Photos/Coverage: Maryann Lopinto
Last weekend thousands of folks of all ages from New York, all over the United States, and even from out of the country, flooded the New York Hilton for the 5th Annual BroadwayCon which was held from Friday, January 24th through Sunday January 26th. Many came in costumes of characters from Broadway shows brilliantly hand crafted. The likes of Anna from The King and I, Frozen, Dolly Levi, Little Mermaid, Evita, Beetlejuice, so many more too numerous to mention. There were so many events to attend: workshops, lectures, autographs, photos with stars, sing-a-longs, and karaoke. There were show spotlights, talent contests and interviews. One had to choose because many were at the same time.
My first stop was the “Broadway Podcasts Network Feinstein 54.” On the panel was the Marketing Director Nella Vera, and two performers Jelani Remi and Amanda Jane Cooper who filled us in on their climbing to stardom. This room is so much a part of Broadway, presenting up and coming performer dedications to Broadway shows gone by, revues and about the theaters themselves. Major Broadway performers got to be themselves, without performing a role. Such examples as Christine Ebersole, Christine Andreas, Lee Roy Reams, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Beth Leavel, who recently sold out her entire six days. run. The room is known as “Broadways Living Room.”
Following this, in the Grand Ballroom, was “BroadwayCon 2020 First Look” – sneak preview of what to expect on Broadway this coming season. In the past years we got to see a preview of Come From Away, Anastasia, and last year, Kiss Me, Kate, Moulin Rouge, Tootsie, Hadestown, and Beetlejuice.
My First Spotlight was “Spotlight of Moulin Rouge,” where we met the stars of the show, Danny Burstein, Aaron Tveit, Tam Mutu, Sahr Ngaujah and Alex Timbers. We learned a lot about this production based on Baz Luhrmann’s motion picture and how to create a live show in a show plus develop the storyline of the characters, the decision to use well known songs and how to make this all work, giving audience members the feeling of actually sitting in the Moulin Rouge. The show first opened in Boston and six months later made many changes before opening on Broadway. Danny Burstein used the six month downtime to take over the role of Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady and then returned to Moulin Rouge. Moulin Rouge is Danny’s 18th Broadway show and garnered him six Tony Award Nominations during his career so far.
Taking a breather, eating dinner, I made my way to the Market Place, to see all it had to offer. I found tables with crafts created by artists re theatre – pins, magnets, clothing, memorabilia. I met with Brian Stokes Mitchell and Kerry Butler at the Broadway Records table who were autographing their CDs. Justin “Squigs” Robertson was at his table with his collection of cards, “The Lights of Broadway Show Cards,” and there were cards that he designed especially for the Convention. And there were folks singing their heads off!
Next was back to Ballroom for the Donna McKechnie interview by Ruthie Fierberg from Playbill. Most of the interview covered A Chorus Line and how they were all brought together for a workshop at the Public Theatre and given a tape recorder by Michael Bennett to talk about their careers. This was used to write the show and many of the stories were used in the creation of the production, but the performers did not get to perform their own stories even though they were in the show. Special surprise guest, Ms. McKechnie’s friend, Baayork Lee was introduced. Baayork was in the original cast of A Chorus Line with Donna. She begged Michael to be herself and was able to get him to agree, playing Connie Wang in the show. Over the years, Baayork Lee has gone on to direct and/or choreograph more than 35 international productions, as well as the Broadway revival in 2006.
My final show that night was “BroadwayCon Time Machine 1990” with five performers who were on Broadway 30 years ago, in the 90’s. There was Greg Edelman, City of Angels, Mary Stout A Change in the Heir, Bob Stillman Grand Hotel, Legs Diamond, Jay Obery Jones, Cats and Doug Friedman in the final cast of A Chorus Line hosted by Jennifer Ashley Tepper. Bob Stillman was written out of Legs Diamond when it came into New York, but attended the closing night party. There he met Joey Parnes who set up an auditon for him for the role of the Baron in Grand Hotel. He went to the audition and was not right for the Baron but was cast as Erik, the assistant concierge. He lost so many friends from that show through the years including his roommate in the show, Rex Hayes, David Carroll, Michael Jeter, Kathi Moss and just recently Liliane Montevecchi. Mary told of being in Me and My Girl which was playing at the Marquis Theatre and had to close on December 31st to make way for the upcoming Annie 2 which never opened. She then went on to perform in a Change of the Heir at the Edison which closed in a month.
