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Sing Out, Raise Hope: unabashed swooning over Whiffenpoofs ahead

18 Dec

Last night Patty and I went to the “Sing Out, Raise Hope” benefit for The Trevor Project and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, which featured the Yale Whiffenpoofs (and yeah, yeah, Darren Criss, we’ll get to that later) and a capella groups from Harvard and Princeton.

It was a bit of a strange experience because of how many different constituencies were present with their own inside jokes and knowledge. The Yale people were doing their Yale thing. The fandom people were doing their fandom thing. Every performer had to explain something to the audience that part of the audience already knew very, very well, while the rest of the audience remained completely boggled even after an explanation. And while that was sort of awkward, it also made the whole thing sort of chill and casual and feeling very family for something in a big venue.

That said, it’s hard provide a single hook review of a set of things that didn’t always fit together well. And then there’s the fact that the Whiffenpoofs are just this epic step above the very pleasant but nothing to write home about groups from Princeton (the Nassoons) and Harvard (the Krokodillos), and I pretty much felt bad for everyone who had to share the stage with them over the course of the event.

By their second song of the night, all I wanted for rest of the evening was to bask in the pure awesome that was John Yi. He and his fabulous hair need to actually be “On Broadway” immediately. Of course, since the Whiffenpoofs website informs us that he’s also an economics major, one imagines he’ll either be saving the world or destroying it at any moment instead. Alas.

Also, alas, there were a lot of other things on the evening’s program, including Allison Williams, who had the deeply unenviable task of being the only female performer on the stage. She, and the jazz trio she did most of her songs with, were quite good and I’d love to hear them in a more intimate environment, but the arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” she did with the Whiffenpoofs really put me off, and I had trouble getting back on board. Somehow, it managed to strip the bite from the song, which, I’ll confess, I’ve always preferred as a masculine narrative and the occasion seemed an odd one to switch that up at.

When Darren Criss joined the show after intermission, it was, expectedly to “Teenage Dream.” Now, here’s a thing — I love what Glee did with the song (that arrangement, and the backing vocals, by the way, are from the Tufts Beelzebubs); I love what Darren Criss does with the song at his solo shows (I find it gutting, and love that it plays on multiple levels); and I have now fallen hard the Whiffenpoofs. But trying to smush all those things together live with an awkward backing track and not exactly anything resembling a full rehearsal? Terrible, terrible plan, and the less said the better.

That said, Criss’s voice sounded stronger than it has recently and we got to hear a few things live (like “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” as a comedy duet with surprise guest Brad Ellis) that I’m sure none of us in the audience expected. The performance he did with his brother (Chuck Criss of Freelance Whales) of Bob Dylan’s “New Morning” was gorgeous and I liked it better than the recording (which, btw, is on Chimes of Freedom, a Dylan tribute album to benefit Amnesty International).

We also got treated to Criss’s between song banter, which rambled more than usual and felt weird in a space where it was pretty much certain large chunks of the audience were not predisposed to be charmed by it. Also, seriously? The only other performer I’ve ever seen forget lyrics while reading them off a piece of paper or screen right in front of him? Nick Cave. Talk about comparisons I never thought I would make. On the other hand, who can blame the guy? Apparently he’d just gotten off a plane and certainly sleeps even less than I do.

Anyway, fun thing. Good causes. Videos of the whole affair are all over Tumblr and YouTube for the curious (if anyone got the Whiffenpoofs doing “Midnight Train to Georgia,” please let me know). Me? Totally making a point to see more Whiffenpoofs gigs.

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7 Responses to “Sing Out, Raise Hope: unabashed swooning over Whiffenpoofs ahead”

  1. John Yi December 18, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    Racheline — thank you SO much for your kind words :). I had such an amazing time performing yesterday evening, and I’m glad that the audience could feel my joy from their seats!

  2. Lola Mejor December 19, 2011 at 3:41 am #

    Darren Criss and Nick Cave… That is definitely two worlds colliding 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the show. I’ll have to hunt down some footage when the technology next permits.

  3. Gement December 19, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    Eee! My family has a total fixation on a capella in general and the particular flavor practiced by college groups in particular. I never thought I’d see one of my fandom friends namecheck the Whiffenpoofs.

    (I’m also a big fan of the Brown Derbies.)

  4. alumiere December 19, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    Nice if a bit confusing for someone who doesn’t follow this stuff. But I’ll find the Whippenpoofs on youtube.

    Also, I think the second groups doesn’t belong here: “very pleasant but nothing to write home about groups from Princeton (the Nassoons) and Harvard (the Krokodillos) groups”

    • RM December 19, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

      Thanks for the catch!

  5. bookit December 20, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    LOL, I saw the Yale anti-bullying fundraising concert in San Francisco featuring Darren last May. Sounds like a very similar experience. Yeah, I have loved lots of Darren’s performances but there’s a lot to be said for knowing your audience. I’m a fan, but I’m waaaay out of my teenage years, so maybe that’s why I didn’t really think casual banter and forgetting lyrics matched the venue or the occasion. I also don’t think he’s a strong enough singer to pull off the acapella version of Teenage Dream live and it really shows when he is singing with very strong acappella singers! That said, the Duke’s Men of Yale performed a killer version of Bare Naked Ladies’ “Good Boy” that made me feel like crying and I think it was the perfect choice for a GLTBQ-strong audience. I think Darren is an incredibly talented performer and super intelligent guy, but I suspect he has a tendency to do everything off-the-cuff. 🙂

  6. Leah R Shulgold- Albert October 31, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    Hi I’m Leah R Shulgold- Albert. I’m making a contrabution to the ViaWhiffenpoof because I would like to see my favorite actor and singer Darren Criss in a concert for my birthday present. I’ll be turning 23 this year. I want to see alot of his concerts for my birthday’s.
    I also want to meet him. Its an honer to do that. It’s my dream.

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