Idina as Elphaba = subtle performance choices?

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Jelly Bean
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Haven't seen the show, but I've seen two musical numbers on television. So you can take my concerns with a grain of salt. What puzzles me is Idina's performance. While watching her It seems as if her performance is very subtle. How does her performance come across in the theatre? On television, where sublety is usually a good choice, she appears physically and emotionally detached to what's happening and maybe a little too low key.
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Your observations strike me as perceptive. I personally think Idina has the far harder job in WICKED. Unlike Chenoweth's, who addresses the crowd and cracks one liners, the role has precious few opportunities for humor (one early one, the word "blonde" brings down the house, but it's fairly unique). The show is basically her character's story, and the character is half victimized Carrie White/half activist Jane Goodall. I don't mean that in a glib way. She is the "earnest" character, who strives for acceptance, to find her place and most of all her mission in life. Idina strikes me as an intuitive actor, and she plays Elphaba's pain without wallowing in it (a potential pitfall), and her ambition without making it arch. She also plays the butterfly-emerging aspect with great delicacy.

She must do all of this while singing 3 of the toughest belt songs written in recent years. (I think the role has vocal requirements akin to "Evita." That "New Argentina" stuff is woven through these numbers, yes?) What's wonderful about her subtle approach is how feminine -- womanly -- she is. The Wicked Witch has gone from Magaret Hamilton to drag queens, and we all love that evolution. But you can't build an evening around that, not one that extends Maguire's dark take on the character. Elphaba without a strong emotional investment from the actor wouldn't move us. Menzel intelligently charts this character in very real terms. To me, it gives the show balance, and payoff, as it ultimately brings out a great(er) range in Chenoweth. The two do have a kind of synergy. The bottom line for me -- if Elphaba was played broadly or in any way approaching a caricature the show might become silly. Because Menzel holds onto the character's heart, vulnerability and reality, the show allows us to suspend disbelief--and to root for this wild, very serious reinvention of an cultural icon, the Wicked Witch the West. Just my opinion, others may disagree.
"I'm a comedian, but in my spare time, things bother me." Garry Shandling
Updated On: 11/19/03 at 10:33 AM
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Auggie,

There's not a thing I can add to that wonderfully detailed and thoughtful resopnse to the posters questions.

I don't know how she does it, but she makes the Gershwin feel like an intimate house.
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Auggie,
Thanks for making her performance make sense to me. I look forward to seeing her entire performance.
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I saw her on Letterman last night and I was not impressed
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Well said Auggie
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Auggie what a wonderful post, full of such insightful thoughts about Wicked. I'd love to hear your take on some other characters from current shows. Thanks!
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Idina can't act. Very well. She can sing. There's no doubt about that.
There's a light in the darkness of everybody's life.
bestofbroadway
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TheTruth- Could you explain in more depth why you were not impressed. I can't stand these little posts that say it is no good or you weren't impressed. That means nothing to me. Be smart- explain why. I'm not saying your opinion is wrong but until you explain you just seem annoying and uneducated.

Idina without a doubt has a phenomenal voice. And I can see what your saying Auggie. My thing is that she doesn't always seem to be connected to the character- particularly when she is singing. At times she seems to play towards the emotions and puts on a front. Her actions/reactions don't always seem grounded or gutteral and her intention isn't always clear. I'm speaking of her performances in other shows and the few clips I have seen of Wicked. My past experiences with her make me believe that she is a great singer but has very little training as an actress. I'll just have to wait to see the show.
Updated On: 11/19/03 at 02:26 PM
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Well. Let's think back of the shows she's previously done.

RENT and AIDA

Both require great voices and atleast decent acting. Stuff Idina is perfect for. Now WICKED - I don't see this show in the same category as the previous two. She needs some acting lessons. She's singing the stuff very well though, no doubt about that.
There's a light in the darkness of everybody's life.
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For what it's worth, I didn't personally connect with Menzel's Maureen. (Contentious words on this board, where that role/performance have legions of fans.) She was playing a spoiled hot-house flower. That role's narcisissm has always kept me at arms length. Yet in hindsight, I see how daring it was; she didn't try to make us love her, she assumed it. Nailing Maureen's sense of being the center of the universe. As Musetta is in BOHEME. Oddly enough, both Maureen and Amneris were closer in temperament and self-absorption to WICKED' s Glinda.

So ironically, she's cast against type in WICKED,no? For Elphaba, it seems as if Menzel tossed out any vestigages of those outre performances, stripping down to a kind of bare bones approach to character. She makes us believe she's homely and unaware of her own sexuality without employing a lot pretty-girl-playing-ugly cliches or manerisms. In the early scenes, she opts to play a frustion and impatience with Glinda--the geek who won't let the "pretty girl" see her sweat, once comparisons between them are so baldy noted by Glinda. Yet when Glinda hands her the mirror, we see her revel in a first glimpse of her own metamorphosis. Then, late in act one, watch the way she truly reels -- the wind knocked out of her -- at the Wizard's duplicity. And when she says to Glinda, "...it's the Wizard who should be afraid ... of me," it's a defining moment -- someone owning heretofore unknown personal power -- that surprises Elphaba herself.

