BWW Review: IDINA WORLD TOUR 2017 at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
Tony Award-winning Idina Menzel, Wicked's original Elphaba, The Wicked Witch of the West, defied gravity once again, this time touching down in Sarasota at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, and capturing the hearts of a multi-generational audience. Although late for the party, the audience attempts at beckoning her to the stage with wooing applause and whistles weren't for naught as Idina emerged triumphant and made up for the nearly 30 minute wait with with her drum dominant opening number, "Queen of Swords", from her new self-titled album, "idina.".
Menzel greeted Sarasota with, "I'm feelin' sassy! Are you feelin' sassy?" Then the Queen advanced her swordsmanship through a set list that would make any performer jealous, not only of her vocal prowess but the fact that so many beloved and renowned songs in her illustrious repertoire were hers originally from blockbuster shows in which she starred, such as Rent, Wicked, Beaches, Glee and Frozen. You may not have seen her in Disney's animation sensation Frozen, but make no mistake where the celebrated pipes of Queen Elsa reside. The crowd was happy to sing along when invited to chime in on "Seasons of Love" from Rent. Comfortable in interaction with her audiences, she remarked, "you don't have to be so quiet!" From then on everyone had permission to let their guard down and have some fun. She even allowed pictures and videos to be taken but joked instead of shooting her from below stage level, that anyone taking photos should use a crane looking downward for a more slimming effect. The crowd enjoyed this kind of intimate exchange with Idina throughout the evening. She was so relaxed to chat with her fans, tell stories and welcome responses. At one point when a fan offered her a birthday card, she took the time to read it, share it with the audience and thank her. She went on to tell a story about a spider bite she got on her "ass" the night before at a hotel in St. Augustine. The crowd could not get enough. She was also careful not the drop the "f" bomb" she is known for and danced around ways of otherwise stating foul language. She had the audience in stitches.
Her voluminous number, "Don't Rain on My Parade", an homage to idol and inspiration Barbra Streisand, was big and bold. Streisand would have been proud. And could "Cake" be a whack at ex, Taye Diggs, and kudos to fiancé Aaron Lohr, with cutting lyrics stating, "One man's trophy is another's mistake. One man's poison is another man's cake. I'm another's man's cake." Bam! The room got so quiet you could have heard that proverbial pin drop during "I'm Not That Girl" from Wicked. It gave us all some time to take in the depth and control by which Idina purposefully embodies each rendition of her vast repertoire. Loud cheers emerged when the first few notes of "Defying Gravity" hit the airspace. Her a capella version of "For Good" silenced the house, tissues in hand. This concert took us on an emotional roller coaster of tunes from delirious, ("I Do"), to daring, and sassy, ("Rock Steady"), to sweet, heartbreaking and tender ("Perfect Story"). What a ride.
Surprise numbers besides Rock Steady, were a beautiful rendition of "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" and a mashup of The Beatles, "Prudence" infused with "Do You Want to Build A Snowman" from Frozen. This was a clever mashup if you were versed in the topic connecting these two songs. It was nicely done however few seemed to connect the subject of a recluse life via Prudence and Elsa & Anna.
"Let It Go" was the children's time to shine when Idina invited the kiddos to join her on stage to sing the iconic number. They say you should never work with kids or animals. Things can go awry or they can be cuter than you, but once again Idina showed her confidence in managing her little fans and showered them with a mother's love by graciously extending hugs and kisses and offering the mic to whoever wanted their time in the spotlight.
A powerhouse of accomplished musicians and stunning vocal talent backs Menzel on this tour. Cello and violin mixed in with guitar, bass, drums and keyboards added a beautiful depth and vibrancy to this show. Her backup vocalists are second to none. Masterful musical Director/piano Clifford Carter can do a concert of his own. Fish on the guitar is a spectacular. Each performer is allowed their time in the spotlight to show off their amazing talents.
In the closing number, "I See You", Idina explained there is a lovely African salutation, rather than a typical "hi" or "how are you", where you are greeted with, "I see you". That is graciously responded to with the statement "I am here". She drove the point further stating she knows the pain of the lonely and broken hearted and knows her fans have always been there for her and made a touching promise she would always be there for them.
Menzel is a woman who has been through a lot, on and off stage. Unafraid of the limelight that creeps its way in to a performer's personal life, she wrestles head-on with her demons publically, writes songs about her journey and is open and honest with her fans about who she is. She uses her angst to help others deal with theirs. It is interesting to note her roles have paralleled her real life in many ways. Like Elphaba and Elsa, Menzel was misunderstood and bullied in school for having grand vocal abilities at such a young age. Coming from divorced parents, she felt responsible to assume a protective oldest sibling role towards sister Cara. Vowing to never put her son Walker through that same heartbreak, she had to make the devastating decision to end her long time marriage to actor Taye Diggs. Typical of Miss Menzel, a beautiful mother's heartfelt ode to Walker titled, "Perfect Story", emerged on her album, which will tug at your heartstrings.
A short review of her 5th solo studio album: Miss Menzel took some time to write most of the songs on her new Warner Brothers release, simply titled "idina." She states, "this is an album about rediscovering myself, learning from mistakes, and finding the courage to move forward." You can hardly find fault with someone of her celebrity who boldly lays it out there, wearing her heart on her sleeve, which somehow allows the listener to take their own purgative journey. What is cathartic for one of us can be cathartic for all of us. The deliberate song choices on her new CD offer the singer and the listener anthems of understanding, healing and hope. A particular favorite is the empowering Queen of Swords, drawing a line in the sand for those who bully. As pictured on the tarot card, The Queen of Swords is seated on her throne ready to extend the left hand of friendship while bearing a sword in the right. And then there is the title. idina. (idina. period), she doesn't even need a capitol "i". Don't mess with the Queen.
Quite the humanitarian and philanthropist, Idina co-founded A BroaderWay Foundation (www.abroaderway.org), a camp "dedicated to offering girls from urban communities an outlet for self-expression and creativity through arts-centered programs. The emphasis is on building self-esteem, developing leadership qualities and striving for personal and social achievement". She is also a currently speaking out for the ChildMind Institute, (www.speakupforkids.org), supporting children with mental health issues and learning disorders.
It's nice to see a world-renowned performer and celebrated winner of so many prestigious awards and titles who gives back to her fan base, community and humanity in general. She doesn't ask for much in return except, as her sassy song states, "love me to the "Bitter Core".
And we do.
Miss Menzel's world tour continues throughout the US, UK and parts of Europe through September 2017. For more information visit www.idinamenzel.com.