Last Friday, I had the great privilege of seeing Cristin Milioti LIVE at Joe’s Pub in NYC. Wow. What a powerhouse performer. She starred as “Girl” in the Broadway smash hit musical ONCE, for which she won a Grammy Award and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. I saw Cristin in ONCE back in 2012. My mom and I went together and we were both absolutely floored by her performance. She is like few performers I’ve ever seen. Her voice is hauntingly beautiful. It’s a voice that I feel like I’ve known all my life even though I’m just hearing it for the first time. I don’t know. There’s something intimate and familiar about her sound. Her voice blankets like a childhood lullaby and then explodes in desperate yearning, like it’s lost and looking for its home. Ah. I don’t even know if what I’m writing makes sense! It’s a quality that inspires that kind of poetic, nonsensical writing because it feels magical.
Actually, “magical” was the word Cristin used to describe her experience in ONCE, and is an appropriate word to sum up the show Friday night. I got the last seat available – partial view. I was bummed at first but ended up sitting just behind the piano, with a close-up view of David Abeles’ dancing fingers. I saw Mr. Abeles as Pierre in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 back in 2013, and I’m a huge fan, so that was dope. Equally dope was Will Connolly on guitar and vocals. Will is playing the title role in Forest Boy, the NYMF show I’m currently working on! He mentioned that he was doing a show at Joe’s Pub, and when he told me it was with Cristin Milioti, I freaked out a bit. Turns out they’re best friends from ONCE and he accompanied her throughout the show, most memorably on a stirring interpretation of Sondheim’s Losing My Mind, where Will played ukelele and sang evocative dissonant harmonies. Ms. Milioti’s voice was on brilliant display in this song, in one instant delicate and ethereal, the next thunderous and aching.
Just after, she performed GOLD from ONCE. Cristin recalled this as her favorite number in the show, because the rest of the ensemble sang while she walked through them, catching each of their eyes on her way. I was transported back to the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. This number was a magical moment that sticks with the soul. We, the audience, were all walking through Cristin’s embodiment of “Girl” in that moment, feeling our souls exposed and opened and awakened by the haunting harmonies and sacred sounds of the ensemble. Joe’s Pub experienced the same kind of magic on Friday night. The music invited the audience to breathe a collective breath of our shared humanity. I actually went to Joe’s Pub by myself, a feat my social anxiety would usually find daunting, but Cristin has a way of putting everyone at ease. Soon after she was singing, I felt closer and somehow more connected to the strangers around me. We exchanged words of how stirring her performance was. It was like we were all transported. We went on a ride together, and became closer in the process. It is the magic of live theatre. At its best, we are taken into a new world, a new state of consciousness for a couple hours, away from our incessant worry and personal strife and into interpersonal understanding.
The night included a handful of pop covers, including two by Sia, and a Beyoncé medley, arranged by Will Connolly. Interwoven between songs were Cristin’s personal anecdotes detailing life in the city, her career, and what it means to be human. One personal favorite anecdote was Cristin’s recollection of her college theatre classes, where she was repeatedly told she was a soprano, and she’d have to sing Glitter and Be Gay which she noted was a “train-wreck.” Recalling the experience, she sang, “‘This is embarrassing’ in her ‘cartoon soprano voice,’ …‘Please give me a B’ and they were like, ‘No, you get a C,’ … but look who’s laughing now.’” The audience erupted in laughter. She feels like a friend you’ve known forever. Relatable, authentic, vulnerable. She made mention of the truly terrifying times we are currently living in, but somehow I felt so safe in her presence. That’s what great performances have the power to do. They unite and bring us together in a world that grows more and more divisive and solitary everyday. This is the power of live performance that cannot be replicated in other media.
I’m so grateful I was able to witness Cristin Milioti’s live show and I highly recommend you catch the next. She usually performs her live show in New York a couple times a year. Here’s a video of Cristin singing Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” a few years back, a song she performed again Friday night.