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):
- 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.