Round Two! For the Second Annual BroadwayCon, the organizers moved the convention from the Midtown Hilton to the Jacob K. Javits Center in the West part of Manhattan. There was a lot more space at this year's convention, but having all the events spread out made it feel a little less intimate. Nevertheless, I had a great time and remembered to bring plenty of snacks, so I could run from panel to panel and not have to miss anything!
Day One - Friday, January 27th, 2017
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the new location, as I'd only been to the Javits Center back in 2009 for the NY Gift Show. BroadwayCon had a smaller portion of the Center, as the NY Times Travel and Boat Show took up the larger areas. (I wonder what all those travel enthusiasts thought about the Broadway-themed cos play all weekend!?)
Registration was much smoother, as there was one general line vs. many lines divided up by last name, like last year. Still, I gave myself plenty of time to arrive at the venue, armed with snacks, I found a place to sit and study the layout of the convention center.
My first panel was "Legacy Roles," with Danny Burstein, Kelli O'Hara, Judy Kuhn and Celia Keenan-Bolger. They talked about assuming roles in projects with a lots of history, how and if they studied their predecessors and a lot about working with Barlett Sherr as a director. I learned that Celia work-shopped A Light in the Piazza, only to be replaced by Kelli and then found her way into The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee though similar circumstances. I also realized that Judy was known for the singing voice of Disney's Pocahontas, surprised that I hadn't made that connection sooner. (Amusing fact: the amount of Madewell that Celia was wearing at this panel - and all weekend. Such a faithful client!)
I then found my way to "Broadway Blues: When Diversity Makes a Profit, but Not a Comeback" with Broadway Black and a special guest, Bebe Neuwirth! Moderated by the editorial director, Andrew Shade, the panel was a serious, but fun discussion about diversity on Broadway. Andrew's enthusiasm caught on early with the room and the 50 minute panel flew by! I loved hearing stories from Bebe and Sydnee Winters, who I had just seen as Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton in January.
Then I was off to see Celia again, in "So You're Nominated for Your Broadway Debut" with Lauren Worsham and hosted by Michael Gioia from PLAYBILL. Celia, of course, received her first Tony nomination for her debut in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Lauren hers for A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. They both talked about their paths to the Broadway stage and the blur that was their first Tony Awards season; along with the challenges of still performing in their show 8 times a week, while on the awards circuit.
After that panel, I decided it was time to take a break for lunch and wander around the BroadwayCon Museum & Marketplace. I grabbed a delicious Pat LaFrieda burger and fries in the Javits Center food court and then went to explore the vendors and museum. There were a few historic pieces from last year's museum; Fredi Walker's jacket from RENT, but a lot of costume pieces from Michael Ceveris' career on the stage; Hedwig, Fun Home, etc. I also enjoyed the set design pieces for Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 and prop pies from Waitress.
Then I went to get in line for my first even at the MainStage for "The BroadwayCon 2017 Opening Ceremony." Featuring Sam Tanabe from Allegiance, the show was about a young man moving to NYC to pursue his Broadway dreams and how they could save the arts. There were lots of great cameos, but I particularly enjoyed Carolee Carmello as one of his mom's and it didn't hurt that she regrammed my photo of the ceremony on her Instagram page!
Having recently seen The Great Comet, I was interested in sticking around by the MainStage for "Chandeliers and Caviar: Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812." Julie James from Sirius XM talked with the cast about their various roles and how the two leads, Josh Groban and Denee Benton, got involved with the show. But the highlight for me was when Brittain Ashord talked about their cast warmup song, "Eat a Bag of Dick's," which totally means the burger joint in Seattle, right!?
The panel up was "Twenty Years on Pride Rock" with Whoopi Goldberg and Julie Taymor; however just before it was scheduled to start, I saw a Tweet that Whoopi was unable to attend, due to illness. The panel was an interesting discussion with Julie and one of the OG management/production members of the show; they reminisced about casting, how Rafiki became female and what the process was of making all the animal puppets and focusing on their movement.
Feeling pretty full and excited after Day 1, I stayed for only part of the BroadwayCon Cabaret, before heading home for the night. At least I got to see and hear Anthony Rapp sing "Happiness" from You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, before I called it a night!
