The third annual Elsie Fest took place on Oct. 8 at Central Park Summerstage. The event, which celebrates stars of the stage and screen, was created by Glee actor Darren Criss and he describes it as “the Coachella of the musical theater world.”
The show got its name from a lyric in the song “Cabaret.” General admission tickets were $60, general admission with a bleacher seat were $90 and meet and greets were $100 per artist.
This year, acts featured were Criss, his Glee co-star Lea Michele, Newsies and Supergirl star Jeremy Jordan and Cabaret star Alan Cumming. New Broadway musical The Band’s Visit also performed, as well as Miss Saigon.
Special guests were Phantom of the Opera’s Norm Lewis, Moana’s Auli’I Cravalho, singer/song-writer Ingrid Michaelson, Waitress’ Keala Settle and Michele and Criss’ fellow co-star Jenna Ushkowitz. Elvis Duran hosted the event, and Bandstand’s leading lady Laura Osnes introduced Jordan, while Glee and American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy introduced Michele.
In between acts, as well as before the show, employees from Marie’s Crisis Piano Bar lead a singalong of Broadway hits, such as “Seasons of Love” from Rent, “Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors and “You’ll Be Back” from Hamilton.
This is the first year the festival took the Summerstage. Previous venues include JBL Live at Pier 97 and Coney Island. A portion of proceeds goes to BroadwayCares/Equity Fight Aids.
Cravalho and Criss sang “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, while Criss and Ushkowitz sang “Granger Danger” from A Very Potter Musical — it was amazing.
Michele sang “Make You Feel My Love,” which she sang in Glee in memoriam of Cory Monteith, and the emotion was evident in the crowd.
Some performers used their platform to make a statement. Cumming referenced House Bill 1523, which went into effect in Mississippi on Oct. 10.
Under HB1523, employers can “cite personal religious beliefs to justify discriminating against LGBT people, including denying services.” In response to this, Cumming said, “Tonight is a celebration but also a call to arms. We must resist and fight.”
Lewis also used his performance to take a stand, singing “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye and mentioning exactly what is going on – such as ISIS, the Las Vegas shooting and the various natural disasters.
Audience members took to twitter to express their reactions to performances, one even calling Lewis’s rendition of the song “appropriate and simply phenomenal.”
Norm Lewis with an appropriate and simply phenomenal rendition of What’s Going On. #ElsieFest
— Beth S (@BethReads) October 9, 2017
Michaelson was asked to do a Broadway song, and I was shocked when she didn’t choose a song from Great Comet, since she recently made her Broadway debut as Sonya. Instead, she sang “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors, because it reminded her of her dad who recently died. She visibly choked up but kept her composure, and myself as well as a few people around me got emotional as well.
The show ended with an impromptu Tom Petty tribute, with Criss taking the stage with just his guitar, singing the 1989 classic “Free Fallin.”