Onstage & Backstage: Darren Criss Made a Teenage Dream Come True!

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: Darren Criss Made a Teenage Dream Come True! A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

OK, this is part two of my concert recap! Read my last column for all the terrifying highs and lows that led up to Voices for the Voiceless: Stars for Foster Kids. We are now up to the day of the event. I take a 6 AM flight from Provincetown, 7 AM flight from Boston and get to the St. James theater at 11 AM and rehearse that afternoon til 5 PM with my amazing band (contracted by Charley Gordon). James and I then hightail it to the Knickerbocker hotel. Why? Certainly not because we can afford to stay there. Because they sponsored us and gave us rooms for some of the celebrities as well as giving us a stunning room to use to get ready for the red carpet that began at 6 PM! AH! Luxury shower.

The red carpet turned out to be really fun and glamorous. I was working for "ET" (yes, bizarrely covering my own show) and one of my questions to Jane Krakowski was, "What's the worst thing about having kids?" She said that it's being in public and having to sing those horrible TV theme songs they love. Hm…I then asked her if her children actually wanted her to sing those songs or if she was constantly volunteering, Jenna Maroney style. I followed up by asking Tina Fey the best thing about having kids and she said it was their wonderful imagination. I then asked if that meant her daughter Alice was currently writing Season Two of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and she said, "I certainly hope so."

Tina Fey, Jane Krakowski and Seth
Tina Fey, Jane Krakowski and Seth Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Now it was the show. I conducted the opening of the Gypsy overture just to start with some sass and then James and I came out to tell why we were doing the event. As planned, we told the audience that many people said we couldn't put up this show in such a short amount of time and here to demonstrate our reaction, in song, was Kate Shindle. Kate has a powerhouse voice and, of course, she sounded brilliant So much so that I found out after the show that Andrea Martin immediately leaned forward and whispered in Santino Fontana's ear, "Uh-oh…where do you go from here?" If you've never heard Kate's amazing belt, watch this!

Eden Espinosa
Eden Espinosa Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Luckily, the next section of the show really worked, too. We had a former foster kid named Sharif come out and tell everyone that he was adopted at age 3 and then he adoptive mother broke the adoption agreement when he was 13 and he was placed back in the system. He lived in two group homes and then, because no one was stepping forward to adopt him, he was placed in a residential treatment center (almost like a prison). Then he discovered You Gotta Believe and, when he was 19, he found a family! Now he's a theatre major in college and told everyone that he defied the odds and "speaking of defying…" etc and thus was introduced Eden Espinosa singing "Defying Gravity." Fantastic! Here's her amazing belt. Next up was Tony Shellman, who's now a fashion designer who sold his first two clothing lines (for tons of $$$) and is now on his third line. But he began as a foster kid. He told the audience that his Mom used to sing a certain song to him when he was a kid and out came Tituss Burgess to sing a beautiful (and high!) rendition of "A Song For You." Yes, I have video of Tituss' amazing voice.

Alec Mapa came out next and was hi-larious. Showtime just ran his latest show called "Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy" and he talked about the theme of that show which was he and his husband adopting a black child from foster care. Alec, who is Filipino, told the audience that statistics say a white girl is eight times more likely to be adopted than a black boy. He informed us that he knows how desirable it is to be a white girl because he's been one all of his life. His brilliant/moving section ended with him bringing his husband and son onstage. Perfect! PS. You can order and watch his hilarious show here.

Next was Antwone Fisher who told his story (which you can watch in the film "Antwone Fisher") and then introduced Saum Eskandani whose voice sounded, not surprisingly, stunning. Here he is singing "Easy" (the song he sang in the concert) on "Seth Speaks," and, FYI, ending on an A…with vibrato!

