The second I walked into the first Elsiefest, I felt right at home.
With crowds of people holding their merchandise up, all of Pier 97 looked like the billboards in Times Square- Newsies shirts, Les Mis totes, playbills galore. You could hear the piano in the beer garden where guest artists (such as Annelise van der Pol) were intimately singing classics and favorites of every theatre lover. When the song was Rent’s “Seasons of Love,” people ran over just to sing along. Even just walking through the festival you could see people mouthing the words.
But the crowd went even crazier when broadway legends such as Laura Osnes, Aaron Tveit, Lea Salonga, Leslie Odom Jr, and Darren Chris came out to sing their favorite songs of all time. Aaron and Laura paired up to sing Once’s “Falling Slowly,” then sped it up for “I’m Alive” from Next to Normal. The stars didn’t limit themselves to Broadway repertoire, however. Aaron Tveit sang a Justin Beiber and Taylor Swift (whom he unabashedly loves) mash-up of “Boyfriend” and “Never Ever Getting Back Together.” This newly formed bond between performers and audience was a theme for the whole evening, with Darren taking selfies with us in the background.
The night felt like a chance for theatre goers to truly befriend the people who have changed their lives with the characters they’ve played, only this time the mask came down. Aaron is a fun loving, excited energetic guy who also loves Coldplay. Leslie Odom Jr. ran straight from his matinee performance of Hamilton to perform songs from the shows he’s done before such as the aforementioned, but also Jersey Boys and Rent, and some Selena Gomez.
In honor of Deaf West’s opening night of Spring Awakening, he did a sultry jazzy rendition of “The Guilty Ones” that brought the cellphone lights out. But the host of the evening Darren Chris really took everyone out with a bang – the first song he sang was “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Disney’s Mulan. Singing songs he’s always wanted to sing (“I Gotta Get Back to Hogwarts”and “Cabaret,”) to songs he’s truly made his own from his colorful career in Hedwig, How to Succeed, and of course Glee. Once he said he would sing “Goodbye” from Glee, I swear even I had to hold back my tears. But he didn’t end on a sad note, instead he brought out Tyler Glenn from Neon Trees to sing “Animal.”
All in all, the event was full of infectious fun for the theatre loving audience it attracted. If this Coachella-for-show-tunes is back again next year, I’m sure word of mouth will bring even more artists and audience to party Broadway style.
Photo credit: Vladislav Grach / Live Nation