Anyone with the "Defying Gravity" performance on tape should watch Menzel's eyes. There's always's a frightened little girl lurking -- that overused expression her 'inner child' is there. The performance therefore strikes me as deceptively simple. To others, it may feel "under" acted.

Jeesh. I have now written and thought more about all of this than I ever imagined I could. I guess those performances or shows that have divided responses -- sometimes polarizing ones --are often the most interesting. It's great to have a board like this so debate them.
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Updated On: 11/19/03 at 04:01 PM
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I agree 100% Auggie and I saw that in her eyes as well. That is why I get a bit irked when people gripe about her sounding "nervous" in her Defying Gravity vocals.... hell Elphie IS nervous...
That look in her eyes REALLY pulls you in.
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Seany, you are sorely underestimating her remarkable acting talent. (Just for the record, she's has a good deal of Acting training, she was a Drama Major at NYU). I think she has a hard part to play this time around, and she's doing a remarkable job. A character like Elphaba is a very complex character, and I think Menzel has thoroughly examined, and fully understands the complexity of the character, and it certainly comes across in the end. I think she has taken on a difficult role and done wonders with it.

Seany, have you seen Wicked yet?
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mamamia sammy
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Yes Seany, have you seen "Wicked" yet? Or are you just making a statement based on her past performances?
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In defense to the Aida/Idina acting remark, Idina's acting in Aida was a turning point for the character. Idina was one of (or maybe the only, I haven't see every actress play Amneris) who took on the role with a serious turn. She didn't play off the ditzy, blonde part of Amneris and a lot of people complain that was her weakpoint, but I see it as her strong point because when Idina played Amneris, I took her seriously and I could FINALLY relate to the character. It felt like throughout the entire performance, Amneris knew Radames didn't love her but kept ignoring that intuition until "I Know the Truth".
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BroadwayGirl107- Idina did not go to NYU as a drama major. She was a vocal performance major geared towards musical theater. I'm not exactly sure the exact school within NYU or any of the details, but I remember being corrected when I said the same thing.

Once again I haven't seen the show but from the clips I have seen, she seems to act the role well when not singing. When she switches in to song she stops acting and it becomes completely surfaced. This is more of my past experiences seeing her. I hope she is as wonderful of an actress as you all say when I go to see her.
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Just checked- she graduated in '90 from the School of Education under their vocal performance program.
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Umm Idina has like the most excellent talent ever. The End
Shes unique- Not like everybody else on Broadway- she offers something different. She cant act? Whatever- her performance in Wicked is so amazing. She knows whats doing on stage. How can you not be impressed with Idina- shes f*ckin amazing man. Listen to the Wild Party then get back to me. The soul she puts into it isnt acting? Elphaba is challenging role, and well, isnt ver written well enough, but Idina makes it her own. Elphaba is a hopeful in search of defying gravities and Idina offers that with perfections. The Letterman performance is def. not as good as the one live on the big stage, but she still blew me away. The passion she has the drives her to those notes are incredible. Tony for Idina.
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Updated On: 11/19/03 at 07:49 PM
bestofbroadway
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I think Elphie wins the award for the most grammatic errors in one post. If you could rewrite your post in English, that would be nice, since it took me forever to decode it. I'm glad you think she's "f*ckin amazing". Maybe next time you can think of some better adjectives.
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I'm just defending my favorite Broadway star ever- no need to get all upity about my spelling. This isnt school. I'm sure if I started dissing Jane Krawkowski you'd be getting all offended looking at your little bio. I just think Idina can act, and people where saying she couldnt and I added my opinion. Sorry I offended you dearie.
"They hear drums. We hear music."
Updated On: 11/19/03 at 08:07 PM
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Lol, j/k. I don't know. I wouldn't say she's terrible or even bad. I can't really judge because I was in Row X for Wicke and really couldn't tell, only by her voice.
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I saw WICKED on Nov. 6, and was blown away by Idina's performance. To me, her acting was very good and her singing was incredible. You really don't get the entire feel of "Defying Gravity" just watching it on television. Imagine seeing that, but times 100. It's just so much bigger in the theatre, and much more powerful. And throughout the show, there DOES appear to be a change withine Elphaba's character. In the beginning of the show, she's a shy girl who is outcasted because of what she looks like, and really seems to take that to heart. By the end of the show, though, her appearences don't seem to bother her as much. There is a new confidence in Elphaba which is totally noticable.

When I saw WICKED, I was sitting in row H of the mezz and from there, I could tell that Idina acted with great "heart and soul". It seems as though she puts 200% into this show, and I can't wait to see what's ahead.
~*Christa*~ "Don't ya wanna be the life of the party?" Idina Menzel, THE WILD PARTY
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Joizey Actor sucks. JK! You know you love Idina.
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bestofbroadway, her bio says she holds a Bachelor od Fine Arts in Drama from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, where did you hear otherwise?

"This country, this experiment, America, this hubris: what a lament if no one saw it go. Here today, gone tomorrow. Dissipation is actually much worse than cataclysm."--August: Osage County