Towards the end of the second song of the night, a tepid version of “Candle In The Wind” by South Pacific actress Kelli O’Hara, the catcalls began. “Where’s Elton?” screamed a furious woman. “This is bullshit!” yelled an even angrier man. The event — a 35th anniversary celebration of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road to raise money for the Elton John Aids Foundation — was billed as “Elton John & Friends,” but a quick glance at the Playbill revealed Elton wasn’t coming until the final three songs of the night. Most of the “I Want My Money Back!” screams were greeted by angry shushes, however, since the collection of Broadway singers, pop stars and the occasional drag queen all had interesting takes on the material.
The night began with an elaborate dance number set to “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” by Broadway vets Melissa Hough and Lerry Keigwin. The crack house band led by pianoist Tom Kitt recreated the haunting instrumental number with perfect precision and made it feel like the beginning of a as-of-yet unmade (but inevitable) Elton John jukebox musical. The first killer performance of the night came four songs in when Rufus Wainwright delivered a powerful “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” His one-time tourmate Ben Folds came out next and lead the band through faithful versions of “This Song Has No Title” and “Grey Seal.”
The hits on John’s classic double album are packed very early on in the running order, so many of the performers stuck with obscure songs got creative in order to keep the audience’s attention. “Jamaica Jerk Off” was transformed into a euphoric dance routine by the cast of Hair, while “The Ballad Of Danny Bailey” was turned into a free-style rap by In The Heights star Lin-Manuel Miranda and beatboxer Shockwave. Little Mermaid star Sherie Rene Scott gets the Most Creative award for her rendition of “Dirty Little Girl,” which she performed as Sarah Palin, complete with a prop gun and a hysterical monologue about moose hunting and abstinence. Who knew Ariel had it in her? Drag queen Joey Arias did a burlesque rendition of “I’ve Seen That Movie Too” that had at least one couple headed for the exists before it was over.
Elton John brought the house to their feet when he came on to sing the nostalgic “Roy Rogers.” Scissor Sisters singer Jake Shears joined him for “Social Disease” and much of the cast returned for the finale of “Harmony.” It might not have been as rewarding for the Elton faithful as his 2005 performance of Captain Fantastic at Madison Square Garden, but for everyone else it was a fun night on the theater for a great cause.