Darren Criss knows this has never been done before, so he is well-aware that it may not work. But he’s betting on the passion of theatergoers and Broadway supporters to make his first ever “Elsie Fest” on Sunday a success.
“Basically what I’m trying to do here is sort of a Warped Tour of musical theater, cabaret tunes,” Criss explained to me in between rehearsals. “Just to kind of take everybody out of the concert hall, ditch the dinner jackets and the ties and kind of trade it for a t-shirt, jeans and a beer.”
For this reason, Criss chose outdoor venue JBL Live at Pier 97 as the inaugural setting. The lineup features the former “Glee” star along with Aaron Tveit (“Graceland,” “Catch Me If You Can”), Lea Salonga (“Mulan,” “Miss Saigon”), Laura Osnes (“Greece,” “Cinderella,”), Leslie Odom Jr. (“Hamilton”), Seth Rudetsky and StarKid.
In addition to the announced lineup, Criss teased that a number of surprise guests will be making appearances on stage. The festival is also running opposite Broadway Cares’ Broadway Flea Market (both events benefit the charity). Criss also invited Marie’s Crisis – the historic West Village piano bar – to run the beer garden on site.
The goal, reflecting the spirit of the theater community, is to create an event that everyone feels welcome at. But again, this has never been done before, and its creator is well-aware.
“Well, let’s hope so,” when I noted that there seems to be something at the festival for everyone. “We’re going to find out.”
Criss said at the beginning of our conversation that he was simply trying to keep his head screwed on to his body. In addition to creating and performing at a brand new festival, the actor is currently filming “American Horror Story: Hotel.”
“Not only do you get to be around Kathy Bates and Lady Gaga but it’s also, you walk on set and it’s this crazy looking set with all of these people in crazy looking outfits,” he explained. “You just can’t help but be swept up by the whole thing.”
Surely to fans’ delight, Criss does share scenes with Gaga.
“But not as many as I like,” he added with a laugh. Perhaps he had a hard time keeping his head screwed on after all.