Alumni association concert raises hope with songs from Whiffenpoofs and special guest from “Glee”

“The act of community building,” says “Glee” star Darren Criss, is what he likes best about live musical performance, as it can bring strangers together in a shared experience.

Criss, who portrays high school singer Blaine Anderson on the FOX television show, made the comment at his Lincoln Center debut on Saturday, Dec. 17, in a concert that also featured the Yale Whiffenpoofs, Allison Williams ’10, the Harvard Krokodiloes, and the Princeton Nassoons.

Building community was the goal of the benefit concert, presented by the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA) and the Yale Whiffenpoofs Alumni Association. Billed as “Sing Out, Raise Hope,” it marked the second holiday season of the AYA and Whiffs producing an event at Alice Tully Hall on Broadway in New York City. All proceeds from the sold-out event will benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and the Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning young people.

“The Yale alumni association is about bringing people together, changing lives, and encouraging Yalies to serve each other and their communities as ambassadors for Yale,” said Nory Babbitt, senior director for club and association relations at the AYA. “This concert brought together an audience of alumni from across 50 years, many with their families, to celebrate the talents of current students and raise funds for two high-impact groups that address important issues in our society.”

Mickey Dobbs ’92, another AYA staff leader and executive producer of the event, notes that it also tied together two campus traditions. “Yale is noted for its commitment to service and for its excellence in a cappella singing. It’s wonderful to create a new holiday concert tradition that unites singing with service.”

Along with Dobbs, the event’s production team included many Yale alumni and friends, led by producers Brennan Gerard ’01 and Ryan Kelly and co-producer Samuel George Hafer ’11. Marcus Doshi MFA ’00 did the lighting design and Johnson Flucker ’80, another AYA staff leader, served as music director. Stage manager Thomas Dolan ’05 was assisted by Ariel Shepherd-Oppenheim ’10, while Ben Bernard ’11 and Seth Weintraub ’11 served as marketing production managers. Hafer, Flucker, and Dolan were among the dozen-plus Whiffenpoofs alumni who joined the current year’s group on stage to sing the “Whiffenpoof Song.”

The Whiffenpoofs of 2012 started the evening off with some of their traditional repertoire. The group was then joined by special guest Williams as lead solo for Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Williams, also in her Lincoln Center debut and soon to co-lead the new HBO series “Girls,” performed two numbers of her own, accompanied by Kieji Ishiguri ’11 on piano, Kevin Hsieh on bass, and Luke Short on drums. Her set was followed by performances by the Nassoons of Princeton and the Krokodiloes of Harvard, both the oldest a cappella groups on their respective campuses.

The Whiffenpoofs kicked off the second act with an extended set of their top songs. The identity of the evening’s guest star was revealed as the Whiffenpoofs began the strains of “Teenage Dream,” the Katy Perry hit that Criss first sang in his role as a singer in the Dalton Academy Warblers in the 2010 season of “Glee.” Striding on stage, he asked the Yale singers, “Do you mind if I join you guys?” before launching into “Teenage Dream.”

After Yale’s gentlemen songsters left the stage, Criss said of the Whiffenpoofs, “They’re better than the Warblers!” He noted that this was the third time he has shared a bill with Yale singers, having been with the Whiffenpoofs once before in Los Angeles and during a concert in May in San Francisco with the Duke’s Men and Yale Glee Club. Criss said that his collaborations with Yale groups proved useful in preparing for his big-screen film debut in “Imogene,” in which he plays a Whiffenpoof alumnus. The film co-stars Kristen Wiig and is due out in 2012.

Demonstrating his versatility as a singer, musician, and composer, Criss closed the evening with a full set of songs. He started with a number of solo numbers, including some of his own compositions for the StarKid theatre he co-founded, accompanying himself on piano and on guitar. With his brother, Chuck, a member of the indie rock band Freelance Whales, Criss then shared a Bob Dylan song they recorded for “Chimes of Freedom,” an upcoming album from Amnesty International in honor of the human rights group’s 50th anniversary. He later performed a few duets with another special guest, composer and pianist Brad Ellis, who plays the role of a quiet teacher/piano accompanist for the student singers on “Glee.”

The “Sing Out, Build Hope” concert closed with a rendition of Criss’ original composition “Not Alone.” He was joined on stage by the Whiffenpoofs and dozens of other collegiate singers for the song, performed in a special arrangement by Yale Glee Club director Jeffrey Douma.