Musical Con is the UK’s first Musical Theatre convention, a sold-out event put on for avid fans of theatre. Taking inspiration from BroadwayCon, a musical theatre convention that’s been running since 2016. Musical Con brought 10,000 theatre nerds together at London’s ExCel Centre.

Produced by Chris Steward and Shanay Holmes for West End Musical Productions, Musical Con is supported by the Society Of London Theatre and sponsored by Official London Theatre and Stagecoach.

A weekend full of performances, masterclasses, panel discussions, stage door experiences, merchandise stalls and stalls displaying costumes from popular musicals such as The Lion King and & Juliet. There’s something for every fan at this convention.

I did not attend the Saturday, but highlights included a performance by not just one Elphaba, but four! Spotlights on hit shows Heathers, But I’m A Cheerleader and Get Up Stand Up! Plus, previews of forthcoming musicals Super You, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella and Footballers Wives. A Disney puppetry demonstration, a talk on bringing Everybody’s Talking About Jamie from stage to screen, and a ‘Writing A Hit Musical’ talk with Six co-writer Toby Marlow.

So… onto Sunday! Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). The entrance to the convention was easy to find, clearly signposted throughout the ExCel and the queuing system was straightforward, with the VIP queue allowed in first.

As you enter the first sight you meet is ‘Theatreland’, filled with stalls selling an array of musical theatre delights, and displaying/ advertising theatre schools and other businesses. This was great, I loved the small businesses selling unique souvenirs and products from notebooks and stickers to prints. Although they definitely required more space, it was a real squeeze to walk down the aisles and sometimes you couldn’t get anyway near the front of the stall. I don’t think accessibility was fully thought through here. I also feel that some of the stalls were unnecessary, there were lots of stalls for drama schools and frequently there was no one manning them. I wish there had been more stalls for the shows we all know and love, the only shows with stalls were & Juliet, Back To The Future and Moulin Rouge, hopefully next year more shows will take part in this! I did love seeing the DeLorean, the costumes from & Juliet and getting a Moulin Rouge tattoo! The Disney on Stage display which was in Covent Garden earlier in the year was also there and was a real crowd pleaser.

The day began with a showcase of Cameron Mackintosh productions. We started with a performance from Jon Robyns and Nathania Ong of Les Misérables. Before learning the choreography to Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, this was followed by a Phantom of the Opera performance, and then a message from the King, Joel Montague. This was a perfect way to begin the day, and allowed some time for musicals which deserved more spotlight over the weekend, but more on that later…

There were cast reunions throughout the day, including the In The Heights cast, which was my personal highlight of the day. The cast performed a medley of songs including Carnaval Del Barrio and 96,000, among others. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and Emma Kingston proved absolute powerhouses, and I’m obsessed. WE NEED THIS SHOW BACK!

The surprise cast reunion was the Hope Mill Theatre’s cast recording of RENT. And they absolutely shone with their medley of hits from the show, including Seasons of Love (of course!). And there was also a performance from supergroup SVN on the main stage!

I do wish that some of the showcases of new musicals had been shared out between the two days, as they all took place on the Saturday, and therefore Sunday-only attendees would have missed out on the performances and any kind of highlighting of new musicals! Which is such an important part of musical theatre and something we should always be championing.

The layout of the room is something that requires improvement for future cons. The main stage was far too close to the other stages and workshop/ masterclass rooms. This caused some sensory overload, as when you were trying to watch the performances on the main stage you could hear the music from the workshops and masterclasses, and when you were watching the panels at the Backstage area, you could hear the main stage and workshops/masterclasses happening. Trying to concentrate on people speaking in panels and hearing two or three other performances simultaneously was challenging. I feel that there is a need for separate rooms for these stages, so you can fully appreciate each performance or discussion. I also feel as though the sound of the main stage wasn’t great, as a lot of the time you could hear the music, but the performers were slightly drowned out.

There were an array of workshops and masterclasses people could take part in for an extra cost, I think most of these cost around £30. There were quite a few masterclasses focused on Acting through song, which I’m sure aspiring actors would find useful. There were also quite a lot of Heathers themed workshops over the weekend, which yes there is demand for – but it would have been nice to see some variety. Personally, the one I would have been interested in taking part in would have been Charlie Stemp’s Step In Time workshop!

I attended some of the panels throughout the day and I found the Black Lives Matters and Mental Health ones so important and so interesting. I wish there had been a bigger space for these as it was a struggle to find seats and headphones at time – there was no hope of finding either for the Heathers panel!! They used silent disco headphones so the people attending could hear through these due to the close proximity to other stages.

In regard to seating by the main stage I don’t feel as though there was enough, it’s quite a long two days of standing, and people needed to sit. There appeared to be a constant battle of finding somewhere to rest.

I didn’t attend any of the stage door experiences personally but I’ve seen online that there have been some issues arise. These experiences were quite expensive, at least £30 for a photo with someone, and I understand it’s a professional photo, but that’s still quite pricey when a lot of fans stage door IRL and it costs nothing. Plus, many fans were waiting at the side-lines and when the stage door experiences were over were managing to ask the stars for a selfie… which was obviously free. Maybe it would be better to have this experience blocked off in future so that can’t happen, as I’m sure the people paying full whack wouldn’t have been happy. But also, it would be amazing if this was made more accessible to people.

I’m not entirely sure there would be enough to keep you busy for two whole days without you paying extra for workshops, masterclasses, stage door etc. As yes there are panels and performances to attend, but the stalls are the same both days so once you’ve looked around a couple of times, you’ve seen most of the convention. Therefore, if there isn’t a performance or panel you’re interested in at the time, you may find yourself at a loose end.

I also feel that next year it would be better if they could organise the schedule further in advance, so people know what time to book their workshops and masterclasses without missing the other performances they want to see!

All in all, I had a fun day, and I really enjoyed the performances and panels, plus I now have a list of small businesses that I want to purchase stagey stuff from! Could Musical Con be made better, absolutely, but the event is only in its infancy so hopefully they will put all the feedback into practice for next year. I’ve heard a lot about accessibility at the event, and that’s something which needs to be made an absolute priority for next year. I would also love to see more of a variety in the shows focused upon and showcased, as it was very Heathers and Six themed, and aimed at younger musical theatre fans. Please give us more new musicals and more of a range next year!! But it was lovely to be in a room with so many people that adore theatre.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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