Day Two - Saturday, January 28th, 20167
The second day, I didn't arrive quite so early to the venue, since I already had my pass and all, but I wanted to make sure I got a good seat for the BroadwayCon Feud, one of the highlights from last year's convention. The line was pretty long, but I made some friends with a few girls who had traveled in from Philadelphia and we were able to find some decent seats towards the front, left side of the Main Stage.
Jenn Collela was back to host again, but I knew it wouldn't be quite the same without Susan Blackwell on the stage too! BroadwayCon Feud was full of stars and some fans, who competed yesterday in a little quiz to qualify for the game. Jenn talked about how she kissed everyone on the mouth last year, so started out the introductions by doing the same this year. Some the categories were definitely tough and even I found myself struggling to name 5 female directors of shows on Broadway!
I moved a little farther up towards the MainStage for "Everybody Say Yeah: Three Years at Kinky Boots" and befriended an older man who had a mild obsession with Kinky Boots and Broadway, in general. We became Instagram friends and he told me about the TDF Honors Concert for Kinky Boots coming up in March. I enjoyed hearing Killian Donnelly talk about his journey from the West End to the Broadway stage, Taylor Louderman's first few weeks as Lauren and Todrick Hall talking about how his experience as Lola has changed his perspective on performance. What really struck a chord with me was how he mentioned that he would not do "Twerkin' in the Rain" after this experience, since it seemed to be one of the most fun parts of his set at Elsie Fest last Fall. It'll be interesting to see what he does after his stint in Kinky Boots!
I finally left the MainStage to see a panel about casting long running roles, called "Casting Roxie, Raul, and Rafiki." Three casting directors talked about their challenges and exciting times casting various roles. I identified the most with Benton Whitley, who was the youngest in the group and talked about his challenges casting the role of Velma Kelly in Chicago. He discussed how they do a little bit of "stunt casting," by placing celebrities into the role of Roxie and Billy Flynn, but that there are only 4 or so actresses who can perform Velma's part. (I would definitely keep this in mind when I went to see Mel B in Chicago, a few weeks late.)
Staying in the same programming room, I moved to the front row for "Someone in a Tree: Asian-American Representation on Broadway" and saw Erin Quill come in with Amy Hill. Immediately, my heart started beating faster; "Grandma from All-American Girl is here!" I kept thinking. I remember watching her on TV as a teenager and identifying with her, since she was so much like my Dad and Popo. The panel also consisted of B.D. Wong (another All-American Girl alumni and one of my childhood crushes), Kelvin Moon Loh (from Here Lies Love and American Idiot), and Manu Narayan (Bombay Dreams). Noticeably absent was Ruthie Ann Miles, as Erin said "someone named Jake Gyllenhaal" was holding her hostage, meaning she was in rehearsals for Sunday in the Park with George and couldn't make it for the panel. The discussion was vibrant and lively; as they talked about taking roles outside of their own Asian ethnicity (i.e. playing a Chinese person, when they are Korean), the challenges of even finding roles and how this was impacted by the recent Presidential election. After the panel, I got the chance to speak with Manu and shake his hand. He said he appreciated how engaged I was in their panel and that the community still has quite a way to go with Asian representation on the stage.
I took a short break and walked around the center before getting in line for "Even If You're Little, You Can Do a Lot: Broadway Kids 2017." Several kids from Matilda, The Lion King and Annie participated in the panel, but i think a lot of the crowd was there to see Jake and Sydney Lucas. The kids talked about the challenges of their roles and funny stories, but I really enjoyed the second part of the panel, when the kid swings came up on stage. Girls from The Lion King and Matilda talked about all the roles they covered and how they tried (or didn't try) to keep all the various tracks separated in their memories.
My last panel of the day was with the creators of In Transit and, Justin Guarini (the only cast member who appeared) in "Getting There: In Transit." The team talked about the development process and the difficulties of bringing an a Capella musical to the Broadway stage. The cast is constantly singing during the show, so even things like costume changes require someone else from the cast to take over the beats for a few measures! The show is performed without an intermission, so they must stay fully engaged for the whole performance. Although Justin doesn't mention his American Idol experience in his bio, one of the creators did make a small jab at him, saying "I voted for you!"
