Written by Daz Gale
Last weekend, the very first Musical Con in London took place. After launching to an initial wave of excitement, there were some concerns as the event grew closer and information wasn't forthcoming as well as other worrying aspects regarding accessibility. While the idea in itself seemed fantastic, the execution is what worried me. I went along to the first day of the weekend on Saturday 22nd October to see if this was iconic... or just a bit of a con.
The weekend event was produced by Chris Steward and Shanay Holmes who have been responsible for a wealth of fantastic events including West End Musical Brunch, the Drive In concerts that became a lifeline for so many during the pandemic and some truly wonderful West End Musical concerts since theatres reopened. Hiring out a space at Londons ExCel centre, Musical Con followed the blueprint of other conventions by giving visitors the option to buy tickets for workshops and to meet their favourite performers for photos and autographs. However, there was plenty on offer for the price of entry alone - much more than a previous Convention I had been to, in fact.
The centre point of the event was the main stage space which ended up being bursting with so many performances all day, it felt very reminiscent of West End LIVE. Coming to life with performances from iconic performers includiing Alice Fearn, Ben Forster and Trevor Dion Nicholas, it played host to performances from well loved shows including Heathers over the course of the day on Saturday.
Rather admirably though, this main space wasn't just used for the big name shows and was used as a platform to showcase new and upcoming shows with But I'm A Cheerleader piggybacking on the Heathers performances to hopefully win over some new fans, the forthcoming Hope Mill Theatre production of Cinderella giving a performance in London before opening in Manchester and the forthcoming brand new musical SuperYou giving us an opportunity to support upcoming shows while they are still in development and be excited for the future of musical theatre. A Star of Musical Con segment gave the audience the chance to discover some truly remarkable talent, with eventual winner Joshua Williams blowing everyone away.
The main stage was used for more than solely performances with other activities on there throughout the day. A game show hosted by Oscar Conlon-Morrey pitted the casts of Everybody's Talking About Jamie and Legally Blonde against eachother in an unexpected highlight which turned into the very best kind of chaos.
The standout of the day though had to be the Wicked section which featured chat and performances from four former Elphabas, culminating with them all coming together for this truly sensational performance of 'Defying Gravity'.
The backstage area was used to host some interesting panels throughout the day including "Why representation matters in all areas of musical theatre", "Disney puppetry on the West End" and interviews with Toby Marlow and Everybody's Talking About Jamie director Jonathan Butterell. While these were always interesting, having this right next to the main stage meant it was constantly hard to hear through the neighbouring noise... even with headphones being provided to every seat. I hope the choice of layout is rectified next year as I know this was a huge frustration for many of the attendees.
Workshops allowed you to learn routines from the shows from some West End legends including Layton Williams teaching a routine from Everybody's Talking About Jamie and Luke Bayer teaching acting through song. Fan zones were assembled for specifically timed meet ups for fans of certain shows, although there was plenty of space for informal meet ups with fellow fans.
Musical Con also had a section called Theatreland which was full of stalls for all manner of theatre related businesses - big and small. As well as instantly recognisable names like TKTS (doing brilliant photo ops with an actual Olivier award), several well known shows, theatre schools and an official merchandise stand (with a seemingly endless queue), the event also showcased new, small and upcoming businesses with the likes of Amelia Stitches and Peter Hannah Art among those on show. This meant there was plenty for theatre fans to purchase throughout the day and discover new businesses to support.
We all know musical theatre fans are always the best dressed so as you can imagine, the cosplay element at Musical Con was fantastic. You couldn't walk for a moment within running into a Heather with Queens from Six, various Cats, Beetlejuice and even The Fanta of the Opera (you read that right) on hand throuhgout the day.
(Thank you to those who sent me these pictures to use. Note to self: Take pics of the cosplay next time)
The biggest win from the weekend was the atmosphere itself. Being in a room with so many other likeminded theatre lovers really led to a beautiful experience. Everything was respectful with the knowledge we were all there to have a good time, with no drama and a constantly fun environment. The smiles on everyones faces throughout the day were infectious - this really was the perfect reward after going through repeated closures and a tough time for theatre in general.
There were also great photo opportunities - you could have even had a picture with the DeLorean from Back To the Future.... though I settled for a bit of Disney.
I have to admit being sceptical of how successful this event would be. While it marketed itself with the tagline "This is for the fans", I wasn't initially convinced. However, I was more than happy to be proved wrong in this instance in an event that was truly for everyone - all theatre lovers from all walks of life, this was an inclusive and truly beautiful event which championed all areas of theatre and welcomely encouraged future talent. Accessibility issues, to the best of my knowledge, seemed to be resolved, and from what i understand was even better the following day.
While the event may not have been necessarily perfect, for a first outing this was pretty impressive. If they can make slight fixes to the layout and sound issues, it is sure to be even better next year. Either way, Musical Con is without a doubt a welcome addition to the theatre lovers annual calendar.
Keep an eye on https://www.musicalcon.co.uk/ for details of next years Con!