On Monday September 5th, The Great Elsie Fest — the second-annual one-day outdoor music festival — took over Labor Day on Coney Island’s Boardwalk at the Ford Amphitheater in Brooklyn, NY.
For the second year in a row, The Great Elsie Fest brought together stars of the stage and silver screen with their biggest fans and self-proclaimed musical theater nerds out of the dark theaters for an outdoor, all-day music festival. This time, they headed to the beach and concert-goers got to hang out on the historic Coney Island Boardwalk for an extra hour of Hurricane Hermine-free sun while the finishing touches were set, and the show did go on ‘til 10 p.m. to end our vacation with a bang.
With refreshments from City Winery and a pop-up beer garden by the West Village’s Marie’s Crisis piano bar, complete with requisite singalongs of Rent, Hamilton, Hairspray, Grease, and Chicago among the audience, a portion of the proceeds from this musical theater “Bro-chella” benefited Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. When you hear those iconic first notes of Rent’s ‘Seasons of Love’ and even newer hit ‘You’ll Be Back’ from Hamilton, you can’t stop yourself from singing along. And why would you want to?
We were treated to about a dozen full sets and special duets from the likes of 2016 Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo, who accompanied both composer, lyricist, playwright and three-time Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown to tease her one-night performance of The Last Five Years with Joshua Henry, AND Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the Tony-nominated songwriting duo behind Broadway’s upcoming musical Dear Evan Hansen, for her own spin on the Act 1 closer from the show. Even more amazing, she even highlighted a special choir of Pace University students that brought us to church. The energy for these performances were simply electric, with the crowd leaping to their feet before Ms. Erivo even opened her mouth to sing.
Broadway vet Lindsay Mendez also surprised the audience by joining each of the prolific playwrights and composers, which the crowd adored, almost as much as when the prodigal tweenage Stranger Things stars Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin (who, by the way, got their starts as Gavroche in Les Misérables and young Simba in the Lion King on Broadway, respectively, no biggie), each graciously shared the stage with their equally talented sisters — showing us their truly blessed genetics and how much we have to look forward to from the next generation.
Tony-nominated actress and singer Megan Hilty kicked it off by bringing Broadway classics and showstoppers from her sleeper-cult hit Smash, along with an awesome duet with her husband Brian Gallagher on guitar. Emmy-nominated Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and 30 Rock star Tituss Burgess dazzled with a completely new take on ‘What’s Going On?’ after he felt it was “safe to assume this crowd is about love” and encouraging us to rock the vote.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch’s Tony-winning Lena Hall came out to support Criss, who’s played Hedwig on Broadway and on tour, and both she and heartthrob Corey Cott of Newsies and Gigi– fame showed us “just how hard Broadway can rock.” SiriusXM Radio On Broadway host Julie James exuded the all-time greats like Bette Midler and Barbara Streisand and schooled Broadway’s youngest fans, while movie star Evan Rachael Wood introduced us to bandmate Zach Villa performing as Rebel and a Basketcase, showing her range from the synth sounds of her band to joining Darren Criss in a rendition of the eponymous blockbuster hit from Across The Universe.
A true highlight of the day, Todrick Hall took a break from breaking the Internet to bring us his signature mashups of Disney tunes with ‘90s hits (we’re talking ‘Pony’ with ‘A Part of Your World,’ ‘Always Be My Baby’ with ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight,’ and ‘This Is How We Do It’ with ‘A Whole New World,’ I can’t make this stuff up!), and teased his upcoming role as Lola in Kinky Boots! He also rewrote a classic to bring us my new favorite catchphrase: “I’m twerking in the rain, I’m twerking in the rain, and it’s the ratchetest feeling . . . ” Then, he went back to breaking it by duetting with Darren Criss and sending The Knock’s Twitter followers into a tizzy.
Oh yeah, about Darren Criss, the festival’s Emmy-nominated and multi-hyphenate host — he closed the evening in his manically passionate style and fondness for the delightfully bizarre by bringing up Liz Callaway who was the original voice of the animated Anastasia, to help him out with the higher key of the movie/musical’s ‘Journey to the Past,’ among many other amazing musical re-imaginations, before closing the evening with ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ Told you we ended with a bang-er.[slideshow]
Photo Credit: Elsie Fest/ Startraksphoto