September 5, 2016


Darren Criss Talks Expanding & Incorporating ‘Stranger Things’ into Elsie Fest

Mike Windle/Getty Images for WE Day
Mike Windle/Getty Images for WE Day

Like most things in pop culture these days, Darren Criss’ Elsie Fest is not immune to Stranger Things.

Netflix’s smash sci-fi series will be well-represented at the Labor Day music festival, which salutes show tune lovers and features a slew of Broadway veterans. Taking place all Monday at the Ford Amphitheater on the Coney Island Boardwalk in New York, Elsie Fest will happily incorporate some Stranger Things fan service into its cast of familiar characters and parade of guest stars.

“I love that the boys from Stranger Things are joining us,” Criss tells Fuse. “Caleb McLaughlin, who plays Lucas on the show, and Gaten Matarazzo, who plays Dustin, are both Broadway boys. Dustin was in Les Mis with my buddy, and little Caleb was in The Lion King for a while as Simba. We’re doing a mini-set together, and their backing band will be my band, and their set will be called ‘The Upside Down,’ so that’s exciting.”

Even those who have yet to binge-watch Stranger Things will find plenty to adore at Elsie Fest, now in its second year as a passion project of Criss and his team. Megan Hilty, Lena Hall, composer Jason Robert Brown and Criss himself will also perform, as will Titus Burgess, the star of another Netflix hit (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt).

“He’s right in the middle of Emmy season, so he’s doing me a huge solid,” Criss says of Burgess. “I think the kids will be really stoked to see him—I know him from the Broadway world, and even though he sings on the show and is a gifted singer, it’s cool to see a whole set of that.”

The former Glee star and Broadway gem (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) says that organizing the festival each year is a hectic diet of promotion, coordinating schedules and grunt work, but that he foresees Elsie getting “bigger and better” each year. Slight adjustments will be made to last year’s performance format, but its heart-on-sleeve appreciation of show tunes will be even more fan focused in 2016.

“There are so many things that we thought about doing after the first festival, so it’s just little by little getting to do more stuff,” he says. “I just want to continue decking this festival out with as many fun little fan moments as possible.”

Elsie Fest kicks off at 1:00 pm today and continues throughout the evening; click here for more details, then check out this throwback chat with Criss: