The first musical to reach the Great White Way partly on the strength of an active, passionate grass-roots following — “Be More Chill,” in case you’re over 30 — begins previews next month.
No wonder, then, that the fourth edition of BroadwayCon — a three-day expo targeting hard-core Broadway fans — was as much about shill as chill.
Spending Friday and Saturday at the New York Midtown Hilton, I saw dozens of teens and tweens in elaborate costumes from shows like “Angels in America,” “Mean Girls,” “Anastasia” and “Newsies.” Actors from “Be More Chill” rubbed elbows with fans portraying their characters.
There were singalongs, fan meetups and workshops, booths jamming two “marketplace” floors, as well as an avalanche of panels dedicated to such topics as portraying Evan Hansen, 25 years of Disney on Broadway, auditioning, the lives of stage managers, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” and “Mean Girls.”
The last two shows are certified hits and, you’d think, don’t need a push. Yet most of their lead actors — and Tina Fey, who wrote the book of “Mean Girls” — were on hand.
BroadwayCon is the brainchild of Melissa Anelli (the chief executive of Mischief Management, which runs the convention) and the actor Anthony Rapp (now in the CBS series “Star Trek: Discovery,” but forever known to attendees as the original Mark Cohen from “Rent”). The convention has grown steadily since its debut, in 2016, and this edition offered nearly 200 hours of sessions, with 7,000 estimated attendees over three days.
This is small potatoes compared to, say, Comic-Con International in San Diego and New York Comic Con, which draw about 130,000 and 250,000 people yearly. Still, it’s enough for BroadwayCon to flex marketing muscle.
And just as those conventions screen trailers for the latest Hollywood would-be blockbusters, BroadwayCon offered song previews from “Hadestown,” “Kiss Me, Kate,” “Tootsie” and “Beetlejuice” — all scheduled to open on Broadway later this season.
This is expected from a convention and its mix of cosplay, fun behind-the-scenes anecdotes and an emphasis on process.
At the well-attended panel “Creating a Character,” Melissa Errico talked about hypnotizing herself with a YouTube video while preparing to appear in “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” last year. The actress Donna Murphy described how James Lapine’s staging bore a direct influence on Stephen Sondheim’s rewrites during the creation of their 1994 musical, “Passion.” And the original Broadway Mary Poppins, Ashley Brown, recounted trying not to vomit while flying over the audience.
Hayley St. James, a 24-year-old student in playwriting at Marymount Manhattan College, had come as Anatole from “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” on Friday and, the following day, as Karen from “SpongeBob SquarePants.” (Previous cosplay outfits included the caterer Cordelia from “Falsettos” and William Shakespeare from “Something Rotten!”)
BroadwayCon also prompts questions about the musical-theater canon. The list of top-tier golden-age musicals may be set, but which of the newer shows will join their ranks?
One new show-tune classic wasn’t even hatched for the stage: “Broadway, Here I Come!” appeared in the TV series “Smash” — and was, perhaps not coincidentally, written by the “Be More Chill” composer Joe Iconis. At the convention, the Tony nominee Ethan Slater, of “SpongeBob,” sang it as part of a mash-up with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound.”
The most unchallenged recent entry in the canon is “Hamilton.” Talia Buksbazen, 18, said that it was her favorite musical “but not because I’m basic — it’s really good.” Shade and admiration in one breath.
Ms. Buksbazen and her sister, Rachel, 20, were co-hosting a singalong dedicated to flops — a reverse canon that has long had a healthy following among musical-theater aficionados. The first entries were from “Head Over Heels,” “Amélie” and “Bonnie and Clyde.” A “song roulette” offered selections from “Seussical,” “American Psycho” and “Wonderland.”
It was like being at a Bizarro version of the popular piano bar Marie’s Crisis — and few were old enough to drink.