BroadwayCon: One musical theatre lover finds his people

At long last comes an antidote for those coffee breaks spent listening to your co-worker go on and on about meeting Wil Wheaton at ComicCon.  Broadway fans unite…for BroadwayCon!  Held in New York City January 22-24, 2016, the first-ever BroadwayCon featured talks, panels, and performances from some of Broadway’s top talent.  For another “first,” we welcome our first-ever guest blogger, Brian F.B. Reavey, official 7 1/2 Cents correspondent at BroadwayCon. 


 

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by BRIAN F.B. REAVEY


 

Try to imagine the most amazing pep rally, summer camp, professional conference, rock concert, family reunion, and Tony Awards party combined into one weekend.  That was BroadwayCon for me.  It’s impossible to fully encapsulate my entire experience, but I’ll starting by sharing some of my favorite BroadwayCon highlights.

Before the official BroadwayCon Opening Ceremonies took place, the first of three days (Friday) offered the 3,000+ attendees various fan meet-up sessions.  It was difficult to choose between the Sondheim, RENT, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Smash, Newsies, and other meet-ups offered, but ultimately I chose the Hamilton fan meet-up.  I entered “the room where it happens” and several hundred people were waiting patiently for the session to begin.  The space quickly became Standing Room Only.  While the staff was finalizing sound system tasks, two teenaged BroadwayCon attendees started an impromptu Hamilton sing-a-long a cappella, and the entire room instantly joined into synchronized song and cheers.  I was home, y’all!

Each of the panels, performances, workshops, autographs, and photo booth sessions were as impressive as the next. The Opening Number on the MainStage showcased incredible production value, complete with surprise appearances by Tommy Tune and Ben Vereen.  Footage from the Opening Ceremonies is available on the BroadwayCon YouTube page (as well as a number of videos from attendees).

The most memorable panels for me included the Hamilton cast panel, the RENT reunion panel, the choreography panel, and the Original Broadway Cast of Les Misérables panel.  The most stand-out “only at BroadwayCon” experience happened on Saturday night during Blizzard Jonas. Many pre-scheduled performers were not able to get there due to the insane weather conditions, but that didn’t stop the stellar BroadwayCon staff.  A spontaneous “Party Line” ensued where event organizers utilized their personal contact lists and called various Broadway stars to join the fun.  We were graced with live phone conversations from Laura Benanti, Betty Buckley, Darren Criss, Harvey Fierstein, Joel Gray, Norm Lewis, Audra McDonald, Idina Menzel, and Patti LuPone.  When Patti asked us if we needed anything, my very hungry self yelled, “PIZZA!”  Immediately following my snowed-in outburst, Anthony Rapp and I started a spontaneous “Send us pizza, Patti!” chant.  Only at BroadwayCon…

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10,514, 880 MINUTES– Friday Night programming at BroadwayCon included the ‘RENT’ 20th Anniversary Reunion Panel.

 

A particular line from the musical “Wicked” kept replaying in my mind the entire weekend: “I think we’ve found the place where we belong!”  Never once did I or anyone at BroadwayCon feel left out or put down for loving Broadway so much; on the contrary, the inspiring, renewing, and transforming effect that live theatre has had on me and so many was celebrated in major, uninhibited ways.  As one new friend said to me on the first day: “It’s like we’re all speaking the same language.”  My grand hope as a result of this experience is for everyone in the world to feel a similar sense of belonging and unbounded joy in some small way, wherever they may find themselves on life’s journey.

Special thanks to Anthony Rapp, Melissa Anelli, Mischief Management, Playbill, and everyone else who had their hands and hearts invested in this memorable, inaugural event.  My gratitude for one of the best weekends of my life, new friendships, and my renewed love for everything Broadway is immense and endless.  BroadwayCon was a phenomenal, magical, and unforgettable experience, and I look forward to making new memories there again next year.

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YOU’LL BE BACK–From Interviews to Panels to Autograph and Photo Booths, BroadwayCon offered plenty of opportunities to rub elbows with stars. Brian, along with Retreat to Broadway participants and supporters Kathy Murray and John Roche snagged a photo with Jonathan Groff.

Brian F. B. Reavey is the Director & Founder of Retreat to Broadway, a national non-profit project that inspires, renews and transforms individuals and organizations via innovative programming and live theater. Brian works full-time in the Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation Office for the Marianist Province of the United States; he also serves as their NGO’s Main Representative at the United Nations.

