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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

An interview with Darren Criss

photo courtesy of the artist
The Lea Michele/Darren Criss tour [dubbed LM/DC] arrives at Humphreys in San Diego on Thursday, Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa on Friday and Los Angeles on Monday.

Read my interview with Darren below...

Before Darren Criss and Lea Michele joined forces to tour over the summer, the performers had Gleeks in mind.

“They really are the reason why we’re doing this. It’s serving up exactly what we think they want to hear,” Criss said, about the most ardent “Glee” fans, in a phone interview. “It’s a validation of knowing we’re doing right by the folks that have been so supportive of us over the years.”

The current run finds the pair performing songs first covered together on the Fox-TV series, like The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” and “Broadway Baby,” heard in Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies.” And Criss will surely include Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” which was among the most commercially successful “Glee” singles (reaching No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100) after he did it on “Glee” as character Blaine Anderson of the Dalton Academy Warblers.

Since Criss and Michele cut their teeth in musicals (Michele on Broadway with “Les Miserables” and “Ragtime”; Criss with “Fanny” and his own Team Starkid’s “A Very Potter Musical”), the concerts also tend to include various selections from The Great White Way, the artists’ solo recording careers, personal faves, what Criss called their “crazy back stories” and more.

“The idea is to present a variety show of our lives,” Criss explained. “I wanted it to run the gamut” and really “paint a great picture of who we are and what our relationship is.”

He compared the format to the old cabaret tradition, further likening it to “an intimate hang in our living room, where you’re getting introduced to us and our stories via these songs. It’s not like a big old rock show.”

When Criss does meet and greets before the gigs, he will often get requests and takes them into consideration. “We’re lucky to have very enthusiastic, very avid and engaged fans – a lot of whom are very vocal about things they want to hear.”

One thing is certain: Criss tailors a tune for each city on the tour. While researching info, he “realized how much amazing musical culture abounds everywhere.”

The Bay Area native has performed “Cough Syrup” by Young the Giant elsewhere, so the Costa Mesa set could easily contain a couple different tie-ins. “I learn it right before I go onstage and change it up every night.”

Last year, between filming the second season of FX’s “American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace” (eventually winning an Emmy this past September for portraying killer Andrew Cunanan) and making guest appearances on “The Flash” and “Supergirl,” Criss released new music in the form of two EPs.

First came the brief, but impressive indie pop/rock-leaning “Lost Boys Life,” recorded alongside his brother – a member of NYC indie rock band Freelance Whales - as Computer Games.

Working on “Glee” for five years was “such an unexpected and wonderful gift,” said Criss. “But it put a lot of my musical endeavors on hold.” Broadway stints (“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) also left little personal time for music.

After the siblings’ schedules finally meshed, Computer Games became “something both Chuck and I owed our teenage selves, knocking around in our basement in San Francisco.” More new music is expected soon.

Then there’s the more adult alternative-styled “Homework” EP (Criss’ first in seven years), with tracks dating back to Criss’ teenage years and a version of “I Dreamed a Dream,” from “Les Mis√©rables.”

“As I crawl into my 30s (I thought), ‘I can’t believe I haven’t recorded these songs yet.’ I’m not a major label artist and I’m not trying to recreate the wheel,” he said. “I’m not trying to crash the charts or put out radio bangers. It’s a pretty selfish thing.

“The cool thing about being an independent artist is I can just record stuff, put it out for whatever mild fanbase I might have and my friends and family. It’s a fun, humble operation.”

My interview originally appeared in the OC Register and other Southern California News Group papers.

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