BROADWAY AT THE NOURSE (October 30, 2015)
I am so glad that I went to San Francisco for my first Darren concert! I sat 3rd row from the stage, pretty much right where Darren and Seth sat for part of the night. A producer of "Broadway at the Nourse" came out and said the series is beginning with the amazing Darren Criss! He talked about the three organizations that the concert series will benefit (San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Project Open Hand, and San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus). When Darren wasn't performing a song, he and Seth would sit down on two chairs and Seth would interview Darren, which would segue into songs, primarily Broadway songs.
Darren looked handsome, so much more handsome in person than on the TV screen. Darren's parents were there (although I wasn't so lucky as to see them) and he said many of his teachers were there too. Darren was on very good behavior, mentioning that he made a deal with his dad about not cursing at the concert, which he succeeded in doing (much to my disappointment, since I find his cursing amusing).
Some of the songs were songs he had sung before in his life, as audition songs (for "Fanny" as a child, or for "Glee"), in musical productions during high school, or on Broadway ("Wicked Little Town" from "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"). But some of the songs were songs that Darren liked that he had not yet performed.
"Broadway Baby" (the first song) made me smile because of its connection to Glee, and because at one point Darren sang something like "I don't know the next words." Seth told him just to be cute, which caused Darren to smile, as he proceeded with the song. As Darren continued to sing, Seth shouted something like "it's working!" (Darren being cute.) The audience laughed. I loved his version of "Where Is Love," his very first audition song, that he sang as a kid.
I was impressed with Darren singing ten songs, all of which were Broadway songs, except "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Seth had mentioned that they only had one rehearsal, and that they did not have time to rehearse "Broadway Baby" even one full time (with Darren saying that happened just about one hour before the concert started). "Ya Got Trouble" (from The Music Man) had an incredible amount of words that were spoken/sung at a very fast pace, so not an easy song. A lot of fun intonation on Darren's part during that song, which you can hear from the audios/videos.
I loved "If I Were A Rich Man," from Fiddler on the Roof, which I recognized. He was so fun to watch during that song: Shaking his shoulders, moving his hips in that Tevye way, and his enunciation of the lyrics and accent being so pronounced. He was so animated and entertaining during that performance. Darren also connected this concert to another recent event, the Dramatists Guild Fund's "Lucky Stars" event in NYC, where Sheldon Harnick, a legendary lyricist who co-wrote the songs in Fiddler on the Roof, introduced Darren at the "Lucky Stars" event. Darren shared with us that his 18-year old self (who played Tevye during his high school senior year) would not have imagined some day he would shake hands with Mr. Harnick.
He sang "Sincere" with his two high school buddies and Seth. The harmonies were very pretty. Darren was very complimentary of one of his friends, who sang the beginning part alone (and who had a very nice voice). I remember thinking how cool that Darren was still in touch with two of his high school pals, and also thinking that it was so Darren-like to praise publicly a friend for his performance.
Seth had seemed surprised that Darren went from playing a lead role (which Darren tried to minimize) in "Chess" during his sophomore year in high school, to being part of the barbershop quartet/chorus in "The Music Man" the next year in his junior year. I remember being impressed, because Darren stated he was a person who didn't feel the desire to do leading roles, that doing "cool" or interesting roles was what he was interested in. He said something to the effect that the most important things are an interesting character and an interesting story. (I had suspected that this was how Darren felt. I wouldn't be surprised if in the future, Darren performed in a musical, play, film or a TV show where he played a supporting character because he found the character to be interesting, even if the role was not the lead role. I think Darren would be happy to play the leading man in a rom-com if he liked how the character was written, but that he wouldn't limit his roles to "leading man" roles.) What made me laugh was that immediately after Darren made that statement, Seth quipped something like "you did Hedwig, dear." The whole audience just laughed!
