Elsie Fest 5 was a great concert that left me wanting

Yesterday was Elsie Fest day, or what I like to call The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

I had a great time seeing old friends and making new ones. The winner of my ticket contest, Mardie Baldo, already had her ticket to Elsie Fest and generously donated her free tickets to a high school musical theater student whom I know, and watching that student enjoy the concert was absolutely thrilling. Seeing her mom understand why it’s important for a young Latina musical theater student to attend a concert like Elsie Fest was incredibly satisfying, and I particularly love it when someone who doesn’t know the Broadway scene discovers a talent like Ariana DeBose.

I had a lot of fun, is what I’m saying.

Highlights (in order of appearance):

  1. Dyllón Burnside. Full stop.

Clothes. Singing. Dancing. Song choice. Perfection. Damon Evangelista fought his battles so Dyllón Burnside could do this performance at Elsie Fest.

2. Ariana DeBose’s diva medley.

I can’t count how many times I nearly died during this performance. Brilliant. Benjamin Rauhala does it again.

Also noteworthy was Ariana’s debut of her R&H Goes Pop! version of “Shall We Dance.” But we can wait for the official video of that one.

3. Gavin Creel’s new song.

Everything about Gavin’s set was incredible. He solicited requests from fans a few weeks ago, and chose his set from the requests. He’s an amazing performer, and I encourage you to scour YouTube for videos of this performance and others. But the highlight for me was definitely this song. I love it, and I can’t wait for more info on his upcoming Met performance piece.

4. Cynthia Erivo organizing the entire audience to support her on “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

Again, I’d say that Cynthia’s entire set was a highlight for me. It occurred to me that watching her sing songs chosen by other people in 2016 was amazing, but this set was her set. Good cabaret makes you feel like you’ve gotten to know the artist a little bit, and that’s just what Cynthia Erivo accomplished here, and I loved every second of it. However, her rendition of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was beautiful, and empowering, and brought the audience together to make something beautiful. It was a joy to behold and to participate in. I was standing with my friends who are both singers and we sang along and I felt the joy and the friendship and the connection with everyone in the space, and that’s what a festival is for. Thank you, Cynthia.

5. Michael Feinstein sharing his brilliance

I can’t post a video of my favorite parts of Michael Feinstein’s set because nobody has posted one. The video below is the medley with Darren Criss, which was lots of fun and I’m glad I was there for it. But the joy of Michael Feinstein is his incredible knowledge and love of the American Songbook, and for me, the best part was him singing “St. Louis Blues”, which he told us was the first American song to include African American rhythms, which is the thing that distinguishes American music from its European forbears. The song was incredible, his voice was incredible, and I loved it.

But here’s your video of Michael singing with Darren, including a duet on “You Make Me Feel So Young,” which warmed my Gleeky heart. (But Michael Feinstein is no Kurt Hummel.)

6. Darren Criss singing “Wait for It”

Darren took two risks this year, and I’m sure that by far the more popular will be “Waving Through A Window,” just because I know the Elsie Fest demographic. But for me, “Wait for It” was the bigger risk, and his performance was amazing. The fact that Elsie Fest 2015 was the first performance of this song outside of Hamilton made it all the more sentimental to me.

6. A Very Potter Musical reunion

Obviously, this was fun. The show itself is fun, the friendship among StarKids is fun, and the smile on Darren’s face as he did something he loves with his best and oldest friends was a joy to watch. It was exactly what we all wanted it to be, and for those of us who didn’t make it to StarKid Reunion in Los Angeles, it was a treat to be part of the celebration.

So yes, a great concert. But none of that is why I go to Elsie Fest. I go to Elsie Fest for the surprises and the traditions. This year, there was no Disney Princess (or Heroine). There were only two surprise guests (Lena Hall and John Cameron Mitchell), and they sang exactly what you would expect them to sing: a song from Hedwig. Was it exciting to see three Hedwigs on stage together? Sure. Is each of them a brilliant performer in their own right? Absolutely. Did they surprise me? Not a mite.

