It's hard to believe that BroadwayCon has only been in existence for three years (and, yes, I've been there for all three)! It's been fun watching this convention and community grow over the years, as I've seen other repeat offenders and made some new friends.
Day One - Friday, January 26th, 2018
After the line for RuPaul's DragCon wrapped around the block last Fall, I arrived at the Javits Center a little early. It was nice to have time to get through security, grab my bag of BroadwayCon gear and browse the Museum before heading to my first panel of the Con. There was Kevin Smith Kirkwood's "Angel" costume from Kinky Boots, a "CONNOR" cast from Dear Evan Hansen and many other props/memorabilia.
I started with "Dancing Through Life: The Transition from Dancer to Choreographer" hosted by Howard Sherman and featuring Sergio Trujillo (On Your Feet!) and JoAnn M. Hunter (Thoroughly Modern Millie). As a fan of dance and choreography, it was interesting to hear Sergio and JoAnn's journeys from dancing in shows, picking up dance later in life and moving on to choreographing shows. My only disappointment, we didn't get to see them dance together!
After learning about dance, I walked down the hall to "The Broadway Ensemble Panel" with the hosts of one of my favorite podcasts, The Ensemblist - Nikka Graff Lanzarone and Mo Brady. The panel featured some of my favorite ensemble members - Thayne Jasperson (Newsies, Hamilton, SYTYCD), Ben Tyler Cook (Tuck Everlasting, Mean Girls) and some other ensemble members that were new to me - Grasan Kingsberry, Jennifer Foote and Vasthy Mompoint. I learned what it's like to "cover" a role as a swing (and how many parts that Jennifer and Vasthy have to know in their respective shows), to add their own stories to their characters and what they've learned from being in an ensemble and sometimes in the OBC, like Thayne, a few times over.
After two panels, I took a little break to get something to eat and walk around the BroadwayCon Marketplace. I found the Dear Evan Hansen booth, where you could post a photo to social media and it would generate a sticker to be added to the DEH mosaic. The equipment told the team where to put your photo on the mosaic, so it would make up Evan's signature striped blue polo. At first, I wasn't sure what I wanted to post; then it occurred to me to find a "nostalgic photo" and I found a pic of me climbing the tree in my childhood front yard. Hard to resist that adorable photo, right? The girl working the booth even commented that it was one of the best ones that she'd seen; "I climbed higher & higher, until the entire sun shines on my face!" (See the OG post on Twitter: https://twitter.com/emoleechen/status/956948849679126529.)
With some food in my belly, it was time for "Actors and Activism with Anthony Rapp and Ilana Levine." Along with Emily Skeggs, Arian Moayed, Britton Smith and Lisa Kron, the panel addressed what they as actors have been doing to help our current political/social climate. I enjoyed hearing about each actor's passions and causes; especially after seeing Emily in Fun Home and in the mini-series When We Rise. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming with the number of causes that need attention and help, but they emphasized that you should pick a few to devote your time to and impact them the best that you can. For me, that's Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and other programs through charities like Housing Works and God's Love We Deliver.
Then I was off to hear more about one of my favorite shows, Kinky Boots at "Everybody Say Yeah: Kinky Boots after 2,000 Performances." Here, BroadwayGirlNYC - Laura Heywood, sat down with four of the "Angels" from the show - Kevin Smith Kirkwood, Joey Taranto, Charlie Sutton and Kyle Post and current Charlie Price, Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters. Although, I've seen the show 5 times, I never get tired of it. I was fascinated hearing about each of the actor's auditions for their "Angel" role, their own drag queen names/personalities, the number of shows for Kinky Boots that they have been there for (KSK wins), coming back to the show and so many other stories. I was intrigued by Jake Shears and although I wasn't running to see him as Charlie, this panel convinced me to buy a ticket to see him, Kirstin (from Pentatonix) and Wayne Brady in a few months. Mostly, I really enjoyed learning how Charlie keeps his body in amazing shape for that boxing ring outfit and how Kyle can't do the split leap, so he just twirled his gum in his audition and Jerry Mitchell loved it!