Darren talked about how U of Michigan was perfect for him, that he loved that he was part of a small theater community at his college, that his theater department class consisted of a very small group of people in a respected university of 30,000 plus students. This also struck me as being so "Darren, " how he seems to love being part of a small, intimate group or a small community (like StarKids), but that he also loves the diversity of interests (such as in different types of classes, or as in a wide range of extracurricular activities) that a large university offers. He talked about how he really loved taking different types of classes, which surprised Seth. Darren then clarified that didn't mean he did his homework and he also said he got terrible grades, which made the audience laugh.
Darren also mentioned that he wasn't part of the musical theater department at University of Michigan (like Andy Mientus was), that his department was referred to as the "straight theater" department (as in pure theater/non-musical theater) , which caused both Seth and the audience to laugh. He said he remembered thinking they should change that reference, although he has no idea if they ever did or not.
There were a few parts of the night where I remember thinking this is so "Darren." At one point, he talked about how he never thought he would do a role in musical theater because of his voice, much less doing a role in a musical production on Broadway. He shared that when he graduated from U of Michigan, he didn't believe voices "like his" had a place in the Broadway world. That tugged at my heartstrings.
He then shared that he would be terrified, during his classes at the Youth Conservatory (his ACT classes when he was young), that sometimes there would be a kid with a beautiful vibrato. He told us he would feel so embarrassed, because he never had a vibrato. Darren proceeded to show us how he felt as a kid in his YC classes, acting out how he would shrink in his chair, and look small and embarrassed, which really made me a little sad for his younger self. Darren said this would really bug him. He went on to say that at some point, though, he shifted from feeling embarrassed about his voice not being that typical Broadway voice, to a philosophy that if one could sing a song in his/her own way, if one could "do you" (ie, be himself or herself), as well as if one could put his or her heart into a song performance, then hopefully the song would make sense. I found it really touching and inspirational, how Darren struggled with accepting his "limitations," until he accepted his "difference" as a strength, by emphasizing that which made him unique and interesting as an individual--combined with showing how much heart and emotion he puts into a song performance--resulted in him finding a way to make his performances shine.
Earlier in the evening, Darren had said to Seth that he always tried to be different or weird when he was younger. (This just struck me as being very Darren-like, being so quirky and different, and how he had said in various ways at various times, that which made us different made us strong.) Seth pushed him by asking why. Darren had to think about why, and eventually he said life was too short, that he didn't want to be boring. He also referred to this as being a limited kind of rebellion when he was younger.
He also mentioned how his parents were wonderfully supportive parents, who told their kids to do what they wanted, and that they (his parents ) would support his brother and him.
He stated that whenever he doesn't get a part/role, he doesn't take it personally. He realizes he simply wasn't right for that part, and he just keeps going, which I interpreted to mean that he doesn't let it get him down. (Again, struck me as very "Darren.")
When talking about getting the role of Finch in H2$, he said that he looks at the character, whether the character is interesting to him, before he looks at the music/the songs. (Very "Darren" again.)
Regarding Elsie Fest, he said that Elsie Fest is going to be an annual thing, from here on out! When Darren asked if anyone in the audience had been to Elsie Fest, there were some folks who had!
I know some of Darren's fans may not necessarily be big Broadway fans. (I confess I am not that familiar with Broadway productions/songs, and the same goes for my husband, who BTW said he really enjoyed the concert.) But if Darren ever does something like this again, I would encourage others to consider going, if they can. To both my husband and me, the evening felt really intimate (and that theater was bigger than the Belasco, which surprised me. I think it seats almost 1700, versus the Belasco's approximate 1000). I heard many of Darren's stories already, but there were some things I hadn't really heard directly from Darren, that I found to be very personal of Darren to share with his fans.
Also, even if Broadway isn't necessarily a big interest to you, the way Darren performs many of these Broadway songs really will create some lasting memories. For instance, he performed the hell out of "If I Were A Rich Man," one of the highlights of the night! As always, I love listening to Darren singing the more emotional songs. Whether it is a Broadway song, or a contemporary pop ballad, if the song requires emotion, then you will hear Darren deliver his heart through his voice.