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Broadway Raves is nightly entertainment for theater kids

DETROIT — Annie, her red wig glistening under the bustle, took a surreptitious hit from her vape pen. She shivered and jumped up to keep warm. It was a rough life on this cold Midwestern evening. The temperature was 11 degrees and the snowy ground was frozen. The line outside the club stretched from the entrance to the sidewalk. The Phantom of the Opera pulled his cloak over himself. Evan Hansen reached for the cast on his left arm and took a sip of whiskey. Heather measured Mean Girl. Sally Bowles smoked excessively.

Another night of musical-theatre dancing was about to begin.

Theme nights have long been the meat and potatoes of nightclubs. Punk pop night, emo night, 70s disco night, indie electronic night, darkwave night, Taylor Swift night. For years, it seemed like there wasn’t a genre of music niche enough to inspire its own dance night.

Maybe we can show the melodies.

But a year and a half ago, Ethan Maccoby, a Brooklyn-based dance party promoter and former theater kid, created Broadway Rave to satisfy a desire no one knew existed. Now Maccoby hosts musical theater dance parties in 150 cities across North America for increasingly sold-out theater enthusiasts who come dressed as Hamilton, Mr. Mistoffelees and Sweeney Todd. And they are occupying increasingly larger dance floors.

Do you hear people singing?

“Honestly, I didn’t think it was doable,” said Melanie Russell, the Nashville-based DJ who will be spinning show tunes when Broadway Rave returns to Wicker Park’s Subterranean, a relatively small venue, on Feb. 9 in Chicago. Broadway Rave is already growing. (In fact, Broadway Rave sold out Subterranean weeks after it was announced in December.) “The first time I DJed with one of these was very strange. Show tunes aren’t my thing. I’d get requests for full songs monologues. But you look at the crowd, people are in the middle of the hall performance. So they know every syllable. It was like he had musical theater in his veins. “It’s kind of hard to explain.”

You should see this.

So I drove five hours through a blizzard to Detroit, the first home of techno, to witness the early days of a different kind of event. Make no mistake: Although it’s been called a rave, this isn’t some all-night, drug-soaked, non-stop, whistling, neon-waving thing thump-thump-thump A happy celebration of musical superiority. I asked a few people if this felt like a rave, and many told me they had never been to one. This is a room of theater kids let loose throughout the night—current theater kids, former theater kids, and wannabe theater kids—dozens of them lip-syncing mostly contemporary Broadway classics. for hourswith all the charm, discomfort and drama imaginable.

Leah Brown and Jayla Smith, both in their late 20s, both from Detroit, stood at the edge of the dance floor, sipping from long straws dipped in tall glasses, turning to face each other and belting out the lyrics to “Cell Block Tango.” From “Chicago” only to crack each other up and fall back onto each other’s shoulders, laughing and laughing.

He knew it was coming!

He knew it was coming!

The only person he had to blame was himself

if you were there

If you saw it

I’m sure you would do the same!

They were electric amateurs, full of self-confidence, playing to each other’s audiences. That’s not a bad way to describe a lot of people here. I asked them if they found these theater kids, who had been out of school for a while, annoying or uncool. “I see ourselves as a little bit of both,” Smith said. “You should have come here,” Brown said.

This is how fans dressed "book of mormon" St. in Detroit  Dance and sing at the Broadway Rave, a traveling dance party celebrating musical theater and show tunes at Andrew's Hall.

“Chicago” turned into a very impressive number from the musical movie “The Greatest Showman”. A different Annie – not the vaping Annie – walked past. The Great Showman in red ringmaster collars was prancing right in the middle of the dance floor. A pair of waiters from “Waitress” danced alongside the Cats and the Hamiltons. I noticed a Penny Lane from the musical adaptation of “Almost Famous” smiling dreamily, oval John Lennon glasses flickering behind her. A few things about a Broadway Rave immediately become apparent: It’s more like a cosplay-oriented take on Broadway, and as for the music, you’re more likely to hear tunes from contemporary shows like “Beetlejuice,” “Wicked” and “Hadestown.” more than just a live dance boom in 2024 via “Fiddler on the Roof,” for example.

“I actually tried ‘Fiddler,'” Josh Batista, the DJ at Detroit’s Broadway Rave, told me later. “I also tried ‘Guys and Dolls,’ and with that kind of crowd, everything is random. They are generally younger. Sometimes I do ‘Everything Will Pass’ but I still get spotty reactions. These old songs often have big dance breaks, and although it’s called crazy, it doesn’t actually translate to people wanting to be. a part of.”

A boyfriend and girlfriend, their eyes theatrically panicked, faced each other, held hands and belted out “Omigod You Guys” from “Legally Blonde” as if they were Rodgers and Hammerstein:

MY GOD!

God, you guys!

Looks like Elle will win the award

If ever there was a perfect couple, this fits the bill!

