By Julia Fields, Contributing Writer
This past Sunday, the Third Annual Elise Fest took place in Central Park at Rumsey Playfield Summerstage. Darren Criss, actor and musician from “Glee” and “How to Succeed in Business” on Broadway, created Elsie Fest for the Broadway lover. Criss hopes that this festival spreads awareness for the importance of the arts in the lives of people of all ages.
For the first time ever, there is a music festival specific to those who love all things musical theatre. Fans gather annually to hear from some of the most amazing voices on stage. The name, Elsie, comes from a song in “Cabaret,” where the show hosts a minimum of ten Broadway performers who enchant their audience with covers of their favorite show tunes and original songs.
Before the show even begins, a Broadway sing-along ensued. The entire crowd sang songs from every beloved Broadway musical, ranging from “Pippin” to “Hamilton.” Jeremy Jordan opened the show, pumping up the audience for the show with covers of Disney songs and Etta James’ “At Last.”
Next, Lea Michele performed. The star went back to her “Glee” roots with a performance of “Don’t Rain on my Parade.” Michele followed with an emotional performance of Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love,” honoring her late fiance, Cory Monteith. Visibly in tears, Michele delivered the song beautifully as she smiled out into the loving crowd. Michele left the audience with tears in their eyes, too, and love in their hearts and inspiration in their eyes.
Next up was Alan Cumming, who is most well known for his recent performance in Broadway’s “Cabaret.” His faux leather pants and explosive attitude made the performance a truly joyous one. He covered songs such as “Somewhere Only We Know,” while mixing in a few more known songs. The entire audience danced with Cumming as startlingly went from Adele’s “Someone Like You” to Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory,” somehow making the drastic tempo change work.
Last but not least was the man of the hour, Darren Criss. Criss brought out numerous special guests, including Ingrid Michaelson, Norm Lewis, Keala Settle, Jenna Ushkowitz, and Auli’i Cravalho, who is the voice of Disney’s “Moana”. The crowd belted out words to familiar songs such as “Moana”’s “How Far I’ll Go” and Michaelson’s “The Way I Am.”
Jenna Ushkowitz and Criss performed a song entitled “Granger Danger” from Criss’s own successful project, “A Very Potter Musical.” Every performance was better than the last, with new surprises at every song. Michele returned to the stage to join Criss in singing songs made famous in their “Glee” careers. The nostalgic crowd reminisced about these iconic TV moments and belted the lyrics along with Criss and Michele. Criss later surprised fans with an impromptu encore of “Free Fallin” to memorialize the late Tom Petty.
There was a never dull moment in the four hour Elsie Fest. The energy was infectious as hundreds of theatre lovers came together to watch amazing performances. Any Broadway fan will attest that Elise Fest was an unforgettable night of music, talent and fun.