"Do Re Mi" went perfectly with Megan Hilty sounding delish on the final Bb (Revival? Anybody?). Then came the magical Caroline Rhea section: weeks ago I had her on my SiriusXM "Seth Speaks," and she told me that nobody does a better live auction than her. We wound up having some auction items that didn't get onto Charity Buzz and decided to auction them live. And Carl Daikeler from BeachBody.com told us that if we raised $50,000, he'd give another $50,000. Caroline came out, and was so funny! She immediately wanted me to take a pic of her so she could tell her mom she was on Broadway. She then put the kibosh on me taking the pic and asked someone to snap a shot who was sitting high in the balcony so she'd look younger. Right after, she started frantically auctioning off some amazing stuff like two tix to a Josh Groban concert plus a meet and greet, including sheet music to "Somewhere" signed by Josh and Barbra Streisand! Then she auctioned two tix to the "Ellen" show and harassed one of the JetBlue bigwigs in the audience to give two flights to L.A. (He agreed!)

Finally, came one of those "out of the biggest problems come great solutions" moments. Darren Criss had been scheduled to sing "Close to You" to go along with Kristin Chenoweth's story. When Kristin got sick, we decided we didn't want to have him so early in the show so James and decided to move him to the middle and, since his song was no longer going to be sung to Kristin, we'd have Caroline auction off a chance to have Darren sing it to an audience member. Well, the bidding began. It was between a mother who was bidding for her seven-year-old and a group of women who were bidding for their friend. It started at $2,000 and kept getting higher. When it got to $10,000, Darren came onstage and told everyone that his voice is only worth a few bucks on a good day and he'd therefore sing two songs because he was feeling guilty having so much money bid. I finally stepped forward and asked if we could accept both people who were bidding so they'd be onstage for both songs and they said yes. I also upped the price to $15,000 each! Darren sang "Close to You" and it was so sweet and pretty. Then he had the seven-year-old sit next to him on the piano bench while he played and sang. He randomly picked "Teenage Dream" and once he got to the lyric about wearing "skin tight jeans" he stopped and told the audience perhaps it wasn't the most appropriate song to sing to someone whose in second grade. Hilarious and true. The bigger point of this story is: James and I were so stressed about how to make Darren's section work without Kristin and it wound up being the moment highlighted in the Variety review! Look!

Rachel Crow came out next. She told the audience that she was born in a crack house and entered Children's Hospital at six months with head trauma caused by abuse. Her Mom adopted her and was told that she would have lots of learning and social difficulties but it turned out she started talking and reading at an incredibly young age! She was on "The X Factor" and made it to the final five and now is working on a new TV for Nick. Her younger sister is 13 and 1/2 and was born addicted to meth. She, like Rachel, was adopted as a baby and now brags to everyone that she's "been sober for 13 years." Hi-lar! Rachel sang "Fight Song" and brought ye old house down. Here she is singing it on "Seth Speaks" a few days later!

Rachel Crow
Rachel Crow Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Megan Hilty came back to the stage and spoke about the lyrics to "Second Hand White Baby Grand" and how appropriate she thought they were. Here she is singing it in the Bombshell concert and it was just as fantastic. The next day Marc Shaiman wrote such a moving/hi-lar post on Facebook: "Last night I performed "Secondhand White Baby Grand" with Megan Hilty for Seth Rudetsky & James Wesley's "Stars For Foster Kids" benefit (imagine my surprise that it wasn't to raise money for Sutton and Hunter!) It was the most lovely benefit I've been to, although I have never felt like such a lowly slug of humanity. I will NEVER complain about anything ever again after seeing those beautiful children surviving with smiles on their faces. It's hard to take in the saintlyness of Seth & James and all those parents adopting teenage foster children when I won't even let the delivery guy from the corner market in for the 20 seconds it takes to pay him for the cookies, ice cream and chicken parm heros. I am still shell shocked from all the goodness that filled that theatre and I promise not to complain about ANYTHING today. For at least an hour! Here is a link to the main organization yougottabelieve.org. Bravo Seth & James!"

