Fan conventions are relatively new to these shores. A main staple in America’s hobby and cultural environment, they are huge events that have become annual pilgrimages for devotees to a specific subject. The granddaddy of all such conventions is Comic Con and whilst its UK version pales to the original it has set the standard for UK fan conventions. To this world of fandom, now comes Musical Con, the UK’s first ever fan-focussed convention dedicated to the musical.
Taking over a significant chunk of London’s sprawling ExCel exhibition centre, Musical Con has arrived in style and, it would appear, to great demand. Whille tickets were still available for purchase by the opening of the show, you’d be hard pushed to see where any other people could fit; the venue was crammed to the rafters.
If anyone thought musical theatre has had its day, watching the thousands of fans queueing from 8am (the show opens at 10am), dressed up as their favourite musical characters singing show tunes, would make you rethink your assumption. There were people dressed up as Phantom, Elsa, Jean Valjean, and even a few Shreks – all passing the time singing show tunes waiting for the doors to open.
The convention itself was set in three key areas: Marketplace, Theatreland, and five stage areas. Marketplace is dedicated to exhibition stands where you can purchase all sorts of theatrical-related items, such as scripts, scores, and show memorabilia. Theatreland is a bit of a hodgepodge of exhibition spaces that could have been better utilised. Several shows have used the space for branded photo opportunities, so you can be pictured next to the DeLorean car from Back to the Future, behind the logo of &Juliet, or alongside a few Disney costumes. Interspersed amongst these were a host of organisations promoting acting and singing training and education.
The core of Musical Con are the staged areas. The centrepiece is the main stage, the primary performance space for the convention. Over the two days, this played spotlights on shows currently in the West End including performances from and interviews with the cast members. The space also plays host to some more fan-engaging activities that the audience can partake in, such as a lip-sync battle and cosplay competition.
The other staged areas featured more industry and fan-focussed talks with subjects as diverse as ‘Disney Puppetry’, ‘Writing a Musical’, and ‘Representation in Musical Theatre’. A couple of the spaces were dedicated to dance and vocal workshops run by show case members or professional choreographers. Each of the hour-song sessions were charged extra and had to be pre-booked. Also, as with all fan conventions, Meet & Greet sessions were scheduled (at an additional fee) where fans could get professional photos with, and autographs of, various cast members.
Based on this year’s attendance, Musical Con will be back next year, and organisers can easily plan to double its floor space without worry. It’s hard not to be excited by the energy, passion and sheer excitement that bringing these fans together generates. A few niggles aside (it’s a bit pricey, the sound set up needed some tweaking, all of the exhibition spaces dedicated to shows needed to be more engaging), Musical Con provided an entertaining and enjoyable two days for fans and general enthusiasts to be engulfed in the sheer joy of musical theatre.
Musical Con was at ExCel London on 22-23 October 2022