Last year, Anthony Rapp, best known for his work in the original Broadway cast of “Rent,” announced plans for “BroadwayCon,” a convention akin to Comic Con, but centered around the theater community. Rapp described it as “not only […] a singular opportunity to spend quality time with those who love Broadway most, but […] the convention that this community deserves.” As a huge fan of Broadway, I scored a pass for all three days as soon as tickets were available. From January 22 to January 24 at the Hilton hotel, Rapp’s words rang true for me; it was the experience of a lifetime for any fan of Broadway, and a chance to finally mingle with not only those as obsessive about theater as I was, but also the stars of the stage.
After I arrived and signed in, donning a pass with my name and the names of my favorite Broadway shows, I headed to the meet-up for “Rent” fans. The meeting room was packed with fans of the show, many sharing touching stories about their experience with “Rent,” from watching the show, to meeting their friends or lovers through a shared love, to putting the musical on with their own theater groups. We even sang some songs from the show together (and heard the “Hamilton” meet-up next door singing as well).
Then, I headed to the MainStage for the opening ceremony. The opening was a short show about a young girl who wants to start a BroadwayCon, chock full of comedic references to a variety of musicals, parodies of songs from “Hairspray,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” and “Hamilton,” and an original song, featuring Rapp himself, to the fans who came to BroadwayCon, calling it “the place for you”—a place to geek out about your love of theater. I immediately understood what this weekend was going to be: a haven for big theater fans of all ages, interested in all types of shows.
The convention was reminiscent of the traditional Comic Con scene, but with Broadway instead of comic books and cartoons. Fans dressed up in cosplay as famous characters like Inspector Javert from “Les Miserables,” Audrey from “Little Shop of Horrors,” Mark Cohen from “Rent,” and King George III from “Hamilton.” Fans grouped together and made friends, talking about their favorite shows and actors. One of my favorite bonding experiences were the singalongs, where I joined dozens of other fans onstage to sing (and maybe dance to) our favorite show tunes.
People flocked to the marketplace, where independent crafters had the chance to sell their Broadway-themed creations to an excited crowd. These included detailed posters, cute buttons, decals and stickers, shirts, ties, and even underpants (with humourous, raunchy quotes). One table featured the Lights of Broadway trading cards, with original art by Justin “Squigs” Robertson, and fans got hooked on trading for specific shows and actors. Theater-based organizations, such as acting schools, ticket organizations, and theater companies, held raffles to promote their services. In the back of the market, if you had a special ticket, you could meet Broadway stars and get an autograph or photograph with them (I scored Celia and Andrew Keenan-Bolger’s autographs).
The most amazing part of the convention was the panels, where experts in theater spoke to the fans about different aspects of the field. The MainStage held panels about current Broadway shows, like “Hamilton,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Fun Home,” and “Something Rotten!”, where the cast and crew talked about their experience with the show. They also held an emotional 20th anniversary panel for “Rent,” featuring the original cast. There were smaller panels taking place every hour or so in meeting rooms analyzing the history, development, and sociology of theater. I attended panels about diversity (which featured Stuyvesant alumnus Telly Leung as a speaker), queer women in theater, adapting movies to plays, the history of women’s portrayal in theater, and many others. There were even workshops for dancing, acting, singing, and improv available with industry professionals, though space was limited and I unfortunately didn’t get this opportunity. I not only learned a lot about a field I’m interested in, but also got to meet some awesome theater celebrities as well.
BroadwayCon had events to attend if you didn’t feel like learning about theater and just wanted to have fun. There was a game of “Family Feud,” where Broadway stars competed to come up with the best answer to questions like “Name a part of a ‘Playbill.’” There was a variety hour featuring a cosplay contest, a spelling bee, and other games. Stars sang their hearts out to rock tunes during karaoke, and the audience members sang their hearts out to YouTube videos of Tony Awards Show performances, projected onto the big screen in the MainStage. The improv group Don’t Quit Your Night Job had a late night performance that cracked me up.
And when a massive snowstorm restricted most transportation, the con did not end; there were simply a few minor schedule changes, but they led to fun events, such as a party where hosts called up celebrities not at the con and broadcasted the calls live. The show must go on, indeed!
The convention will hopefully be better known by next year, but despite being the first attempt at a Broadway convention, it was spectacular. BroadwayCon showcased the respect for the audience that attracts me to the Broadway community. Everyone is encouraged to sing and dance all night, and there are hundreds of people to dance with you. At BroadwayCon, in the words of the great Stephen Sondheim, “No one is alone.”