Tina Fey
Tina Fey Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Then, our big comedy number happened. James and I had mentioned how the first person we emailed to do the event was Tina Fey and later on Charlene Tilton told everyone how jealous she was that I had her email address. Cut to: Tina Fey came out for her number and here's the intro she penned: "I'm thrilled to be here tonight as part of 'Voices for the Voiceless.' Although I originally thought this was a benefit to raise money to get Kristin Chenoweth to redub my singing in 'The Muppets.' But this seems like a worthy cause also. I used to listen to Seth Rudetsky's radio show every night on my hour-long car-ride across the 59th street bridge, coming home from filming "30 Rock." And I thought, if I ever get out of this prison of a job, I'm going to make that guy be friends with me. And, here we are, three years later — professional acquaintances!" She then added on the spot, referring to Charlene's comment, "And, yes, he does have my email address…that I use for work purposes only." Brava!!! To explain her song choice, she said: "When Seth asked me to pick a song that inspired me as a young person, of course I immediately thought of the same song we all did — Falco's 'Der Komissar.' Tina then told everyone that there was another song that she always loved when it come on her "white clock radio" but now that she's older, she realizes the song has some of the worst advice she's ever heard. She called out Jane Krakowski who sang "Don't Cry Out Loud" while Tina stood on the side and analyzed the lyrics. One of my favorite lines happened after Jane sang "And if you should fall, remember you almost had it all." Tina commented, "Yes, if you fail, obsess endlessly about how you almost made it." Finally, after the second bridge, she told everyone; "I'm just gonna say it: I think Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager were day drunk when they wrote this." The song then modulated and Tina suddenly grabbed a mic and belted out the chorus. (PS she sounded great.) Then right before the final note, Jane grabbed Tina's mic and used both as she held the last note way too long. Hi-lar!

Regina Calcaterra was the final speaker and spoke about being a foster kid and her caseworker telling her she'd never be adopted because she was too old (she was 14) and how she joined the board of You Gotta Believe when she heard that they believe no one ever ages out. She introduced Lilla Crawford singing "Tomorrow" and soon the stage was filled with all the kids (and young adults) from You Gotta Believe singing the chorus. Of course, it was something James wanted that I completely fought against ("How do we know those kids can sing? Can they belt it?"), and it wound up being an incredibly beautiful moment.

Finally, it was time for the last song and I explained to the audience that the following lyrics for the first 58 measures have nothing to do with the event and basically make no sense, but the final chorus has our message. I said the final number would be a family event as I'd be on keyboard, Juli was singing back-up and James sang the first solo of "Let The Sunshine In." He sounded amazing and the audience enjoyed the song while ignoring lyrics like "Singing our space songs on a spider web sitar." Anybody? Nobody. But then all the celebs and the kids came onstage to sing "Let the Sunshine In". During rehearsal Tina asked me if I dared her to hold her microphone really far away from her mouth like she was belting crazy high notes. I, of course, gave her the OK, but we ran out of mics. Regardless, it was a beautiful ending to the show.

James, Juli and Seth
James, Juli and Seth Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The day after the event we saw all the amazing publicity Slate PR got us and the next day I had to do two events for my new young adult book "The Rise and Fall Of A Theater Geek." People keep thinking the book is my life story, but it ain't. It's about a 16-year-old Broadway obsessed kid who's overweight and sports a Jewfro. Let's just say an element of it is based on my life (see: closet full of Husky brand jeans). Anyhoo, first I did a Google Chat with Perez Hilton and you can watch it here.

And a few hours later, I did a big reading at Barnes and Noble with Jonathan Groff, Julia Murney, Ann Harada and Santino Fontana. They were all so funny! We filmed it all and you can watch Chapter One here with Jonathan played Justin's boyfriend Spencer as well as Chase, the cute TV star making his Broadway debut that offers Justin a chance to intern. Santino plays Chase's evil personal assistant who does everything he can to thwart Justin's Broadway dreams. After we read the first chapter, Jonathan stepped to the mic and sang "Sailing," a beautiful song from A New Brain. I sang the other part of the duet with him and when I started singing, Jonathan looked over at me playing the piano, and never stopped looking. I'm not saying I was contemplating what it would be like as Mr. Seth Groff, but let me just say if that song had one more chorus, I'd be writing this column from Vegas (Quickie divorce reference.) Watch here. You can get the book in bookstores or click here!

Next Monday, I'm with a LOT of B'way peeps in Broadway Stands Up For Freedom, the yearly show I'm in for the amazing New York Civil Liberties Union. Get tix here. And for you West Coasters, I'm back in LA Aug. 4 at Largo. Info/tix here. and peace out!

(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)

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