7 Highlights from Playbill's 2023 Big Broadway Nerd Panel at New York Comic Con | Playbill

Comic Con 7 Highlights from Playbill's 2023 Big Broadway Nerd Panel at New York Comic Con

Douglas Lyons, Helen Park, Hunter Bell, Nathaniel Hackmann, and Bob Martin talk about how nerdom influenced their theatrical careers.

Guests and panelists at the Big Broadway Nerd Panel Heather Gershonowitz

Broadway nerds were right at home at the Javits Center October 12 as this year's New York Comic Con officially began. Playbill kicked off the weekend with the return of The Big Broadway Nerd Panel, and we've compiled seven takeaways from the event. 

The panel featured Douglas Lyons, playwright and actor whose play Chicken & Biscuits premiered on Broadway 2021; Helen Park, composer of the Broadway musical KPOP; writer Hunter Bell, whose new musical Other World is set in a MMORPG video game; actor Nathaniel Hackmann, currently appearing in Back to the Future: The Musical; and Bob Martin, book writer for musicals The Drowsy Chaperone, The Prom, and the upcoming BOOP! The discussion focused on how fantasy, comic books, and sci-fi have inspired and engaged their stage work, personas, and personal lives. Playbill's Bryan Campione hosted. Check out seven highlights below, plus a gallery of photos from the event.

Hunter Bell and Nathaniel Hackmann grew up venturing into their favorite fictional universes with at-home costumes and accessories. 

Panelists were asked to consider their first experiences with roleplay or cosplay growing up, and Bell and Hackmann recalled days of DIY costumes, film collectibles, and at-home performances. 

"We had a cast album of Camelot," Bell shared. "My brother and I would put on Camelot, and I made a sword out of aluminum foil. He would play Arthur, and I would play everybody else...that's the first cosplay, I guess. Me dancing around as Guinevere."

"I loved Star Wars...I also have spent quite a bit of my especially young life spending money on collectibles. I have boxes and boxes of vintage Star Wars toys," Hackmann said. "I don't know if any of you remember the Empire Strikes Back blasters...I got one of those from a swap meet...all of that pop culture stuff, Indiana JonesBack to the Future, all of these incredible films that I grew up with—I wanted to be everyone. I think that's part of why being an actor is fulfilling."

Bryan Campione, Hunter Bell, Helen Park, Nathaniel Hackmann, Bob Martin, and Douglas Lyons at The Big Broadway Nerd Panel

In Bob Martin's BOOP!, Betty Boop breaks expectations and steps outside of her own world.

Panelist Bob Martin, who wrote the book for the upcoming Betty Boop musical, shared how the classic short cartoons inspired him to create a new journey for Betty in BOOP! The musical is set for a pre-Broadway world premiere in Chicago beginning November 19. 

 "There's sort of a similar plot of each [Betty Boop short], which is she's usually chased by some guy, and she beats him in some way, and saves the village...She has a repetitive and unsatisfying life in the world of cartoons. And I thought, well, what if she sort of felt there was something missing from her life, and she needed a vacation?—By the way, I wrote this years before Barbie!—I just thought that she needed to get away from her world, where she was the center of her world, to a place where nobody knew her."

Nathaniel Hackmann, Bob Martin, and Douglas Lyons at The Big Broadway Nerd Panel

Douglas Lyons created a new character for Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock, and cherishes the legacy of the 1983 series.

"I got Fraggle Rock during the pandemic, actually, and I worked on the first season in my bedroom," Lyons said. "The really cool thing, because it's out now I can say it, I created a character that I was the first to write. So if you go to Fraggle Rock [Episode 106], the character of Icy Joe, I actually created."

Campione also asked what it's like for Lyons to bring a classic like Jim Henson's Fraggle Rock to a new audience as a reboot.

"The cool thing is a lot of the puppeteers from the original are still part of the series," Lyons shared. "So, we did the Zoom reads, I'm like watching Karen [Prell] voice Red on Zoom. I joined the legacy that had pre-existed...I'm so honored."