The day had seemingly flew by and now it was time for the Opening Ceremony! For the first time, there wasn't a big production number and various Broadway stars just came onto the stage and sang. Highlights for me: Betsy Wolfe (Falsettos, Waitress, The Last Five Years) and Billy Porter (in an amazing giant furry hat)!
Immediately following the Opening Ceremony was a reunion of the cast from In The Heights, as the show made it's Broadway Debut almost 10 years ago! Everyone was excited to see the cast, especially Lin-Manuel Miranda and the panel was hosted by his father, Luis Miranda. Even though I saw In The Heights when I first moved to NYC, I was blown away by the number of crossover from ITH into Hamilton and how Lin kept his friends involved in both projects, especially Javi and Chris Jackson. (That's friendship!) I realized that I probably saw most of the OG cast when I went to the show, but at the time my Broadway obsession was only starting to gestate; so I can't remember if I saw Joshua Henry or Mandy Gonzalez. (I can say that I did go to see Corbin Bleu though...as any good High School Musical fan would have done.)
My last panel for the evening was "Show Spotlight: CHICAGO - The Landmark Institution of Razzle Dazzle," featuring Kandi Burruss (The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Xscape member), Joel Grey, Bebe Neuwrith, William Ivey Long and hosted by Paige Davis (Trading Spaces and she played Roxie on Broadway). I loved hearing about the process of recreating Bob Fosse's work, recasting Roxie/Velma, each of the actor's journeys with the show and so much more. Even with not much of a "wow" factor in production on the small stage at the Ambassador, people keep coming back again and again to this show. They always are able to do so much with very little, speaking to the quality of the show!
By 7pm, I'd hit my limit at the Javits Center and headed on my way home to rest up for Day Two.
Day Two - Saturday, January 27th, 2018
My Day Two dilemma: to attend the BroadwayCon Feud (always a favorite) or "Fan Tan Tastic: Asian American Representation"!? Both were at 10am and either one I would be late for, due to L train problems getting into Manhattan. Ultimately, I knew I would get more out of the Asian American panel and it was one of my favorite experiences from last year; so that's where I went. Slightly embarrassed to show up late (how very un-Asian of me), I was still able to find a good seat in the second row. Again, the panel was hosted by Erin Quill (The Fairy Princess Diaries) and consisted of Shoba Narayan (The Great Comet), Telly Leung (Aladdin, In Transit, GLEE), Raymond J. Lee (Groundhog Day, Honeymoon in Vegas) and Ali Ewoldt (The Phantom of the Opera). Erin did a great job in sourcing the panel as there were actors representing various races: Indian, Chinese, Korean and Hapa. I learned about some of their struggles, the whole casting/race debacle that ultimately closed The Great Comet and Ali being the first Asian "Christine" in Phantom (maybe that will make me finally see that show). Erin always brings up great points in her discussions and I couldn't tweet my favorite statements fast enough! I hope this panel continues each year at BroadwayCon! We need more Asian faces on the Great White Way!
Newly energized from the Asian-American panel, I ran off to find a restroom before the Dear Evan Hansen panel and wouldn't you know, where I ended up was right by the green room for the MainStage panelists!? (Oh, hello Taylor Trensch & Noah Galvin!) Along with Steven Levenson (who wrote the book for DEH), they spoke with Dave Quinn about the show, replacing someone as highly praised as Ben Platt and what they were each going to bring to the role of Evan. I was lucky enough to see Noah last year and I couldn't wait until Feb. when I would get to see my #1 Broadway crush, Taylor, tackle the role.
After the panel, I went hustling back to the Marketplace to redeem my lottery ticket to get a photo with Anthony Rapp (OG Mark Cohen from RENT); who was in high demand as the creator of BroadwayCon and for coming forward to share his encounter with Kevin Spacey to the press. (Meanwhile, Britney Spears tickets for Madison Square Garden were going on sale...so, as I waited in line, I tried to no avail to find some seats!) When I finally made it up there, I mentioned to Anthony that it was wonderful to meet him, since I had missed my opportunity in college when he came to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; his response "Oh, that was a long time ago!" Thankfully, I befriended a girl in line by me, so she also took some photos...because after last year's debacle with Celia & Andrew Keenan-Bolger, I didn't want my only photo with him to be with my eyes closed!
