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BWW Reviews: Idina Menzel Wows Cincinnati

In 1998, Idina Menzel made her Cincinnati debut performing with the Lilith Fair tour and promoting her first solo album, "Still I Can't Be Still."  This past weekend, she returned to Cincinnati for another debut.  This time, she opened the new season of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.  And she started the season off with an unforgettable bang.

Led by conductor John Morris Russell, the Cincinnati Pops orchestra started off the night with several well-known Broadway orchestrations, including selections from Carousel, The Music Man, West Side Story, and Gypsy.  The evening began with a hauntingly beautiful selection of "Air" by J.S. Bach in honor of violinist Donald Gibson, who passed away recently. 

After a brief intermission, the orchestra started to play the first few lines of a jazzy song.  Those in the audience who were familiar with Menzel's career recognized the song as "Life of the Party" from Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, a small off-Broadway show in which Menzel co-starred.  As the intro to the song looped, Menzel soon appeared on stage to welcoming applause.  She playfully strutted across the stage and quickly showed the audience what her amazing voice is capable of with the upbeat, jazzy number. 

Menzel took a few minutes to chat with the audience about her party history, claiming she isn't a big fan of parties before segueing into a song about "a girl who probably didn't get invited to too many parties," "I'm Not That Girl" from the musical that won her a Tony Award, Wicked.

Next, Menzel performed an arrangement that combined Cole Porter's "Love For Sale" with an orchestrated version of "Roxanne" by The Police.

Asking the audience, "Do you want to hear my Barbra story?" Menzel talked candidly about nerve-wracking experience of performing "Don't Rain On My Parade" for Streisand at the Kennedy Center Honors.  She then performed a Streisand song, one of her hit songs from the television show Glee, which she appeared on last season, "Funny Girl" and then treated the audience to an amazing performance of "Don't Rain On My Parade," to which she earned thundering applause.

Menzel followed up with a fan-favorite, "No Day But Today" from the musical Rent.  She talked briefly about how the show had changed her life and how she tries to live in the moment without taking anything for granted.  Menzel quickly changed from the serious tones of the song back to her upbeat and entertaining self by introducing another song she performed on Glee, Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" while laughing at the lyrics. 

"Gorgeous" from her latest solo album "I Stand" was next and gorgeous is a good descriptor for the song.  Menzel then chatted about being a new mom and life with her one-year-old son, Walker.  She performed a few songs she made up for him and asked her musical director, Rob Mounsey, who was present to accompany her on the piano tonight, to arrange it into a swing number with the orchestra. 

Breaking from the night's tradition of performing songs which she had either written or performed previously in her career, Menzel sang the beautiful ballad "Look to the Rainbow" from the recently revived musical Finian's Rainbow, accompanied only by piano. 

If you've ever seen Menzel in one of her solo concerts, you know that she often performs the song "For Good" from Wicked a cappella and without a microphone, one that she dedicates as a thank you to her family, friends, and fans for their support.  Despite being in a large musicAl Hall, Menzel continued her tradition.  The audience seemed mesmerized as her voice filled the large hall without amplification all the way up to the balcony.  The song earned her another standing ovation and she concluded her set list with another favorite from Wicked, "Defying Gravity." 

The audience wasn't ready for the night to be over as they applauded until Menzel came out for her encore song of "Tomorrow" from Annie

Menzel defies contemporary expectations by including songs such as Lady Gaga's "Pokerface" or "Roxanne" in her setlist, but she makes it work.  Her powerful voice and down-to-earth personality and charm make for an unforgettable evening.  She may claim that she isn't the "life of the party" in real life, but she was in Cincinnati.  Hopefully it doesn't take another 12 years before Idina Menzel returns to the Queen City.


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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...)