BroadwayCon 2018 is going to be big, no doubt about that. With expected panels of the casts of Come from Away and the original cast of In The Heights to appearances of your favorite Broadway stars, a lot of going to be happening in the various venue spaces within the Javits Center.
But one small but significant detail that the organizers decided to do this year adds new meaning to this year's event. And that's with the meeting spaces themselves.
Rather than in previous years calling the rooms, "Hall A" or whatever the New York Midtown Hilton titled their rooms, BroadwayCon 2018 is going to pay tribute by naming the rooms after trailblazing women in the theatre industry.
The rooms are named after Trude Rittmann, Ruth Mitchell, Willa Kim, Diosa Costello, Vinnette Carroll, Hildy Parks and Renee Harris.
Trude Rittmann (1908 - 2005) was a composer and arranger born in Germany. After immigrating to the United States in the 1930s, she began working as a pianist for George Balanchine and Agnes de Mille, who she followed to Broadway. Trude worked as a dance arranger, who turns a composer's song into the music played during long dance sequences or between scenes. She eventually began working closely with Richard Rodgers, and writing dance arrangements for his shows from Carousel to The Sound of Music, notably contributing to the “Small House of Uncle Thomas" ballet and solfege section of “Do Re Mi". Her 50+ Broadway credits also include My Fair Lady, Brigadoon, Finian's Rainbow, and Jerome Robbins' Broadway. After Richard Rodgers' death, Mary Rodgers worked to get Trude credited for her extensive contributions to the music we associate with the men she worked for.
Ruth Mitchell (1919 - 2000) was Hal Prince's longtime associate, working alongside him on shows such as Cabaret, Follies, Sweeney Todd, The Phantom of the Opera, and Show Boat. She began her career as a performer and quickly transitioned into stage management, where she once said that her duties included everything but “singing the hit song or selling orange drink in the lobby." Her stage management credits include The King and I, West Side Story, Gypsy, and Fiddler on the Roof.
Willa Kim (1917 - 2016) was a costume designer for dance and theatre whose Broadway credits included The Will Rogers Follies, Jumpers, Legs Diamond, Dancin', and Victor, Victoria. She began her career as a fashion illustrator in California before becoming an assistant costumer at Paramount Studios. She then followed her mentors to New York, where her first four Broadway shows ran for a combined total of 12 days. Eventually, she earned six Tony Award nominations, winning two. Willa Kim kept working into her 90s, including a 2007 production of The Sleeping Beauty at American Ballet Theater.
Juana de Dios Castrello (1913 - 2013) was better known as the performer, producer, and club owner Diosa Costello. She began her dance career in Spanish Harlem clubs and became known for dancing opposite Desi Arnaz. She debuted on Broadway in George Abbott's Too Many Girls (1939), becoming the first Latina to appear on the Broadway stage. She was later seen as a replacement “Bloody Mary" in South Pacific. She also appeared in the films “Miss Sadie Thompson," “They Met in Argentina," and Laurel and Hardy's “The Bullfighters."
Vinnette Carroll (1922 - 2002) was a playwright and actress, and the first black woman to direct on Broadway. She was nominated for three Tony Awards: Best Direction of a Musical Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope and Best Book and Best Direction of a Musical for Your Arms Too Short to Box With God. She is credited with the conception of both of those shows, in addition to her role as director. She was also the founder of the Urban Arts Corps, a non-profit community theater that offered classes for young actors in underserved areas. Until Liesl Tommy's 2016 nomination for Eclipsed, Vinnette Carroll was the only African-American woman to have received a Tony nomination for direction, and she remains the only female African-American nominee for Best Direction of a Musical.
Hildy Parks (1926 - 2004) was a performer, writer, and producer, who collaborated with her husband, Alexander H. Cohen, on several Broadway productions and Tony Awards shows. Though Cohen is remembered for his work producing the Tonys from 1967-1986, Hildy wrote the script for the awards show, making sure that from its first broadcast, the Tonys would be interesting to home viewers. Together, Parks and Cohen were nominated for five Emmy Awards for their work on the Tonys, winning one in 1980. (Hildy won a second in 1982 for producing The Night of 100 Stars). Her Broadway producing credits include 84 Charing Cross Road, I Remember Mama, and Anna Christie.
Renee Harris (1876 - 1969) was New York's first female theatrical producer. Renee and her husband, Henry B. Harris, lived together above Harris' Hudson Theatre until Henry died in the 1912 sinking of the Titanic. Renee took over the theater and operated it herself, once refusing a $1.2 million offer for the theater out of fear that it would be torn down and replaced with an office building. The Hudson remained in Renee Harris's control until the Great Depression. In 2017, 114 years after it opened, the Hudson reopened as a Broadway house, making it both the oldest and the newest Broadway theater.
For me, being able to host my panel in the Vinnette Carroll Room, named after a woman of color who broke down so many doors for others to follow, will be an honor.
BroadwayCon is an amazing event to attend and I am so thrilled they are doing this. So if you're attending the event, take a moment to read the names, look up their accomplishments and acknowledge the work they did that led to so much more.
Photo: Marc J. Franklin