Photo taken, I was off to find some food before going to see Theater People Live with Laura Benanti. No sooner had I grabbed a pizza and was wandering around, looking for a place to sit, did I see my friend Jered, who works for the Shubert Organization. He had an extra seat at his table, so I plopped myself down and we caught up while I inhaled my pizza.
Feeling satisfied and thankful to not be on my feet for a bit, I headed back to the MainStage to see and hear Patrick Hinds (The host of Theater People and Broadway Backstory) chat with Ms. Laura Benanti. I got there a little early, so I caught the end of the BroadwayCon CosPlay competition; my favorite was the groundhog from Groundhog Day. Then it was time for the panel and they had such an easy rapport it was fun to just sit back and listen. They talked about her various roles, her new daughter, her relationship with her mother and the challenges of Broadway. I'm forever thankful that I got to meet her and talk to her when I worked at Madewell (and I may still have the receipt that says "Associate: Emily and Customer: Laura Benanti" on it...thanks, Nancy)!
Although I don't listen to the "Broadwaysted" podcast, I do love Sierra Boggess, so I figured it was a good enough place to head to next. The hosts, Kimberly Cooper Schmidt, Bryan Plofsky and Kevin Jaeger played all sorts of silly games with Sierra while drinking. We learned about her failed attempt to perform Phantom in France, injuring herself during a show, being a mermaid and so many other stories. Maybe this show will get added to my podcast list soon.
While figuring out what to do between sessions, I went back to the Museum and took some photos of items from Newsies and If/Then before going to the "Show Spotlight: The Band's Visit." Thankfully, I had just seen the show a few weeks earlier, so I could understand what the challenges were bringing this piece to Broadway and what it was like for these actors to get to play their own ethnicity on the stage for once and not be worried. Again, Laura Heywood, hosted with George Abud, Jonathan Raviv, Etai Benson and Sharone Sayegh.
I was pretty sure that I would have stayed for the Broadway Game Night, but my friend's birthday party beckoned and since she just moved into a beautifully renovated house in South Park Slope, I knew I needed to leave and make my way to Brooklyn.
Day Three - Sunday, January 28th, 2018
Thankfully, the party didn't go too late and the first panel I wanted to see was at 11am! I found a good seat in the MainStage to listen to Julie James (from Sirius XM) chat with Lynn Ahrens (half of the composing/lyricist team for Once on This Island and Anastasia; Stephen Flaherty called in), Christy Altomare (Anastasia) and Hailey Kilgore (Once on This Island). They talked about what it's like to be a young woman on Broadway in a leading role, Hailey's Broadway Debut, working with Ahrens Flaherty and even treated us to a song! Another highlight, when Alex Newell (GLEE) came out and sang "Mama Will Provide" from Once on This Island! I might have gotten a few tears in my eyes during that number...
Then I was off to see the various kids from Fun Home in "Fun Home Kids," where the kids from the workshop, Public Theater, Broadway and Touring productions where there. Laura Heywood was back to moderate and ask questions of all the kids; including Sydney Lucas, Georgi James, Gabrielle Pizzolo, Zell Steele Morrow and Oscar Williams. Having seen the show on Broadway a few times only a few years ago, it was a bit astonishing how fast these kids have grown up and what they've been working on since the show closed.
I was just about to get settled in my next panel, when I got a text from my soon-to-be-Broadway bound friend, Connor, who was about to leave the venue. Since I hadn't seen him in months and he was about to head to Seattle for the out of town tryout for Ride the Cyclone, I left the panel and opted to catch up with him.
After the quick catch up, it was time to go line up for the BroadwayCon First Look at new shows for the next season and for the Closing Ceremony! It was cool hearing about new shows like The Prom, Children of a Lesser God and Getting the Band Back Together. They even offered a special $49/orchestra ticket deal for Getting the Band Back Together, so of course, I booked a ticket for this summer.
Then it was time to wrap up and say farewell! Denee Benton (The Great Comet, unREAL) and Stephanie J. Block were some of my favorites that came out to wrap up BroadwayCon with Ben Cameron. Overall, another successful Con; even if the venue felt a little impersonal, nothing will ever surpass the feeling of the first year, blizzard and all.