Experiencing Elsie Fest

Kelly McLafferty, Staff Writer

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There was no surprise when the child of Darren Criss turned out to be talented and full of excitement. Elsie Fest, also called the “brain child” took place at Pier 97 in New York City on Sunday, September 27, 2015.  As much as the event was an opportunity for Broadway fans to “geek out” over their favorite performers, it also helped raise money for the organization Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The festival was the ultimate social ground for Broadway fans to meet people just like them and rock out to the songs that make up the majority of their music library.

As expected, the line to get into the festival was long but was nowhere near boring. While on line people were singing to their favorite songs and waving Lea Salonga faces on Popsicle sticks that were handed out. Also, probably the coolest thing to witness was when the girl in front of me shouted, “I love you Darren Criss!”And he replied, “I love you too!” I thought that was so funny and amazing. If I knew that I could shout that and get a reply I would have done it before her! But no, if you know me, then there is no surprise that I remained quiet. In addition to the singing and dancing, there was a bicycle race running right through the area. The people were impressed with how fast the men and women were going and so they cheered them on.

While entering the event, the crowd was welcomed by a variety of food trucks, free giveaways and music. My friend and I were starving after waiting on the long line so we went straight to the food trucks, where we each bought a personal size pizza from Neapolitan Express. The pizza reached all expectations of a New York pizza. It was certainly not a disappointment. In addition to the food trucks there was a burger truck, an ice cream cart, and a drink stand. Before the show started, we walked around the pier to see everything it had to offer. My friend, Melissa Aleman, took full advantage of the giveaways.  While we were there she she was able to get a free backpack from Ford and two bottles of hand/body lotion from Vaseline. The location of the event was surprisingly beautiful. After all, New York City isn’t really known for its spotless streets and great smell. The venue was located along the Hudson River, where people can ride bikes, take peaceful walks and even go kayaking.

The show started around 2:20 with a few words from Darren Criss. Before introducing the first artist, he told the crowd that he was overwhelmed by the great turn out and how he hopes that he can make Elsie Fest an annual event. Lea Salonga was the first artist to perform. Salonga has performed on Broadway previously, but this year she will return in the new show Allegiance. In addition to Broadway, Salonga has spent time with Disney, where she became most famous for her singing as princess Jasmine, and later, on the voice of Mulan. As expected, Salonga mesmerized the audience with her vocals. She sang songs from a variety of Broadway musicals and performed a duet with Darren Criss that pleased the crowed. The duo performed “A Whole New World” from Aladdin. Salonga ended her act with one of her solos from her new Broadway show. It was a perfect way to end a set.

Performing after Salonga is no easy task, but Team Starkid took on the challenge. My knowledge of Team Starkid is limited; in fact all I know is that Darren Criss was Harry Potter in their A Very Potter Musical. I must admit that Team Starkid was one of my favorite performances. Not only was the group talented, but they were also extremely funny. Team Starkid also had a guest appearance by Darren Criss where they sang a song from A Very Potter Musical. Many of the people around me knew the lyrics to Starkid songs and from the smile on their faces they were having an amazing time. Team Starkid seems like an exciting group of people and after watching their performance, I hope to get tickets to one of their musicals.

To continue with the comedic portion of the show, Seth Rudetsky took the stage after Team Starkid. Unlike the other performers, Seth Rudetsky did not sing. Rudetsky discussed the impact little details can have on a song. In a creative way of teaching the crowd about pitch and vibrato, he lip-synced to songs from multiple singers such as Patti LuPone and Betty Buckley. Seth Rudetsky is an American musician, actor, writer and radio host. He is the host of Seth’s Big Fat Broadway and Seth Specks on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s On Broadway. Mr. Rudetsky was an exciting part of the event despite the fact that he didn’t actually sing. Rudetsky’s performance of dancing, jokes and new ways of pronouncing words was lively and made learning fun. Personally, I thought that Rudetsky was one of the funniest people to listen to.  His performance was a delightful surprise.

