Vocal lessons with Glee star Darren Criss

by Nilesh Murali

A very small minority can claim tutelage under a celebrity singer. Ashima Agrawal (11) and Katie Markus Reker (11) are among those select few. Very involved in Conservatory, both had the opportunity to learn from Glee television-star Darren Criss, who plays Blaine Anderson, the heartthrob interest of the openly gay Kurt Hummel.

The class was organized by 42nd Street Moon, a studio and revival theater company, which has been operating in San Francisco since 1993. Producing classic Broadway musicals, its mission is to promote the American theater tradition for theater buffs and the average person alike. The studio offers a “MoonSchool,” where students get professional student training. Trying to attract the youth, it used social networking site Facebook to promote the Darren Criss event.

The studio chose fifty attendees for a group session out of the hundreds who applied. Applicants were chosen based on votes for video submissions; of the 50, six were chosen to have one-on-one classes with Darren Criss – three based on popular vote, or in this case Facebook “likes,” and three based on judges’ decisions. Neither Ashima nor Katie were selected for the individual classes, but did participate in the group workshop.
Ashima had learned about the event from Performing Arts Director Laura Lang-Ree, while Katie saw a flyer posted in Edge.

“I didn’t really expect much. I was just doing it for fun,” Ashima said about applying.

Both Katie and Ashima asked their friends to vote for their videos that they uploaded to Facebook. Katie chose to sing “I could have danced all night” from My Fair Lady and Ashima performed a rendition of “On My Own” from Les Miserables; while neither of them won the popular vote ultimately, “The sheer number [of votes] was so overwhelming,” Katie said, with “likes” in the high hundreds, which put her close to winning the popular vote. Despite the outcome, she was extremely touched by the response of her friends and family.

The class itself was unremarkable according to both. While they loved the gregarious Criss’ singing and his aura, the insight he shared was along the same lines as what they already knew from their various vocal music instructors.

“Darren Criss was amazing although the advice he gave was similar to those our teachers give. The advice our teachers give is presented better,” Ashima said.

Katie, who is a big fan of Criss’ work, had a great time overall. “I really enjoyed the class. Darren Criss talked about performance technique and taught a lot about how to examine what you’re singing about, what’s the meaning behind it, and how do you convey that on stage,” she said.

While the other singers at the class were reasonable in Ashima’s opinion, she was similarly blown away by Criss’ presence.

“He was really personable and he even looked and sounded excited to be at the workshop and working with us,” Katie said. Both were grateful for the experience and the chance to meet him.

As part of future studio promotions, 42nd Street Moon will continue to organize celebrity-studded events, according to their website.