BWW INTERVIEWS: Idina Menzel

Tony Award-winning actress Idina Menzel opens the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra season with three performances September 24th through September 26th.  Ms. Menzel will perform a diverse repertoire of classic pop, musical theater favorites (including hits from Wicked and Rent) as well as songs from her album, I Stand.  

Ms. Menzel has a diverse career on the stage, in films and in music. She is a powerhouse of talent, who constantly amazes audiences with her strong, emotional performances.

Ms. Menzel recently joined the cast of Glee, the Fox juggernaut about a varied group of high school kids who come together to sing as the underdog of glee clubs. Ms. Menzel plays the coach of rival glee club Vocal Adrenaline, McKinley High Glee Club's main competition.

Last year, Ms. Menzel concluded a national tour promoting her album, I Stand. A skillful songwriter, she writes and performs her own music. She released the Glen Ballard-produced album for her record label, Warner Bros. Records, and played to sold out houses around the United States. Ms. Menzel performed her show in New York as part of the Mastercard Soundstage series, which aired on PBS. PBS also aired the concert version of Chess: The Musical, recorded at the Royal Albert Hall where she shared the stage with Josh Groban.

In film, Ms. Menzel appeared opposite Susan Sarandon, Patrick Dempsey and Amy Adams in Disney's hit, Enchanted, directed by Kevin Lima. Prior to that, Ms. Menzel was seen in director Chris Columbus' film adaptation of the Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning musical Rent, in which she reprised her role as Maureen. This was on the heels of her co-starring role in Robert Towne's Ask the Dust, opposite Salma Hayek and Colin Farrell.

In television, Ms. Menzel recently completed an arc on the Grey's Anatomy hit spin-off, Private Practice on ABC. In September 2006 she premiered the Broadway hit Wicked in the West End in London to rave reviews and received the Theatregoers Choice Award for Best Actress in a Musical. She starred in Michael John LaChiusa's musical See What I Wanna See directed by Ted Sperling at The Public Theater. This role garnered Ms. Menzel a Drama Desk Award nomination as well as a Drama League Award nomination. Menzel completed her Tony Award winning performance, for Lead Actress in a Musical, in Wicked in December 2005. Helmed by Tony Award-winning director Joe Mantello, Wicked played to packed audiences at the Gershwin Theatre since it opened in October 2003. Additionally, Ms. Menzel was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for  her role as the misunderstood green girl.

Ms. Menzel received a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut performance as Maureen, in the original production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning hit Rent. She also earned a Drama Desk nomination for her performance as Kate in Manhattan Theater Club's Off-Broadway original musical The Wild Party. She appeared as Sheila in the Encores! production of Hair and starred as Amneris in Broadway's Aida.

 

Recenty, Ms. Menzel answered a few questions about her symphony tour, past career accomplishments, and what the future may hold for her.

You haven't performed in Cincinnati since after the Lilith Fair tour in 1998 and now you're opening the Cincinnati Pops season.  Did you ever think your career would evolve from the eclectic and edgy music of your first studio cd, Still I Can't Be Still, to performing with symphonies and your style of music today?

I don't know, I just keep evolving, you know?  I love music and I love singing all kinds of music.  When I first started singing I studied with a classical voice teacher so I've always been open to all different influences and sounds and I feel like they make me a better singer. So I'm not that surprised.   It's a really thrilling experience to stand in front of an orchestra and sing this music. I'm enjoying it so much.

What types of songs will you be singing and how did you decide which songs to include on your set list?

I wanted to pick music that would be really enriched by a huge instrumentation.  So either I chose a few songs of my own that I wanted to hear arranged in this way or I picked some Broadway songs that people connect me with.  I've picked some Cole Porter and old standards, some contemporary songs.  You know, you can sort of pick whatever you want because you have the orchestra that kind of ties it all together symphonically and that's what is so liberating about it.  I can do a Lady Gaga song and then do an old standard like "Embraceable You" and because the orchestra has these huge arrangements they sound like they belong in the same show.

Is it possible to choose a favorite Broadway show you've been in, or are they all favorites for different reasons?

Oh, yeah.  Yeah, favorite wouldn't be the right word because they each represent a different point in my life that is so memorable and was so integral to my growth at the time, you know?  Rent, I was in my early 20s and learning so much about myself at that point.   Wicked, I was in my 30s and having a completely different experience and desires and challenges, and all the plays in between.  It's always seems so coincidental that the characters are teaching you something you need to know about your own life at the time.

I hear that both you and Julia Murney particularly love The Wild Party though...

And my husband [Taye Diggs] loved The Wild Party....we all loved The Wild Party.  The cast was very close and we all loved what we were doing and loved each other and wished it had lasted a little longer.

Each of your three studio albums (Still I Can't Be Still, Here, and I Stand) has their own unique vibe or sound.  Is there another style you'd like to explore on a new album?

I think I want to make a studio album that reflects this experience with the symphonies.  I think I'm going to do something that has a beautiful instrumentation that sounds real lush, with maybe a throwback to a more classical sound.

 
Other than the obvious challenges and difficulties of being out on the road versus performing in a Broadway show, do you prefer to be out on the road performing your own music or in New York City doing theater?

I love them both pretty equally.  My heart will always be on Broadway and as soon as I can get back there, I intend to.  I love doing eight shows a week.  I love the consistency of that.  I love the fact that I get to try to do it over and better every night.  And then I love being on the road and being me, stepping out of character.  So I find that it's the balance that makes it feel so rewarding.  Being able to go from one to the other really allows me to appreciate both of them.

Do you have anything planned next after your symphony tour?

I'm not quite sure exactly what's going on but I'm trying to work on television stuff or film, and I want to get back into the studio.  And I'm developing a show for Broadway that is in its really early stages and I really can't talk about yet.  So I kind of have my hand in a bunch of different things.

I think it's safe to say all of your fans are patiently waiting for another album....

Oh, thank you.  I'm getting there.

 
There's been talk of you going back to Glee this season.  Is there anything you can share about that yet?

No, not really.  There's talk of it, and I hope so.  I'd love to go back there for an episode or two.  We'll see what happens!

If you weren't the amazing actress and beautiful singer that you are, what career do you think you'd be doing or want to do?

(laughs) I always say I wish I was a professional tennis player.  When I was really young, I had this really great backhand and everyone thought I had some really great skills.  Now I'm just addicted to tennis and I watch it all the time.  Although it seems like it might be a lonesome existence, but that's the first thing that comes to mind.

And finally, if you could choose three people who are a part of theater, either living, dead, or fictional, to invite to dinner, who would you choose and why?

Probably Ethel Merman, because she's a big, brassy belter and I'd love to ask her about her experiences.  Hugh Jackman, because I'd love to be in a Broadway show with him.  And Stephen Sondheim, because I haven't met him yet and I'd like to nurture that relationship.

Don't miss this amazing opportunity to see Idina Menzel perform live and help celebrate the start of another exciting season with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.  Tickets start at $26 and are available by phone at (513) 381-3300, on the Internet at www.cincinnatipops.org, or in person at the CSO Box Office at Music Hall, 1241 Elm Street, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For more information on Idina Menzel, visit her website at www.idinamenzel.com

Find out what Cincinnati is saying about Idina Menzel by visiting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfkeqQ1-9PQ

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From This Author Jill Siekman

Jill Siekman has loved theatre ever since she saw a regional production of Fiddler on the Roof at the age of nine. Working in a (read more...)

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