No matter how anxious you might be about the weekend weather forecast — flights south, ski trips, seasonal affective disorder — Melissa Anelli probably has you beat.
Last year around this time, she and her co-conspirators-producers were anticipating their inaugural BroadwayCon, the first-ever theater convention — like Comic-Con, only for theater geeks and the artists who love them. The hyper-ambitious, event-packed three-day weekend, held Jan. 22-24 at the New York Hilton Midtown, had already cost between $800,000 and $900,000, recouped through ticket sales. Daily attendance was estimated in advance to be 3,000-5,000 fans, a number of whom would be delighted to appear as Elphaba from “Wicked” or as an Early American “Hamilton” hipster.
Then it came. Snowzilla or, as the less deeply theatrical would call it, winter storm Jonas. A citywide travel ban was ordered from 2:30 Saturday to 7 a.m. Sunday. Broadway closed Saturday matinees and evenings. Bridges, tunnels and trains were shut down, while meteorologists argued about whether 26.8 inches in Central Park constituted a record. (It did.)
But look. Here is Anelli again, undaunted, along with Stephanie Dornhelm, her business partner in Mischief Management, actor Anthony Rapp and Playbill, with an even bigger lineup Jan. 27-29 at the even bigger Javits Center.
“We have a great origin story,” says Anelli, “but not one we’re eager to repeat.” You see, lost among the bigger blizzard tales was the unlikely fact that the first convention turned into a semilegendary survival epic — a blizzard party for like-minded fans and fanatics.
Although the producers could have invoked an “act of God” clause in the contract and closed up shop, they looked around and realized that at least 3,000 people had shown up. “The storm hit Saturday,” marvels Anelli, which meant most travelers had already arrived. “We were all there together. It was a great bonding experience.”
I asked if that one really feels like a run-through, which would make the upcoming convention feel more like the actual opening. “Definitely not,” she said in a recent phone interview. “It feels like that was the real opening night. We’re not going into this untested. We have higher expectations now. We have our blueprint. It’s the same basics, but we’re just going deeper and wider.”
The budget is more than $1 million, perhaps as high as $1.2 million or $1.3 million — numbers Anelli considers “totally terrifying.” Ticket prices, however, are the same as last year’s: $250 for a weekend pass, which includes access to all programs, guaranteed seats at main-stage events, special autograph access and a swag bag. The $95 day pass lets you into all the day’s programs and includes the official program book.
Performers and panelists are not getting paid, and a portion of the proceeds will go to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
Expect Josh Groban and the cast of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” at the opening ceremony. Days and evenings will be stuffed with performances, workshops, master classes and singalongs. For the seriously curious, there are panels with directors, choreographers, stage managers, sound designers and projection designers. But fear not. You may count on plenty of star-struck time for meet-and-greets, autographs, photos and “fan meetups” for devotees of Stephen Sondheim, “Wicked” and more.
Anelli is especially excited about interviews with theater legends. “Chita Rivera . . . My God! Joel Grey . . . This is unbelievable to me!” she exclaims, spoken like a theater fan whose obsession does not begin with yesterday.
“Last year, our two biggest panels were ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Rent.’ ‘Hamilton’ is coming back,” including the current Alexander, Javier Muñoz, “but we also have the original creative team of ‘Annie’! That’s so amazing to me! And Julie Taymor with Whoopi Goldberg about the 20th anniversary of ‘The Lion King.’ What an incredible combination!” And don’t be surprised if you stumble on some hints about Disney’s much-anticipated Broadway adaptation of “Frozen.”
The move to the Javits Center is a big step. “The capacity is . . . very large,” she says with just a hint of concern about the size of the place. She confides that New York has a limited number of locations for her kind of event. “There aren’t a lot of places in Manhattan to grow into, so we made the leap.”
This means the producers have more spaces in which to have workshops. There will be 70 booths — this is, after all, still a convention — and more space than last year for a Broadway Marketplace that sells coveted merch.
The whole massive thing first happened because Anelli met Rapp at the stage door of “Rent” and they became friends. The brainstorm came during a Tony-watching party at Rapp’s house in 2013.
As excited as she is for this year’s BroadwayCon, Anelli is likely to see all of her obsessions come together at the next one. As the webmistress for a Harry Potter fansite and author of the bestselling “Harry, A History,” she personally understands what drives the passion behind the word “fanaticism.” “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” the two-part London smash, is due on Broadway in spring of 2018. If she hopes to pull off a little preview of that one, she may have to dig out her magic wand.