I go to Elsie Fest to see amazing duets that the artists sing to make themselves happy. The only unscheduled duet this year was Darren’s medley with Michael Feinstein, which was basically a rehash of their previous tribute to Frank Sinatra. Fantastic, but expected. Darren played guitar for one of Cynthia Erivo’s songs. That could have been anyone.

I go to Elsie Fest to get excited about new musicals. The new items on offer this year were High School Musical the Musical the Series and Jagged Little Pill. One is built on a previous show, and the other is a jukebox musical. I knew what to expect from both of those going in. I didn’t learn anything about them because there isn’t anything to learn.

My absolute favorite thing about Elsie Fest, though, is the performances that give me something I always needed but never thought to ask for. Cynthia Erivo singing “You Will Be Found” (2016).  Jenna Ushkowitz singing “Granger Danger” (2017). Grant Gustin singing “Sincerely Me” (2018). I have nothing to cite for 2019.

In short, this was a terrific concert of Broadway talent that I could have seen anywhere. Stuff like this happens all the time at Broadwaycon, at 54 Below, at Seth Rudetsky shows. It’s not why I made a podcast and spent five hours sitting on a fence in the park in the cold. If Darren wants Elsie Fest to be one of the mainstays of the Broadway calendar, he needs to provide something that’s unique. Four times out of five, that’s exactly what he did. There is a magic that only Darren Criss can provide beyond curating a list of amazing talent from Broadway and musicals, but that magic wasn’t on display yesterday. Last night’s Elsie Fest was a brilliant collection of performances that was fun for everyone there, but it didn’t go beyond that.

64: Coda


In this final episode, I explain why I’m ending the podcast, and where you can find me in the future. The podcast archive will be available until January of 2020.

Get Elsie Cast stuff on my TeePublic shop

63: Andrew Forste on being House Properties at the Sondheim


We have the Elsie Fest date!

My guest Andrew Forste is on the podcast to talk about working backstage at the Stephen Sondheim theater, his child as a musical theater actor, the Elsie alums he’s worked with, and his celebrity sister. 

Stay tuned to the end to hear Matthew Morrison’s Hairspray medley from Elsie Fest 2018. 


Elsie Fest FAQ: 2019 Edition


official twitter: @elsiefest

 Facebook event page

1. When is Elsie Fest this year?

October 5, 2019. Doors at 5pm, concert 6pm-10pm.

2. Where is Elsie Fest this year?

Summerstage, Central Park, New York City

3. Where do I buy tickets?

Buy tickets via the website at www.elsiefest.com.

4. How much will tickets cost me?

General Admission is $65 + $17.50 fees = $82.50

There is a bleacher pass for $95 + $18.20 fees =$113.20. Bleacher passes are sold out as of September 21.

5. Are there seats at the venue?

There are some. Summerstage is primarily a lawn seating venue, which means everybody brings a blanket and finds a seat on the ground. There are bleachers, but they are in the back of the venue. There are no assigned seats. A Bleacher pass allows you to enter the bleacher section and guarantees you a seat. It’s open seating. Bleacher passes are sold out as of September 21. 

It may also be possible to get seating in one of two member areas if you become a member of Summerstage.

I have arthritis/use a wheelchair/just can’t sit on the ground. What do I do?

There is an ADA section with space for wheelchairs and a few chairs. Reach out to Elsie Fest and Summerstage and say that you need a seat (or a place you can see from your wheelchair) (or whatever accommodation you may need) and ask what they will do to accommodate you. I don’t know if these seats need to be reserved.*

You can reach out to Elsie Fest at info@elsiefest.com.

I’m told you can also get info by reaching out to Summerstage directly. @SummerStage on Twitter or info@cityparksfoundation.org.

6. Will there be VIP?

Last year there was VIP seating sold at the last minute that included a bleacher seat and waiter service for food and drinks.

TODAY ONLY you can enter a lottery to win a $5 M&G with Darren Criss here. Entries are open until noon on Thursday, October 3rd. 

