By Stanford Friedman
In olden days, before the dawn of the internet, Broadway lovers who lived out of town often starved. They had to wait for the Sunday Times Arts & Leisure section to arrive on the following Wednesday, and wait for the vinyl of the latest musical to be available at the mall, and wait for the annual Tony Awards broadcast to try to sate their appetite. Today, of course, theater geeks feast upon a buffet of instantaneous bliss, following their favorite shows and stars on social media, downloading scores and video clips before a show even opens, and building online communities to share in the spoils.
It was only a matter of time, then, before fans, marketers and performers came upon a shared realization. If Broadway is a banquet, then bring one and all together, fill a New York ballroom with teens and millennials who will tweet and Instagram even as they group-sing their favorite show tunes, add some serious panel talks, some silly presentations, a vendor area and lots and lots of all things Hamilton. Thus, BroadwayCon was born to sate the legions. With an overflow crowd of nearly 5,000 (80% female, 50% under 30, and 75% non New Yorkers), the New York Hilton is rocking this weekend, stuffed with more talks and talent than one could ever hope to take in. I came a bit late to the party, foregoing the opening sing-alongs, delving instead into a couple Friday afternoon snacks to whet my appetite before a full slate on Saturday and Sunday.
First up was The Hamilton Panel, featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda and seven other cast members of the megahit, being interviewed by Playbill editor, Blake Ross. It is safe to say that nearly everyone in the room knew every word of the musical by heart, and the audience ate up all that the actors had to say. They were helped out by an unseen typist, impressively providing a real-time transcript that was projected onto the many video screens in the mainstage ballroom. Then, near disaster. Ross asked if any of the actors ever rapped previously to being in Hamilton. One replied, “I rapped to Hip Hop.” But the typist left out one of the p’s in “rapped.” Fortunately, both cast and audience took it for the awkward mistake it was. Miranda put a seal on the deal by performing a freestyle rap centered around the faux pas.
The next session, entitled “I Was a Teenage Diva” shifted the action from accidental embarrassments to intentional ones, with a group of major Broadway stars providing footage of their childhood performances, before letting loose to showcase their grown up chops. It was perfect fodder for this crowd, and featured video of an unrecognizable 13-year-old Peter Pan who grew up to be the wonderful Lesli Margherita, and a totally recognizable Rob McClure doing impressions at his 4th grade talent show: