Concert Review/Q&A: Darren Criss

The audience at Parker Playhouse received quite a treat Tuesday night with the final performance of the Broadway Concert Series, which featured actor and musician Darren Criss with curator and accompanist Seth Rudetsky, whose own show can be heard on Sirius XM’s On Broadway station. The pair brought both laughs and talents into theater with a combination of discussion and performance.

Currently on Broadway in the musical “Disaster!”—which he co-wrote with Jack Plotnick—Rudetsky was the first to take the stage. Though he was slightly heartbroken as this was the first night he was missing “Disaster!,” and his understudy was going on for him. However, Rudetsky said he was dedicated to this series and made sure that he came to the show.

As Criss first entered the stage, screams of teenagers and young adults alike resounded through the auditorium, which is not usually the norm for a Broadway concert. Nevertheless, “Glee” fans came out to see the star of the hit FOX musical series. And it helped that Criss started the show with “Something’s Coming,” which his character, Blaine Anderson, performed on the show.

Also in attendance were fans of StarKid, the incredibly popular theatre company that Criss helped create at the University of Michigan. Criss is known for writing and starring as Harry Potter in “A Very Potter Musical” and its two sequels. During the show, Criss mentioned that he is currently working on writing the next StarKid production while also joking that he only gets fame after starring in roles that Daniel Radcliffe performed first—a nod to his Broadway debut replacing Radcliffe in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

Criss and Rudetsky hammed it up while they chatted between songs in a set of chairs on the opposite side of the stage from the piano that Rudetsky used for performances. They talked about everything from Criss not being Jewish or Italian, as he often gets mistaken for (he’s actually Filipino and Irish), to how Criss never actually wanted to do musical theatre but ended up there anyway.

One thing that both men seemed passionate about was the talent that is on Broadway and how even though performers seem to come out of nowhere, they’ve been exceptional for many years and it just takes one role to make a person.

As they were mentioning this fact, they brought up the example of how two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster was a chorus girl for many years and was brought out to play Millie in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” which cemented her star status. Rudetsky also mentioned that he worked on the revival of “Grease” in 1994 and audiences were so mad when Rosie O’Donnell, who played Rizzo, would be out and her understudy would be in. The understudy was Megan Mullally, who is now a two-time Emmy winner for “Will & Grace” but was unknown at the time.

The story echoed for Criss. He had auditioned for many Broadway shows, including “Once,” “American Idiot” and “The Book of Mormon,” but didn’t get any of the roles. However, as soon as he appeared on “Glee,” he was offered the short engagement in “How to Succeed…” without an audition.

Throughout his performances, Criss brought plenty of his personal stories into the music. He sang his first audition song, “Where is Love?” from the musical “Oliver,” in his current vocal range, but then jokingly switched the key to his 7-year-old self halfway through the performance. Later in the show, he performed “Welcome Home” from “Fanny,” which was the first musical he was ever in, and closed the show with “If I Were A Rich Man,” his first starring role in high school.

Perhaps the highlights of the night were “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” and “Wicked Little Town” from Criss’ two starring Broadway roles in “How to Succeed…” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Criss shared anecdotes from his time from both shows before performing. Hilariously, though, Criss forgot the lyrics halfway through the latter song, but played it off saying it was bound to happen because he cannot even remember the lyrics to songs he’s written.

Before the show, Boca Raton was able to speak one-on-one with Criss.

Your first claim to fame was “A Very Potter Musical,” which featured your original music and lyrics. Would you ever write a Broadway show or try to take one of the StarKid ones to Broadway?

First of all, it gives so much joy to talk about StarKid. It was such a pivotal part of my life of how I got to where I am. To apply some TLC to those would be great actually and workshop them. That would be down the line, but writing something original is something that is very much a priority for me.

Well, your song “Not Alone” from “A Very Potter Musical” has been performed at many Trevor Project events and has really inspired people. How does it make you feel that your music could’ve saved someone or changed a life?

It’s amazing. People tell me this all the time, and it’s difficult to wrap your brain around. The gratitude is mutual, and it’s a very overwhelming feeling. I find myself at a loss of words for how incredible that is.

You’re a big advocate for many causes. What advice do you have for someone who wants to make a change in the world?

Well it’s a big world out there, and there are so many things to be done. You don’t have to go to the other side of the world to help. There are plenty of people around. Think small with a lot of heart, and you’d be surprised of the butterfly effect that has.

You’ve said that you’re more of a pop performer but fell into Broadway. How did that happen?

Well I agree, but that to me is a misnomer. I use that as shorthand during performances for audience members who aren’t familiar with the earlier part of my career. I think the real keyword here is a contemporary singer. Most importantly, I’ve never considered myself a singer. I was always an actor who could sing when I needed to. Anything along the way has been a fun thing to do when there is a guitar or a piano around.

Now you said you’re not a singer, but “Glee” fans have been waiting for a debut album. When can we expect that from you?

I always get that question, and the answer is I don’t know. I’m too much of a perfectionist I guess. At this point, it’s become a joke that it’ll never happen. One day it’ll appear. [The fans] will be over it by the time it comes out.

This summer we’re going to see you take on Prince Eric in “The Little Mermaid” at the Hollywood Bowl. What are you most excited for in this production?

I’m probably most excited to see Sara Bareilles [who is playing Ariel] do her thing. Out of all the things I’ve had the chance to do, I’ve never had as big of an immediate reaction explode upon phone and email than this particular show. It has stood the test of time because there are always going to be children watching it for the first time.

Is there a dream Broadway role you’d like to play?

I feel like “Hedwig” was such a dream for me that any part is hard to top it. I love “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” I could never really sing that show, but I feel in a couple of decades, I’d be down to take on the D’Ysquith family [the eight roles Jefferson Mays originated on Broadway].

SET LIST

 

Something’s Coming (from “West Side Story”)

Where Is Love? (from “Oliver”)

I Love Betsy (from “Honeymoon in Vegas”)

Welcome Home (from “Fanny”)

The Streets of Dublin (from “A Man of No Importance”)

I’d Rather Be Sailing (from “A New Brain”)

Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm (from “How to Succeed Without Really Trying”)

Wicked Little Town (from “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”)

If I Were A Rich Man (from “Fiddler on the Roof”)

 

Encore:

You and Me (But Mostly Me) (from “The Book of Mormon”)

This article was published on Boca Magazine on April 20, 2016 and can be found here.

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