One melody ended, another started without a break. “Okay,” Batista shouted from the stage, “theater boy who’s ready for ‘Hokey Pokey’?” He clicked on his laptop and the swirling rhythm guitar of “Time Warp” from “Rocky Horror Picture Show” rang loudly; here was a burst of cross-generational enthusiasm as familiar as “Dancing Queen” by Abba himself (via “Mamma Mia”) who pumped up the crowd, followed by Green Day’s “American Idiot” (via “American Idiot: The Musical”) From Disney Channel’s “High School Musical” to “We’re All in This Together” and Later “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from “Funny Girl.” Musical theater here also means movies and TV movies, but they’re all cut from the same cloth, with flawless power ballads turning to empowering pop and Broadway Rave, no matter how obvious it sounds after the birth of the jukebox musical, a detailed reminder of DNA Broadway’s contemporary hits are inseparable from the music. And vice versa. Of course, that’s why Broadway Rave works so well.

At the back of the place, I noticed an older man with graying hair, maybe in his 40s, and I asked him what he was doing here. “I am Willy Loman,” he told me with theatrical sadness.

“Oh no, you’re not!” his girlfriend moaned, swaying from “Wicked” to “Defying Gravity.”

“I feel pretty old right now,” he said.

They did not want their identities to be disclosed. They taught high school theater in a wealthy suburb of Detroit and didn’t want anyone to know they were an item. Weren’t they worried that they would encounter a student here, I asked? “More like scared,” he said.

Not far from them, a teenager wearing the corset dress of a character from “Six the Musical” was lip-syncing to “The Schuyler Sisters” from “Hamilton,” her eyes not focused on the DJ or the people dancing in front of her; I think the imaginary stage in his head was overlooking the back of a non-existent theatre, waving his arms forward triumphantly as the song climaxed, then huffing and puffing when it ended as if he’d just finished a show.

I could have applauded him, but a doorbell rang and the opening number of “The Book of Mormon” began. Dressed conservatively in a white short-sleeved shirt and black tie, Elliott Smith wore a name tag that read “Elder Smith.” He wandered around the dance floor, nodded “Hello…” along with a recording of the cast, shook hands, and introduced himself. He told me he was 28 years old and lived in a nearby suburb. He is an engineer at GM. Seth Rogan had a big, gruff brood and a staccato laugh. He didn’t seem like a theater kid.

“I really wanted to get to this,” he laughed as he introduced me to his wife, Nicole Durant. Some of their best times out lately have been at highly theatrical concerts like Beyoncé, so this seemed perfect. He said he played lacrosse in school but loved the kids in the theater, then turned to his wife: “I can think of 15 friends who should be here.”

Maccoby said his parties so far have been millennial and younger, filled with casual fans, theater kids and theater industry professionals; Last fall, the cast of “Hamilton” sang a few songs at a Broadway Rave in Manhattan and featured performances by the cast of other New York shows “Mean Girls,” “Wicked” and “Les Misérables.” But when Maccoby started promoting musical theater nights in Brooklyn, the crowds were thin. Pitching the idea to clubs across the country was even worse: “Of course they were skeptical. “It’s not a crowd they dream of going out with or drinking with, and they want alcohol sales.”

A few years later, Chicago raves drew crowds of about 400 people, but Broadway Raves in other cities attract three times that number. Praise clips on social media helped. Batista said musical theater costs the same. “There are so many student tickets available, and even touring shows aren’t always financially accessible for some of these people.” A Broadway Rave is generally closer to how many younger audiences experience Broadway shows now; in some small, tiny form, through clips floating around YouTube, film adaptations, and endless published cast recordings.

Naturally, perhaps for a generation that grew up on TikTok and Instagram, soon after Maccoby organized the first Broadway Rave, audience members — initially uninvited — were taking to the stage, finding the microphone, and lip-syncing through the performances. Then came cat ears, Hamilton coats, magic wands and French “Les Misérables” flags.

It happens at every party now.

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By the end of the night in Detroit (more than three hours), Batista had drawn half a dozen people onto the stage. “This space is for us,” he said, addressing theater kids who see themselves as “too weird, too fat, too gay.” The last song, “Seasons of Love” from “Rent” – theater boy “Freebird” – jumped off the stage and joined everyone else.

525,600 minutes

How do you measure or measure a year?

At daylight, at sunset, at midnight…

He pressed his microphone into their faces, but few people brought their own.

9 p.m. Feb. 9, Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave.; For tickets (ages 17+, sold out) and more information: alt.net

cborrelli@chicagotribune.com

A DJ and dancer performed at St. Paul's in Detroit on January 19.  He performs at Broadway Rave, a touring dance party celebrating musical theater and show tunes at Andrew's Hall.
Fans dance and sing at the Broadway Rave in Detroit.

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