Day Three - Sunday, January 29th, 2017
When I found out that my friend, Connor, got a role in the National Tour of The Little Mermaid, I knew I had to go and see him in the show! It seemed like a great time to travel to Columbus, OH and visit my friend, Jonelle, who had moved back there last year. What I didn't realize was that it was immediately following BroadwayCon weekend. So, yes, I brought along my suitcase to the convention center and knew I would have to depart early to make it to LGA on time for my 7pm flight.
Even with the little travel challenge, I still got to the Javit Center early to get a good seat for "Tyler Mount's Broadway Besties" panel! I got to meet Tyler last year and since then have been occasionally watching his Snapchat or Vlog to learn more about my favorite Broadway stars. The highlight for this morning was seeing Andrew Chappelle from Hamilton, as he played a game with Tyler and came out to sing "Let's Hear It For the Boy." Other guests included Keala Settle, Ariana DeBose and Christopher Jackson. Each actor got to play a game with Tyler and do a performance, if they wanted. It was certainly a fun way to start off the morning.
I was able to move up a few rows in the MainStage before "Waving Through a Window: The Dear Evan Hansen Panel" started. Julie James was back to host with the entire cast of Dear Evan Hansen. Julie asked some great questions to the cast, but mostly everyone wanted to know how Ben Platt is that emotionally present in the show 8 times a week! Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, fresh off their La La Land success, even talked about how they knew Ben was right for the role and what a dream it's been to have the funding to create this story that they've had since college.
After Dear Evan Hansen, I thought it would be a good idea to stay in the MainStage, since the Hamilton panel was up in an hour or so. Even though I hadn't seen A Bronx Tale, I thought it would be a good time to eat my lunch and listen to the story of the show in "This is A Bronx Tale." Chazz Palminteri, the creator, was a little late, but the cast talked about their process in bringing this show to the stage. Ariana talked about her transition from ensemble in Hamilton to a leading role in A Bronx Tale and what it's like to be one of the only women in the show. When the panel was over, I went on a quick restroom break and almost ran smack dab into Anthony Rapp! Oops. Then that was followed by passing Mandy Gonzalez and Lexi Lawson, when I was headed back to my seat.
For the "Hamilton: The Next Administration" panel, it was great to see these actors, since I had just seen the show on January 10th. Although, Brandon Victor Dixon was out when I saw the show, I enjoyed his story about how he heard Shuffle Along was closing and that he would be succeeding Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr. It was also great to hear Taran Killam talk about his journey from SNL to his Broadway debut as King George III. And of course, there was the kid with the It Factor, ever since Grease LIve, Jordan FIsher, who was a highlight of the show for me, with his new energy and choices as Phillip Hamilton. The ladies weren't as talkative, but everyone seemed to be excited to be at BroadwayCon and enjoying the moment.
After the Hamilton panel, I headed back to the Marketplace, for the only Photobooth Session I won: Andrew & Celia Keenan-Bolger. It seemed like everyone in line was there for Andrew, as I was next to a girl in a Tuck Everlasting t-shirt and Newsies hat, but he was almost an after thought to me, I was there for Celia. NOw, it may seem silly, since she was one of my regulars at Madewell, but it was nice to see her out of my usual job. As I walked up, her eyes got bright and she did a little dance and hugged me! We chatted for a bit, the photographer snapped a photo and that was it. (On a side note, I'm glad that I asked the Tuck/Newsies girl to take some photos for me, since she caught a little of Celia's dance and because in the official BroadwayCon photo, my eyes were closed!)
After the photobooth session, it was back to the MainStage for part of the "BroadwayCon First Look." I knew that I wouldn't be able to stay for all the performances, but was hoping that I would be able to see most of the new shows for the Spring. First up, Corey Cott and Laura Osnes, singing a song from Bandstand. Followed by Jenn Collela singing her number from Come From Away, which only made me more curious about this little show and how it could be the one to watch come this Tony Awards season. Up next was the cast of Significant Other, with Gideon Glick performing one of his monologues from the show and some of my other Broadway favs, Lindsey Mendez and Rebecca Naomi Jones. Then Eva Noblezada from Miss Saigon performed and before I knew it, it was time for me to leave for the airport.
And that's a wrap on BroadwayCon 2017! I can't wait to see what 2018 will bring!