BroadwayCon 2017 : Bigger Venue, Same Heart
When BroadwayCon kicked off its inaugural gathering last year, it did so under the threat of an impending blizzard. When the storm reached New York, organizers and fans rallied together to make the event an entertaining and memorable success.
This year, the event kicked off with the thoughts of another impending storm, this time coming from Washington. The election and its ramifications for the arts were a constant topic of discussion among the panels and even the opening ceremony.
However, the message was not one of fear nor outrage but what makes the theatrical arts so important and how it can heal. If BroadwayCon 2016 proved that an event like this could work, its 2017 edition proved why it's so important and needed more than ever.
This year, the event made the jump from the intimate confines of the New York Midtown Hilton to the Javits Center. While there were initial concerns whether this move was going to be good or bad for the event, those concerns were quickly dashed by seeing the layout and programming.
With the larger space, organizers could provide more panels, performances and a larger marketplace for fans looking for the latest treasures and merchandise. Talking with some repeat participants, they said that while much of the intimacy of the first "Con" was lost, the larger space made things a bit more convenient. However the day wasn't without some issues. I spoke with one woman with a walking disability who told me that with events being located on either side of the Javits(which is a long walk for anyone), there wasn't a cart or easier mode of transportation which led her to miss some panels. I saw on more than one occasion people in the same predicament trying to rushing from one side to another.
But even with these minor hiccups, the spirit and fun of the event wasn't lost.
Day 1 highlights included a fantastic panel talking about the musical Ragtime and its lasting impact. The panel included former cast members, directors and lyricist Lynn Ahrens. With the latest controversy swirling around NJ's Cherry Hill High School production, I had a chance to ask Ms. Ahrens about it. Last week the Board of Education moved to remove all racial slurs from the script, despite the show being about racial tensions at the turn of the 20th Century.
"We can't keep sanitizing history," she said. "Otherwise we forget it."
She also commented that she had seen the video of the students at the school, defending the production and praised their passion. Interestingly enough, within hours of the panel, news broke that the Board of Education decided to allow the production to go on without censoring the material.
Another Day 1 highlight was a reunion of William Finn's show In Trousers, the first of the "Marvin" musicals. March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland. The panel included past cast members such as Mary Testa, Alison Fraser and Chip Zien. It also included director Ira Weitzman and William Finn himself, who could also successfully double as a stand up comic with the laughs he got telling some of his stories.
A must-see panel early in the day was about how to fill roles that are considered "legacies" and the pressure to perform them well. The panel included A-List Broadway stars Kelli O'Hara, Danny Burstein, Judy Kuhn and Celia Keenan-Bolger. If Broadway ever needs a world ambassador, I submit Ms. Keenan-Bolger for consideration.
Day 1 cast panels included the cast of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, one of the hottest tickets on Broadway right now. The cast includes Josh Groban, Denée Benton and Lucas Steele.
The day also featured the now traditional "Opening Number". This year the ceremony featured a story line about the cancellation of Broadway and a young man's quest to get it reinstated. The show featured Broadway performers such as Lesli Margherita, James Monroe Iglehart, Alice Ripley and co-organizer Anthony Rapp as well as Broadway social media star Patrick Hinds.
With two days of the gathering to go, BroadwayCon 2017 is off to a great start. With the larger venue, it only amplified the message of fostering and celebrating the arts. With an administration in office that, so far, has followed through on its campaign promises, there is a lot of concern over funding for the arts and its future.
However, one thing is clear, this event encourages you to address those concerns while belting your face off. BroadwayCon, thankfully, is here to stay.
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Photo: Marc J. Franklin