Darren Criss Concert for Festival of New American Musicals

Darren Criss Delivers an Hour-Long Set for Festival of New American Musicals including his Song for Adele

 

So what if Hurricane Irene, which ravaged the east coast last summer, kept Darren Criss from getting back to Los Angeles for his scheduled performance at the Festival of New American Musicals Closing Party?

To make up for his absence back then, Criss delivered an hour-long private concert Dec. 4 for the original ticket-holders, plus friends, family and additional Festival supporters in a spectacular Bel Air home, complete with ballroom, theater seating and a stage. Criss is the official spokesperson for the Festival of New American Musicals; he plays Blaine Anderson on the television series, “Glee.” 

“It turned out pretty OK,” Criss said from onstage. No kidding. Had he been able to attend the official Closing Party, he would have shared the bill with other singers and performed two or three numbers. Instead, the audience enjoyed what he described as “Darren 101,” an entire concert of cover songs, jazz standards, movie music and his own compositions which were done, he said, “before ‘Glee,’ when I had long hair and a lot of time.”

These days, time is scarce. Criss is headed for Broadway in January to star in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” He will be replacing Daniel Radcliffe, star of the “Harry Potter” film series.

Ironically, Criss first gained fame by playing Harry Potter in “A Very Potter Musical” and “A Very Potter Sequel,” by StarKid Productions, which he co-founded with university friends. The musicals became mega-hits, generating tens of millions of downloads on YouTube.

Criss began his set with familiar tunes he used to sing in bars and restaurants. “I made a habit of trying to be a human juke box,” he said, adding, to conjure the proper ambiance, “Pretend you’re in a restaurant eating pasta or something.”   

Moving on to compositions of his own, he said he wrote “Not Alone” after hearing Adele’s voice. “I actually wrote this song for her,” he said. ”I wanted her voice on it.” As that never worked out, Criss used the song in the first of StarKid’s “Harry Potter” musicals.

Prior to the show, an estimated 200 guests gathered on the back lawn, Cerina Criss and Bill Criss – Darren’s parents – among them. “Since his first breath, I knew that (Darren) would be an actor, or a singer or a songwriter,” Bill Criss said. “(Darren) declared at five years old… ‘This is what I want to do.’” Their other son, Chuck Criss, is a member of the rock band, “Freelance Whales,” which also produces music online.

On adjourning to the theater, party hostess Robin Broidy welcomed the group, saying “Musical theater is one of my loves,” also naming ballet and films among other interests. (Earlier Broidy said she directed three plays in college, including two musicals.)

Festival co-executive producer Bob Klein followed, telling the audience that FNAM’s Show Search, or the “Best New Musical” competition for high school and college-aged composers, is about to begin. He noted that young singers can perform in school productions and community theaters, but young composers rarely get a chance to showcase their work.

So to help them out, he said finalists will be flown to Los Angeles and have their works performed in staged readings, and winners will receive mentorships and scholarships. (Further information can be found here on the Festival’s website.)

Klein then introduced an early entry into the competition: Alexa Russo and Garrison Hall from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.  Reprising a song that earned them a standing ovation at the Festival’s original Closing Party, they sang “Never Felt this Way” from their musical, “Today’s the Day.”  

Klein, Marcia Seligson and Linda Shusett are the Festival’s executive producers. Although not present at the Dec. 4 Darren Criss concert for Festival of New American Musicals supporters, honorary Festival co-chairs include Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, Jerry Herman, Angela Lansbury and Jason Alexander.

Photos, from top: the Darren Criss concert for Festival of New American Musicals; Alexa Russo and Garrison Hall, an early entry in FNAM’s Show Search competition; surrounding Darren Criss, center, from left, Eric Vetro, host of the originally scheduled closing party, festival executive producers Marcia Seligson, Linda Shusett, Bob Klein. (all photos: Daniel G. Lam)

 

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Darren Criss Concert for Festival of New American Musicals

Published Dec. 6, 2011 – Ellen Olivier, Society News LA