After the comedic show by Seth Rudetsky, the audience was ready for more music. Laura Osnes jumped start the second half of the festival with her talented voice. Laura Osnes is known for her roles on Broadway in musicals such as Grease, South Pacific, Anything Goes, Bonnie and Clyde, and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Osnes has received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical from her performance as Bonnie Parker from Bonnie and Clyde and has received a Drama Desk Award, along with a second Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. She performed a variety of songs such as Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid, a medley of Cinderella songs and her favorite song from the television series Nashville. Osnes also performed multiple songs with Aaron Tveit.

Aaron Tveit is an American actor and singer, best known for his role of Gabe in Next to Normal and Frank Abagnale Jr. in Catch Me If You Can on Broadway. Tveit and Osnes performed two duets during the festival: “As Long As You’re Mine” and “Falling Slowly”. In his set, Tveit performed everything from Broadway favorites to Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together”. He performed “I’ve Been” from Next to Normal, “Why god Why?” from Miss Saigon, and many others. The one performance that seemed to capture the audience was Tveit’s version of “Fix You” from Coldplay; the way Tveit sung showed sincerity and compassion, which seemed to have pulled an emotional response from the crowd. Singers such as Tveit have showed the world that songs are more than something to dance to; they are meant to say everything a person is feeling and are supposed to remind us that everyone has been in the same position at some point in their life. Sometimes songs are just made to help remind us that we should stop rushing to do things, and instead, slow down and feel something.

Before the final performance, Leslie Odom Jr. took the stage and brought excitement to the crowd. Leslie Odom Jr. made his Broadway debut as Paul in Rent at the age of 17. The gifted performer has also snatched important roles in several other Broadway shows, such as Aaron Burr in the 2015 musical Hamilton. In addition to his Broadway success, Odom has continued to excel in television series such as the 2013 musical television series Smash. Odom started off his set with a Hamilton favorite, “The Room Where It Happens” and continued to surprise the audience by showing versatility in his vocals by performing the high-pitched song “Sherry” from Jersey Boys. Odom blew the minds of thousands of fans with his vocal abilities, and like Tveit, he performed popular songs such as Selena Gomez’s, “Good For You”. Not only did Odom help create new memories, he also excited the crowd, making him the perfect act to put on before the much anticipated performance of Darren Criss.

Finally the time for Darren Criss to perform had arrived. As soon as Darren Criss hit the stage, the crowd squeezed together and the girls started screaming. Honestly, I am so lucky not to be claustrophobic. For the people who have not heard of Criss, he is best known for his role as Blaine Anderson on the Fox television series Glee. Criss realized his passion for music at the age of five, when he began taking violin lessons. He was classically trained for fifteen years. In addition to the violin, Criss taught himself how to play multiple instruments including the guitar, piano, mandolin, harmonica, and the drums. Criss continued his passion throughout college and later became one of the founders and co-owners of Starkid productions. It wasn’t until he became Blaine Anderson on Glee that Criss caught the attention of teens all over the world. Since his time on Glee, Criss has had various movie and Broadway roles. He took on the role of Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch from April 29, 2015 to July 19, 2015 at the Belasco Theater. Criss opened up his set with the song “I’ll Make a Many Out of You” from Disney’s Mulan. While many would have thought that this was an odd choice, this song was nothing like the Disney version. To broadcast his many talents, Criss put an edgy spin on the song and made it his own. Throughout his set Criss continued to play Glee favorites like Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and his own song “This Time.”  Criss continued to amaze the audience with a variety of songs, everything from Rock to Broadway.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and Elsie Fest was no exception. Darren Criss ended the event by thanking the crowd for all of their support. He mentioned how thankful he was to have such a great turn out and how honored he was to share this experience with them. Criss informed the crowd that Elsie Fest will return next year, bigger and better than ever. Elsie Fest was an amazing experience full of new friends and memories. I had such a wonderful time at Elsie Fest and I recommend everyone to attend next year! I know that I’ll be there.

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Experiencing Elsie Fest