This year, bleacher seating is called “VIP bleacher” but it is unclear if anything is included other than the bleacher seat.

7. Who will be performing?

Michael Feinstein, Anais Mitchell, Gavin Creel, Ariana deBose, Cynthia Erivo and Darren Criss with special guest Dyllon Burnside.

Plus: Jagged Little Pill, R&H Goes Pop, A Very Potter Musical and High School Musical.

8. What about Marie’s Crisis?

It wouldn’t be Elsie Fest without Kenney and Michael!

9. Will I be able to meet Darren Criss at Elsie Fest?

Probably not. Meet and greet sold out in one minute flat last year. Elsie Fest does not permit people to wait after the show to see the performers.

TODAY ONLY you can enter a lottery to win a $5 M&G with Darren Criss here. Entries are open until noon on Thursday, October 3rd. 

10. Can I bring a dog to Elsie Fest?

Sadly, no.

11. Is Elsie Fest going to sell out?

It might. But I doubt it.

12. When will additional guests be announced?

You never know. While I have no way of knowing who has been invited or what kind of negotiations are going on behind the scenes, they have made it clear that Darren is the person who arranges the talent at Elsie Fest. He’s a busy guy. We never know what he’s up to.

There will be more guests. Some may be announced before Elsie Fest, others will be surprise guests. Buy tickets based on what’s announced, don’t get your hopes up, and enjoy watching it unfold.

13. I have nobody to sit with at Elsie Fest. May I sit with you?

Of course! Look for the yellow blankets. I’ll be sitting on these, so I should be easy to find. I usually try to park right in front of the sound booth–directly opposite the stage, but at the back of the lawn, so it’s quieter and we can spread out a smidgeon.


All strays are welcome to hang out with us.

14. I wish there was a way to get familiar with the music of all of these artists before Elsie Fest.

Check out my Spotify playlist.

15. I was hoping to take pictures/video at Elsie Fest, but the website for Summerstage says no cameras are allowed! What do I do?

The official policy says “Professional gear including video cameras or cameras with lens 100mm and over are not permitted.” Your phone or digital camera should be fine. They don’t want people taking professional-quality photos so that they can keep control of publicity.

16. Can I bring food and/or a water bottle?

Yes, but no coolers or alcohol. Beer, wine, soft drinks, and food are sold within the venue. There is also a water fountain to refill your water bottle. It’s located in the back corner of the venue. If you’re facing the stage, the water station is behind you and to your right.

17. How do I get to Summerstage?

Summerstage is in Central Park at East 72nd Street. The closest subway is the 6 train at 68th street, or you can take the C train to 72nd Street on the West Side and walk across the park. Here’s a handy guide from TripSavvy that’s for the free concerts, but a lot of the info applies also to Elsie Fest.

18. What time should I get there?

Darren Criss fans are crazy. Lots of them like to stand around all day just to listen to soundcheck. Others are obsessed with being first into the venue. These people will line up early, and I do mean EARLY. Last year, the first tweet I saw from someone on line was at about 5am.

If being up front is important to you, I recommend arriving at the venue no later than noon.

19. I’m looking for someone to travel/sit/swap tickets/share a hotel room with. How can I find someone? 

Check out www.elsiedate.com! It’s a new, fan-run service for fans of musical theater where you can meet new friends, sell tickets (at cost–no scalping!), or even find an actual date, if you want to.

20. Back in January, you did an Indiegogo and said you were going to give away tickets to Elsie Fest. Is that still happening?

The giveaway is over. Thank you so much for making it possible and for helping me raise $500 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS!

*I’m sure I don’t have to say this, because Elsie Fest fans are awesome, but please don’t abuse this. People with disabilities actually need accommodations, and I want to live in a world where they get them with minimal fuss. When people abuse these policies, everyone’s life gets worse. So advocate for yourself if you need it, and everyone else, just sit on the damn ground or don’t come.

Last update Wednesday, October 2 at 12:24pm EDT