By Stanford Friedman
For the second year in a row, BroadwayCon coincided with a severe storm. But this time, instead of a blizzard, a fierce political wind raged through the city, with thousands taking to the streets in protest. At the Javitz Center, in keeping with theater tradition, the show went on. And what a show it was. Sunday morning brought out a dozen of the industry’s most talented artists. First, there were the choreographers. Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton, In the Heights), Lorin Latarro (Waitress) and Spencer Liff (Falsettos, Spring Awakening) discussed their craft. After all three admitted that their first choreographic efforts were near disasters, they shared their hard earned wisdom. Andy noted that the key to creating a dance is finding the “tension that leads a character to make a decision,” and observed that the purpose of dance is not only to physicalize internal emotion, but also to glamorize it. Romanticism, he said, validates how an audience feels. When a number, for instance, affects how a man feels about his wife, choreography suddenly becomes a large responsibility. Lorin, meanwhile, demonstrated how dance is constructed from psychological gestures as she called on audience members to come up with physical manifestations of loneliness which she then sculpted into a dance move. Spencer was asked how a choreographer finds his signature moves and sagely pointed out that his job lies elsewhere. An audience should fall in love with the show’s characters and not be busy observing a choreographer’s style.
Next came a session featuring Broadway photographers. There was The New York Times veteran Sara Kulwich, Kinky Boots and Hamilton photographer Matthew Murphy, and the two women whose photos can be found everywhere on this website, Joan Marcus and Carol Rosegg. Having typed their names into the photo credits of my reviews numerous times, it was a treat to connect them to faces and voices, and to hear the entire panel speak about their profession and the way that digital cameras have changed their work. We were also treated to slides of some of their most interesting photos, many of which are now iconic, including Mr. Murphy’s shot of Lin-Manuel Miranda that was incorporated into the Hamilton logo.
The capper to the morning was a gathering of five mega-directors. It would be easier to list the shows that they have not directed (Hamilton. That’s about it.). Diane Paulus, Des McAnuff, Kathleen Marshall, Pam MacKinnon and Tina Landau captivated a huge crowd with their insights. In discussing musicals, Mr. McAnuff confessed that he had actually directed more non-musicals over the past decade, but that musicals “tend to nullify other work.” He also leaked some news: he’s currently working on a show about Donna Summer. Ms. MacKinnon came to New York especially to direct musicals but, after working with Edward Albee, fell into straight plays instead. Now, 22 years later, she is directing her first musical, the upcoming Amélie. Meanwhile, Ms. Landau, who is also a playwright, waxed poetic, saying that she thinks of directing as forming sentences, paragraphs and punctuation that are written “in the language of the theater.”
If the morning was a study in confident creatives, the afternoon was a story of actors and their egos. A panel of performers who have stepped into roles in long-running shows found Frankie J. Grande and his ovesized personality carrying on about his role in Rock of Ages at one end of the dais, and stage veteran Marc Kudisch, no shy guy himself, giving Grande death stares from the other end, when not extolling his own virtues. Trapped in between were Deirdre Lovejoy, Luba Mason, and Wicked’s Julia Murney and Arielle Jacobs. Once Mr. Grande had finished taking selfies with his numerous young fans, the next session was able to take the stage: the very funny Ann Harada, Allison Guinn and Todd Buonopane discussing what it’s like to be a character actor. In listing their influences, Ms. Guinn mentioned both Imogene Coca and Chris Farley, while Ms. Harada said that she always wanted to be an “Asian Nancy Walker.” Mr. Buonopane showed keen insight in defining the purpose of a character actor as, ultimately, telling the story of the lead characters, and also observed, that when auditioning, joking around with the director may be as useful as the actual line reading because, after all, they are being hired on their ability to provide comic relief. All three panelists are large bodytypes, which proved an unfortunate distraction as questions from the audience threatened to turn the hour into, as Mr. Buonopane quipped, “a Weight Watchers meeting.” The moderator found himself asking the audience to refrain from weight-related questions after a brief and awkward sidetrack on whether “character actor” is really code for “fat actor.” No, advised the panel, character actor is code for not the lead actor. Food for thought.
A last look at BroadwayCon cosplay: Two of Every Kind…