Baby, it was cold outside last night on the long, long line (1.5 New York blocks) to see Darren Criss in Broadway’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. But below-freezing temperatures (or the Hirschfeld Theatre’s assigned seating) don’t mean a thing to Darren Criss fans. Neither do heights, apparently — ask the girls from Toronto and Long Island who scaled trees and columns to glimpse the singer outside the stage door after the performance. Nor are fans deterred by long trips from as far away as North Carolina, California, and New Zealand. “My daughter is a huge, huge, huge Glee fan,” said Canadian Kelly Bender, mother of one of the tree climbers, “so absolutely we came to see him.”
Gleeks are a dedicated pack — and as far as Broadway audiences go, a fun one. Last night (Criss’ third Broadway performance in his three-week run) was certainly a love-in. Whoops and screams greeted the singer the minute he rose from the stage floor as J. Pierrepont Finch, the show’s window washer-turned–ad man, and they basically didn’t stop until the curtain dropped nearly three hours later. The laughs were loud, the claps were plentiful, and the excitement when Glee costar Jane Lynch surfaced in the audience during intermission was intense. Lynch’s exit out a side door just after the final curtain nearly caused a stampede when an entire mob changed directions to follow her. Police barricades were required at the stage door to keep signature-hunters from spilling out onto the road; half the waiting fans were ushered across the street. I almost wrestled a guy who snatched my Playbill, but he was big — Beiste-size big.
So is Criss deserving of the hoopla? As a star, yes, but as Broadway star, not yet. Slipping into Pierrepont’s purple bow tie seemed a stretch for Criss, who admittedly only had two weeks to rehearse. He twisted his tongue on several lines. He couldn’t land a joke. He danced less challenging choreography than his predecessor, Daniel Radcliffe, had. And, most surprisingly, he was out of tune in several numbers. His voice simply sounded thin — too weak for the large Hirschfeld Theatre and certainly too weak for the role of brazen schemer Finch. Criss did excel at harmonizing (his duets and trios were outstanding) and jumping on furniture, which are two things we already know he’s good at from Glee.
That’s not to say that Criss doesn’t belong on stage; How to Succeed may not be an ideal vehicle for his talents. He can’t “Fosse, Fosse, Fosse.” He can’t belt. “His voice just isn’t fit for this kind of part,” admitted Criss fan Adrienne Bouchet, a 21-year-old neuroscience major who had seen yesterday’s matinee and then returned for the evening performance. “It doesn’t really show it off. It doesn’t have the same kind of panache.” She’s right: Criss would be better served by a more modern score (like the upcoming movie-to-stage musical Once) and more contemporary choreography (In the Heights). And that’s not a terrible thing. So take heed, Broadway producers: You have a real draw here. Cast in the right role and given enough rehearsal time, Criss could definitely succeed as a Broadway star. Right now, he’ll be keeping New York’s finest very busy outside the stage door for two and a half more weeks.