A Tale Of Two Darrens

As I warned a couple days ago, I was going to offer a Darren Criss concert follow up. For those who know nothing about this young man, he’s the latest “it” guy, but there’s a lot more to him with regards to working artist. There are few artists who achieve “overnight” success in the actual sense. Most of them have worked for years in projects that either you’ve never heard of or never saw the light of day (or, far worse, saw the light of day without said artist in it—a friend of my daughter’s is currently dealing with this—having filmed a project only to be cut from the final reel). Thus, most artists are not overnight successes.

What Mr. Criss is is an overnight extraordinary fame story. A year ago, he was a college graduate who was using his prodigious talent (he writes, sings, acts, composes, and plays multiple musical instruments) in trying to get his University-of-Michigan-formed acting troupe into the national limelight. While the group, Starkid, had a devout following courtesy of YouTube, they really weren’t known beyond their immediate fan base.

Then Mr. Criss did what all actors do all the time. He went on another audition. He got a callback. He booked a day-player part. The only truly lucky part of this story (actors audition, get callbacks and book day-player parts all the time—later Mr. Criss would take some heat for sounding nonchalant about getting the “role of a lifetime,” when all he did was go out for another gig) was that the show he landed on is one of the most popular in the Western world. On Glee, Mr. Criss was supposed to play a mentor for another character on the show. Instead, he stole the show, and is now a series regular.

What he is trying to do at present is keep a foot on each side of the divide between working bloke and megastar. That divide is beginning to look like a chasm. On Wednesday, I stood 10 feet from him in a theater that held, possibly, 1000 people. The tickets were $20 ($30 if you managed to score a fast pass). Last night I sat in the Izod Center (former home to the NJ Devils and NJ Nets). It holds 20,000 bodies. It is cavernous. My tickets retailed for about $100, but I paid $240 each (this was mid-range, as some of the resold tickets were going for thousands; we sat midway between the two stages). In this venue, Mr. Criss (along with the rest of his castmates) were protected from the crowd by 300-pound security guards. Did I mention there were 3D cameras filming the movie version of the tour and Gwynneth Paltrow made a guest appearance?

Why does any of this matter to me? Because I have a child who is a working actor. Because I admire the hell out of a kid (he’s only 24) who never seems to say anything negative to anybody. I like the romantic ideal of “make new friends, but keep the old” that Mr. Criss seems to have managed. He hasn’t thrown his UM acting troupe under the bus; in fact, he’s still writing for them and his agency now reps the whole group. They are playing to sold out shows all over the country. His back-up singers on Glee have been taken along on his great ride, too (they were featured both at his “unplugged” show and at the carefully-staged event last night). He’s being all the things I would like my daughter to be if, fate willing, she should be offered such bounty.

But the grown-up part of me, the one that sees how life works, wonders how long this guy can continue to play both hands in a game where the stakes are so high. He took a rare night off this week and gave a concert to his “other” fans. Last night, he was shooting a film and at one point let us see a peek of his exhaustion. He has another concert this afternoon. He’s doing it all, but I hope he doesn’t burn out. I want to see a man with his ethical strength succeed. Someone who doesn’t sell out is someone I’m always going to root for.

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