The first Musical Con took place at Excel London on 22-23 October, and I was invited along to take a look and capture a flavour of the day.
Now, fan conventions are a little alien to me – I know of Comic Con and Anime Expo, but have never been – but the idea of something “for the fans” at a time when theatre is still getting back on its feet after the COVID-19 pandemic seemed a very good idea.
So what was on offer?
Promoted as “the entire musical theatre community is coming together under one roof for the first time for a weekend-long celebration of all things musical”, Musical Con is certainly ambitious, and on arriving on Saturday morning I could see it was both well-attended and noisy.
Show previews, spotlights and special performances took place here. On Saturday we were treated to a variety of appearances including Heathers, But I’m a Cheerleader, new show Super You! (a contender for the new Eugenius?), the Hope Mill Theatre’s Cinderella, Get Up, Stand Up!, and Jenna Russell’s Sondheim and Me. With some college performances and a special reunion of four Elphabas from Wicked, there really was something for everyone.
We viewed proceedings from three different areas around the main stage, and enjoyed both interviews and performances, although it is fair to say that the sound levels were a little overwhelming if you were elsewhere in the space. Young attendees devoted to their shows were clearly ecstatic to be there.
This was the area of the exhibition which had space for shows, drama schools and colleges, and independent music theatre businesses.
We made the most of stopping off for photo opportunities where we could (do you want to pose with an Olivier award, or next to Back to the Future‘s DeLorean car?).
We also checked out stalls like Broadway Boogie (dancing!), SingEasy West End (singing!) and Pros from the Shows (workshops!).
This was a fun space but perhaps the schools and colleges could have had a bit more context and information.
As well as training the next generation they are also key creators in their own right, with performance programmes.
They did get time on the main stage, but it would have been nice to tie the two together.
This was the place to find that elusive fridge magnet from a show, or check out artwork from Lee Greenaway and Handmade Broadway.
The new Musicals magazine (currently out in a double issue) was on show along with stalls from Theatre Shop.com and the Little Theatre Shop. Even Scrunchies4Theatre were there for cheerleaders everywhere.
It would have been nice for the stalls to have a little more space so that fans could circulate and spend some quality time with the products, but there was a good variety here if you were searching for that special souvenir or gift for the MT obsessed in your life.
Billed as “intimate talks and panels”, this is the area which needs a little tweak for next year.
It was a good idea to provide headphones from the Silent Disco Walking Tours so you could hear the speakers but unfortunately they didn’t just amplify the microphones of the speakers, but the main stage too.
A fascinating talk on ETAJ from stage to screen with director Jonathan Butterell and critic Matt Wolf was great, but would have been a lot better away from the fray (and perhaps attracted a slightly different audience to the performances).
However, I applaud the convention for programming this area which also offered, on the way we attended, panels on Why representation matters and Moving a musical and talks on Disney puppetry and Tony Marlow on Writing a musical.
This is the most traditional convention part, the meet and greets and photo opportunities. Again, these looked to be very popular but needed to be booked online in advance of queuing up.
These were available at additional cost to your entry ticket but there were a diverse list of performers available for autograph or photographs.
Workshops and masterclasses
As we attended on press tickets and the workshops had largely sold out before the schedule was published, we didn’t get involved, but we did chat to a lady with her young child who said they both enjoyed the exoerience very much.
If you want to explore the business in the company of your favourite star, this one is a definite plus of the day to “learn from the pros”.
Inside the convention we felt the offering was very basic, and there was very little seating available – however, you could come and go from Musical Con outside into Excel itself and beyond and there were many varied concessions open to recharge and consume food and drink.
The fan zone
For meet-ups. cosplay and more, a dedicated space to “find your musical tribe” was provided, and we spotted some fantastic costumes as we made our way around.
Fan meets on Sarurday included Queendom (SIX) and Rent Heads, and “from the fans” organised special events on Back to the Future and Heathers.
In all, this was a day which showcased love and energy for (largely) West End musicals, with a great atmosphere.
Perhaps next year there may be some room for smaller companies and creators working in the musical theatre space, and there may be space for the convention to spread out from just one hall.
Musical Con has a lot to recommend it, and Chris Steward & Shanay Holmes at West End Musical Productions must be congratulated for making this an event that could appeal to many.
In terms of accessibility, it was good to see disabilities taken into account, and a quiet space provided if the day become overwhelming (very key for the neurodiverse and anxious patrons).
I look forward to see what is in store for 2023.
Check out the Musical Con website for more details.