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Broadway’s best to light up Coney Island at Elsie Fest

Darren Criss will participate in the second annual Elsie Fest, a one-day outdoor music festival celebrating theater stars Sept. 5 at the 5,000-seat Ford Amphitheater.

NEW YORK – This fall, the famous Coney Island boardwalk will host some special hot dogs with a Broadway flavor.

The second annual Elsie Fest, a one-day outdoor music festival celebrating theater stars, is set for Sept. 5 at the 5,000-seat Ford Amphitheater, offering a new location and a new slate of singers.

This year’s performers include Megan Hilty, Tituss Burgess, Darren Criss, Evan Rachel Wood, composer Jason Robert Brown, Tony-winner Lena Hall, Corey Cott, Tony-winner Cynthia Erivo, radio host Julie James and the composing team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

“There is truly nothing else like this festival,” said Criss, the “Glee” star who helped create the festival. “There was this yearning for something like this that just kind of made it easy. The meat just kind of fell off the bone.”

Burgess, a Broadway star currently on “The UnBreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” will be in Coney Island for the first time, but last week still wasn’t sure what he’ll be singing. “I’m going to see what is nearest and closest to my energy and that’s probably what I’ll be able to execute best.”

The concert is the brainchild of Criss, talent manager Ricky Rollins, and Broadway producer and Jujamcyn Theaters President Jordan Roth. Last year’s festival drew some 4,000 people to a midtown pier. Tickets start at $60.

The name comes from lyrics in the musical “Cabaret” about a doomed girl named Elsie who would turn to the heroine Sally Bowles and ask: “What good is sitting alone in your room?/ Come hear the music play/ Life is a cabaret, old chum.”

Criss hopes to grow Elsie Fest over the next few years, turning it into a two-day event with art, food and cultural offerings. It may move around the city from year to year as it grows.

“It’s about an experience to me. Like any festival. It’s not just the concert,” said Criss. “We’re really working on building that out as much as possible to make it a full-on experience and not just a series of concerts.”

Criss, who has been on Broadway in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” said he’s been tapping his talented friends to join the movement.

Last year, he managed to get Leslie Odom Jr. to rush from a performance of “Hamilton” to appear on the Elsie stage, and this year lured Burgess to Coney Island when both were starring in a concert version of “The Little Mermaid” at the Hollywood Bowl.

“Asking talented friends to do anything is a really humbling experience,” said Criss. “No matter how nice people are about it, I just always feel so slimy about it. Having last year under my belt made me more confident.”

A year ago, Criss was running around so much at the event trying to make sure everything was going smoothly that he barely had time to focus on what he’d be singing. This year, he’s going to focus on his favorite stage songs.

“I’m a fan of a lot of stuff that I’ll never be cast in, so I’m definitely going to embrace some of those songs in my set,” he said. “That’s my shot, an opportunity to perform songs I’d never get the opportunity to do otherwise.”



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