining. I always love learning theatre history and these tours are such a great way to do so. The Act I and II tours take you around to certain theatres and locations in the Broadway area sharing relevant history, ghost stories, fun facts and other stories. The HamilTour takes you to parts of Hamilton’s New York (which was actually an area of New York I had not really explored before), tying in the real life history and locations to the Broadway musical (both with regards to major plot points and smaller details), while also making connections with the design elements of show and sharing other facts and stories about the musical. I’ve learned a lot of American history from Hamilton and from reading about the show (we don’t generally learn much American history here in Canada) and I learned even more on the HamilTour.

Every interaction I’ve had with anyone from BUC has been extremely positive, both when booking the tours and on the tours themselves, and you can tell there is excellent communication between everyone at BUC. At the end of out Act I tour we had spent some time talking to our Green Team Guide, Mikey, and it came up how I am interested in the backstage side of theatre. Then for our Act II tour they organized it so that one of the Guides who is also a stage manager would lead our tour. It was such a nice touch. You can tell they really care about the people who take the tours and the extra touches, like setting up a tour with a specific tour guide or things as simple as just remembering where you’re from and if you’ve taken their tours before, make the experience all the more personal. I was even given hand warmers for the HamilTour. And on top of that they obviously care about the tours themselves. Not only are all of the tour guides extremely knowledgeable, you can tell they care about what they’re talking about.

Both my Act II tour and HamilTour ended up being private tours (Act II was me, my mom and our Guide, Theresa, and the HamilTour was just me and the Guide, Cary) and it made them both really fun experiences and even more personal! It was fun getting all of the information and seeing all of the sights while also being able to go off on tangents and discuss different things as they came up.

If you’re ever looking for something to do in New York and you love theatre and the history that goes with it I can’t recommend these tours enough! I personally can’t wait to go back to New York and cross the other two tours (Act III and The Ghostlight Tour) off my list! (And I would happily take any of the tours again!)

img_3224.jpgThe Act I Souvenir Program & My Lanyard From the HamilTour

 

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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!)

 

The Thrill of Trip Planning

I’ve been planning what has become my annual trip to New York City (for BroadwayCon). It’s always such an exciting thing planning these trips- thinking about the shows you want to see while you’re there and the other locations you want to visit. With the BroadwayCon centred trips, the convention itself takes up the majority of the time, which is by no means a bad thing! But it does limit the time available for show and sight seeing, so there is a little bit of strategy involved in the planning. What can we fit in when not at BroadwayCon and what shows are at the top of our “want to see” list? For me, show planning usually means coming up with a few options because I usually end up going to TKTS to try to get discounted tickets! This year we’re going to try for a couple of digital lotteries, with TKTS being a backup plan for when we don’t win those (we’re entering for Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen so I know the odds of us winning will be quite slim, but there’s no harm in trying!!).

It’s fun to leave some time open for just wandering around the city but I do have some specific locations/stores I like to visit when I’m there. Three of my top places to visit are: Schmackary’s, The Drama Book Shop, and Theatre Circle. Schmackary’s has amazing cookies and I’m planning on making a couple stops there on this trip! I have yet to have any Broadway actor sightings there, but maybe some day! The Drama Book Shop the combination of two of my favourite things in one wonderful place: theatre and books. Even if I don’t buy anything it feels great to just wander around (and add more to my ever growing list of books I want to read). Sure Theatre Circle could be considered as quite a touristy shop but I love anywhere I can buy Broadway merchandise! With BroadwayCon though I do have to keep the Market Place in mind as it is another great place to pick up Broadway merch! This year I know I’m especially going to be on the lookout for Bandstand and Great Comet related items! Sure, my wallet might not be to thrilled having to deal with the exchange rate but if that’s what it takes to be surrounded by all things Broadway, it’s a price I’m willing to pay!

New York is one of my favourite cities and I love that I’ve been able to go there more frequently. As I go more and more often, the more I learn about the city and am able to navigate my way around better and better, particularly in the Times Square/Theatre District. It’s quite satisfying actually knowing my way around! Some of my happiest memories of late have taken place in New York City and I can’t wait to add even more from this trip!

What about those of you who are reading this blog, do you have any go-to New York locations? Any recommendations??