My first show Saturday was ”Spreading the Word” with three press agents, Joe Trentacosta, Susan L. Schulman and Philip Carrubba hosted by Peter Marks. It highlighted the importance of the theatre press agents job of spreading the word, getting the press into review and arranging interviews or being there for star sightings and to let the public know what was happening; it’s like being on call, like a doctor, to get the news out if something happens at a moments notice with last second emergencies, or if a big star goes backstage to meet the show’s stars. Phill Carrubba was the press agent for Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark which has the record of over 182 previews and had to keep the press away until it did finally open. Many felt it would never happen and bought their own tickets to see it. There were plenty of injuries and performers constantly quitting. The day after opening, reviews had to be looked at for quotes to be used to promote the shows. Susan mentioned how producer David Merrick went to the phone book to find people with the same name as the press, sent them to see the show, and then got quotes from them for Subways are For Sleeping for the print ads.
“BroadwayCon Star to Be” is a talent contest. Hundreds of videos entries were watched to choose the top 11. They were all young (as old as 20 and as young as 10.) I thought there would be many songs from Frozen and Waitress but I was wrong. Covered were A Chorus Line, Frozen, Color Purple, Beautiful, Amelie, Les Miserable, Bandstand, Newsies, Beetlejuice and Wizard. My favorite was a young man named Luke Islam who sang “Love Will Come and Find Me” from Bandstand and he wound up winning.
My next Spotlight was the cast of Mrs. Doubtfire, an upcoming Broadway show based on the movie of 1993. It is about a newly divorced father who wants to spend more time with his children and derives a plan with his brother, to dress like an elderly Scottish woman, to get hired by his ex-wife to become a nanny to his kids. Rob McClure had always been a fan of Robin Williams who played the role of Mrs. Doubtfire in the movie, and is beyond thrilled to play this role. Jenn Gambatese plays the divorced wife (played by Sally Field) and Brad Oscar playing the role of his brother was portrayed by Harvey Fierstein. The show is directed by Jerry Zaks and choroegraphed by Lorin Latarro. This is not the first time that Lorin and Jerry worked together. She was a dancer in the production of Swing in 1999 when he was the production supervisor. Rob has a crew of 4 dressers because he has 36 costume changes, some in just 18 seconds. In his last show, Beetlejuice, he had only one change. Mrs. Doubtfire first opened in Seattle and is back in rehearsals in New York with some changes and a new opening number.
“BroadwayCon Cabaret” hosted by Ben Cameron had a bunch of Broadway performers singing songs from roles they wish they could play or songs they love from shows. First up, Teal Wicks sang “What Makes Me Love Him,” a song she always loved from Apple Tree, after which Ben asked her to sing ala Cher a song from Les Miz which she did – “On My Own.” Alex Gibson sang “Be Prepared.”Alysha Umphress appeared in The Wizard of Oz as a youngster in school and sang a fabulous version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Autumn Gilbert sang “Fly Fly Away” from Catch Me If You Can. When Carmen Ruby Floyd was asked what her dream role was she said “It hasn’t been written yet but stated Hello Dolly and Carmen were choices and sang “Before the Parade Passes By.”
A much anticpated interview for me was with Len Cariou. Having just finished a 2:30 matinee at City Center of Harry Townsend’s Last Stand, he came over to be interviewed and had to dash back for a 7:30 performance. In his first musical Applause he recalls that while doing the show, someone in the audience kept pointing at him and he had no idea why until his co-star, Lauren Bacall let him know his fly was open with his shirt sticking out of the zipper. He had met Hal Prince who had seen him in the show at a gypsy performance and said he needed to send him a script without songs to see if he was interested in the show. He liked it and was then sent the songs to A Little Night Music which turned out as his first experience working with Hal Prince. Some years later, at the age 35 while working at the Gunthrie Theatre, he needed to get a script of Company and called Hal Prince for it and it was sent with Hal telling him that Sondheim was writing a show for him, Sweeney Todd. He had never met Angela Lansbury before and she was a gem to work with. Hal’s wife was so overwhelmed with Len’s performance in the show, she told him he would get a Tony for Sweeney, which he did. Many years later he guested on Angela’s TV show. Murder, She Wrote and wound up doing nine shows in a reoccurring role. Len appeared in many motion pictures – a movie version of A Little Night Music and a highly acclaimed movie The Four Seasons, which starred and was directed by Alan Alda, along with Carol Burnett, Sandy Dennis and Rita Moreno. He has gained a huge following from Blue Bloods on CBS TV which has been running for ten years now.
My final show was on Sunday morning – “Spotlight SIX.” This is a Broadway show coming from England and had played in Edinburgh. The musical is loosely based on the six wives of Henry VIII. It started as a pop concert and we got to meet those behind the show who had just arrived in New York from England early in the morning including the two directors, writer, choreographer and the producers who developed this pop concert into a full production which will open in six weeks.
This was my fourth time attending BroadwayCon and is quite an experience learning so much about the development of shows, as well as getting to meet and hear performers and crew on a one to one basis. Can’t wait till next year.