 

Snag the Lemons: The Music of ‘On the Eve’

by Bradley J. Behrmann


PART 2 in a series exploring the new musical On the Eve.  Read Part 1 here.

The rehearsal process for the SDSU/La Jolla Playhouse reading of On the Eve began two weeks ago as most processes do with a series of music rehearsals.  The cast quickly discovered two distinctions about the score that sets it apart from most musical theatre being produced today.  First of all, the characters don’t sing “numbers” per se.  While Talking Man (our ringleader of sorts) features prominently in the opening song, while Spacegrove (our time-traveling Conrad Birdie) sings lead vocals throughout the show, and while Joseph and Caroline (our romantics) sing the intro to a rockin’ love duet, it’s hard to say that any song in the show “belongs” to a particular character.  The ensemble joins in on most of the material, creating at times an indie rock choir and other times a unison soundscape.  The second distinction that runs contrary to expected norms is that the songs of the show are—for the most part—non-integrated material.  While the lyrics of each song point towards the situation, they do more to comment poetically than they do to drive the story.

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The cast of ‘On the Eve’ includes SDSU Musical Theatre MFA candidates Julia Cuppy, Liv Stevns, Jessica Humphrey, and Courtney Kattengell. Director Stephen Brotebeck works in the background during a music rehearsal.

Neither of these observations should be taken as criticisms.   They are, however, a curiously unapologetic choice for a show that dwells in a post-Rodgers and Hammerstein world but does not dwell in pastiche.  It’s not that all modern musical numbers motor plot, but usually when they don’t, it’s for a strong reason.  In this instance, it seems like the creators “just don’t wanna,” which is kind of fun.  If an audience views the music through the lens of something like Spring Awakening, they probably won’t take issue with the music at all.  Most of the music in Spring Awakening doesn’t further the plot either.  Numbers like “Mama Who Bore Me” and “Totally Fucked” serve as commentary on the action; the play pauses, the characters whip out handheld mics, and they sing a rock song.  That’s the world of On the Eve.

This guttural score is deliciously indie.  It’s the kind of music you put on the turntable on a Saturday morning with strong coffee.  It’s the kind of music that soundtracks a Zach Braff movie.  It’s the kind of music you try really hard not to musical theatre-ify in rehearsals.

As we discussed in the last post, the opening song, “In Hand,” serves as a solid representation of the kind of driving rhythms, guttural vocals, and metaphoric lyrics found throughout the score.  (Ahem, the phrase “Snag the Lemons” comes from this song.  Don’t ask me what it means, but I took to the lyric instantly.)  “In Hand,” in all its not-production-number-opening-production-number goodness is almost as much fun to sing as “Veneers,” which introduces our hero, Spacegrove.  And this is perhaps the first and greatest lesson when performing this score:  if you’re making music and you’re enjoying it, best not to overthink it.

These tunes are catchy, though maybe not in the way Irving Berlin or Jule Styne might have imagined.  Modern ears will pick up influences as the score progresses.  “Lie In Your Bed” has elements of Coldplay.  The Act I closer, “Time to Dream,” has an intro that mimics Lady Gaga’s “Telephone.”  Spacegrove’s eleven o’clock number “Stop the Noise” sounds like it belongs on a U2 album, while the closing number escaped from Austin City Limits.  There are musical theatre influences too.  The bridge in the aforementioned “Veneers” bears unmistakable resemblance to “Finale B” from Rent.  Considering the potential audience of this show, musical nuggets from both the world of indie rock and that of musical theatre will please both ears, no matter what’s on your Spotify.

“What Is Most Real” is perhaps the ‘most real’ musical theatre piece, partly because there is dialogue tucked in that includes action.  The newest song, “Glide” is freshly written after the NAMT reading, and it is the song that most smoothly transitions from scene into song.  It’s not completely integrated, but it is the closest.  Neither number is out of place, but both toe the line that separates this score from full-out musical theatre.

As a champion for the music of Broadway gaining a wider listenership, On the Eve is a show I want to follow closely.  From a selfish standpoint, this music fits PRECISELY into that sweet spot identified in my research on Broadway music and popular music (Reclaiming the Top Forty).  If a musical theatre song can have rock elements without being too rooted in the plot of the musical from which it’s taken, that song has a much higher likelihood of gaining wider popularity.  In the case of On the Eve, these songs are already cut and ready for pop distribution thanks to the Home By Hovercraft album Are We Chameleons?  For that reason, On the Eve is in a great position:  sitting in a Montgolfier balloon, watching Broadway actors perform indie rock at Versailles.

 

 

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