By Ioana Litra
The atmosphere at last month’s Elsie Fest was surprising to say the least; when most people think Broadway, they think of stuffy theaters with a serious atmosphere. But on this bright sunny afternoon on Pier 97, the crowds filing in were all young people, donned in bright colors and smiles. You could feel the excitement in the air as the crowd began to solidify in anticipation for today’s show.
The show in question is Elsie Fest, a music festival with a twist: all the performers are from the Great White Way—“A Broadway Coachella”, as it was being called. The brain child of actor/singer-songwriter Darren Criss, the show features some of the Broadway’s best-and-brightest: Lea Salonga (“Les Miserables”), Starkid (“A Very Potter Musical”), Seth Rudetsky (“Seth’s Big Fat Broadway”), Laura Osnes (“Cinderella”), Aaron Tviet (“Next to Normal”), Leslie Odom Jr. (“Hamilton”), and Darren Criss himself (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”). To cool off the crowd in between sets, there were food and beer trucks along the pier, as well as some show tune-sing-along. And as-if this show couldn’t get any better, all the proceeds went to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
Looking around the packed pier, you got the feeling that you were seeing something being born, the new generation of musical theatre lovers, a new chapter of Broadway. And these fans generate a beautiful energy, an energy of fun, of community, of no-holds-barred enthusiasm and genuine love for Broadway. Something that has always been true of Broadway is that it is one of the few communities where no one is judged, and everyone comes together in this one beautiful and care-free act of singing our feelings. It is a glorious thing, and it was personified at Elsie Fest. You’d be hard pressed to find another place where an entire music venue is singing their hearts out to Lea Salonga (the singing voice of Princess Jasmine) and Darren Criss’ rendition of “A Whole New World”, or swooning as resident Broadway heartthrob Aaron Tveit croons Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together”.
As Leslie Odom Jr. said during his electrifying set, “You guys make Broadway guys like us feel like rockstars.”
Not only were the performers elevated to rockstar status, but the fans, usually a timid group who may not always be seen as cool, were elevated to rock and roll fans. Finally, this group of musical theatre nerds, performers and fans alike, were elevated to the mainstream. And for the Broadway community, that’s a huge step.
Iona Litra is a Contributing Writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org