Douglas Lyons at The Big Broadway Nerd Panel

Helen Park says the world of K-pop fans is similar to the sci-fi and comic fan bases of many Comic Con attendees. 

"I think there are a lot of similarities between comics and K-pop groups because of the fandom," Park shared. "I think there's a lot of collectibles like posters, and there are so many fan written comic books and novels based on the members of K-pop groups, and there's so many different kinds of K-pop groups, and so many different fandoms...I think that is really appealing."

Park, who wrote music and lyrics for KPOP, which ran on Broadway in 2022, shared that she wrote the piece in hopes of bringing more of the music she loved to an American audience. 

"For me, I grew up listening to K-pop. But it wasn't really popular in America," she said. "I wanted to share with people the pop music that I love...when the opportunity came to write a musical based on K-pop, I was like, 'I want to show the variety of colors that we have within the K-pop genre.'"

Helen Park

Hunter Bell's Other World delves into the world of video games, and inspired an original comic book. The first issue is available at New York Comic Con 2023.

Bell wrote the book for Other World, a new musical which had its world premiere at Delaware Theatre Company in 2022, and held staged readings in NYC in March. The piece is based on a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), where players take on the role of a character within a fantasy world, and may interact with each other while playing.

"Talk about nerdy—it all comes together, the nerdiness is celebrated in an original musical, Other World, that I wrote. It is a musical about an MMO. The fictional show was designed by Wētā Workshop [the special effects and prop company behind The Lord of the RingsAvatar, and more]. Then from that musical, why not go full nerd, and make an original comic book based on a musical based on a fictional MMO? I don't think it gets any nerdier. It's about two people who are sucked into a fictional video game." 

Bryan Campione, Hunter Bell, and Helen Park at The Big Broadway Nerd Panel

Nathaniel Hackmann was a die-hard Back to the Future fan well before the musical came around.

Hackmann is currently starring as Biff Tannen in the Broadway run of Back to the Future.

"I specifically remember, especially the second and third one, when they came out, I don't know how many of you were around for this, but Pizza Hut was selling these futuristic glasses," Hackmann shared. "There was a set of five or six of them, and I remember asking my mom if we could get Pizza Hut so I could get these glasses, and I had the poster on my wall of the cars of the future that were flying...I have loved this particular set of films since the very very beginning.

Nathaniel Hackmann

The panelists' pitches for a new musical included Scooby Doo, The Incrediblesand a Super Mario/Hello Kitty crossover.

Panelists were asked to pitch a new Broadway show based on any comic book or movie, and cast the title role (or a few starring roles). 

Bell's pitch? Scooby Doo the Musical. "We've got some great people attached," Bell said. "Daphne is Nicolette Robinson from Waitress, Velma is Ali Stroker, Shaggy is Christian Borle, and Scooby is played by really exciting holograph CGI technology, really cutting edge."

As for Park, she would create a musical version of The Incredibles. "I think they have such an interesting family dynamic, and all the characters are so relatable," she said. "It is about a family that has lost connection, and each one of the characters are going through their own identity crisis. And, particularly, I love that the mother is named Helen Parr." 

Lyons' pitch was a fan favorite: "Mine is Mario Kitty, a boy meets girl musical where Super Mario and Hello Kitty meet on Grindr. Hello Kitty is played by the original understudy for Cassandra in the original production of Cats. Jeremy Jordan is Mario."

Guests and panelists at the Big Broadway Nerd Panel Heather Gershonowitz

See photos from the Big Broadway Nerd Panel below and stay tuned for more recaps from Playbill's Comic Com panels, including Defying Gravity: WICKED’s Enduring Legacy; Back To The Future on Broadway; Death Note the Musical; and the return of the The Broadway Bard Party.

Photos: Playbill Kicks Off Day 1 of Comic Con With The Big Broadway Nerd Panel

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