"My first Marie's Crisis [trip] ever was with him," said Lea Salonga over lunch, "because he dragged me!"
Salonga was at the Strand Bistro having lunch with press in anticipation of her latest Broadway endeavor Allegiance, a musical inspired by the childhood of its star, George Takei. She had just caught a performance of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, starring her pal Darren Criss, the night before.
"It seems that every time Darren and I happen to be in New York City at the same time, something epic happens," she explained. "The very first time I had a corporate thing at 54 Below — it was for a corporation, and I was the hired singer — I sang [for] an hour, and then I went back to my apartment. And then I'm texting Darren, 'I'm in New York. Let's go have dinner…' So we all meet up for dinner — his brother and his brother's wife…and then the conversation turned to, 'Have you ever been to Marie's Crisis?'"
Salonga had never been, so Criss insisted they head to the staple in the West Village, where theatre lovers flock to sing songs around a crowded piano and buy cheap drinks at the underground bar. Knowing the lyrics and singing on pitch are not required; the only rule is that showtunes take the spotlight. She continued, "So, there's a whole bunch of us convoying in two or three taxis, going down into the West Village from midtown Manhattan. We go into the little, dinky convenient store to the ATM because they take only cash [at Marie's Crisis]. We go in, and Christmas lights are on. They have really good cocktails at Marie's Crisis — you have to give it a chance… So, I went in, and right away I'm getting looks because it's like, 'Oh my God, I'm coming in.' And, the pianist is all nervous. Darren is like, 'You've got to sing,' so I sing 'On My Own,' and then we drink some more, and then he gets on the piano and we do 'A Whole New World,' and that video I think has gone… It's kind of had a life of its own."
A few videos exist from that night in November 2013. They each have 300,000-400,000 views. Watch "A Whole New World" below:
She describes Criss as "the gayest straight man I have ever met" and said that "it would be so awesome if every single straight man did not have baggage over [a love for musicals]." She said, "He doesn't prove to be macho, he doesn't prove to be anything. He's like, 'I like karaoke. I like doing musical theatre. And, I like women!'"
As for their post-Hedwig adventure, Salonga said that her and Criss went to a party thrown by Seth MacFarlane, since Criss is friends with MacFarlane's assistant.
"There's always something epic happening," said Salonga. But, the 44-year-old prolific performer was not always so spontaneous in her 20s — she was busy starring as Kim in Miss Saigon, save for two years when she was taking care of her brother in Boston as he attended the Berklee College of Music.
"It's only gotten crazy in the last few years," she admitted, "and the late-night karaoke things have really only been in the last few years — doing that, getting drunk — because I didn't really do a lot of that when I was in my 20s. I was much more conscientious about being healthy and sober... But, you know what, life's to short! Life is just too short to not have a good time. At least I can say on my deathbed, 'I had the best effing time…ever!'"
(Playbill.com features manager Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)