Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

From the Broadway Stage to Solo Tour, Idina Menzel Flourishes on Stage

Jun 29, 2017 04:00PM ● By Nicole Gould
As a little girl with a big dream, Idina Menzel thrived through the years with her impeccable vocals and flawless stage presence.

Menzel was just 25 when she was cast in her first professional stage role—a spot with the original 1996 Broadway production of Rent. The beginning of her rise to stardom also earned her a Tony nomination for her portrayal of “Maureen.”

As the original “green girl,” Menzel would later capture theatergoers across the nation with her Tony-Award winning performance as ‘Elphaba’ in the Broadway production of Wicked. Menzel’s spellbinding, goosebump-inciting performance of “Defying Gravity,” has commanded the stage time and time again, proving that her voice is limitless.

As if her presence on stage weren’t enough, Menzel continued to flourish with her role as ‘Elsa’ in the hit Disney film, Frozen, which became the highest-grossing animated film of all time. Her song, “Let It Go,” became a worldwide phenomenon, giving kids and adults of all ages frozen fever. The song reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, making Menzel the first artist with both a Billboard Top 10 hit and a Tony Award for acting.

In 2010, Menzel co-founded A BroadwerWay Foundation, which is an organization dedicated to offering girls from underserved communities an outlet for self-expression and creativity through arts-centered programs. Variety recognized Menzel as one of their Power of Women honorees for her work with the foundation.

Most recently, Menzel earned her third Tony nomination for her original production of If/Then.

With the release of her fifth solo studio album, Idina., Menzel will embark on a global spring and summer tour of more than 50 cities. In one of the first video releases off the album, “I See You,” Menzel keeps it simple in a black and white setting, directing focus to the powerful vocals. The emotional single makes it evident that Menzel is speaking directly to her fans.

“My goal is always the same. That no matter how big the venue is, to give a really intimate performance that people really feel they’re a part of. I want them to feel like they’re in my living room so to speak.” -Idina Menzel

Catch the Tony award-winning actress and singer July 9th at The Theater at MGM National Harbor and July 18th at the Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric. Both shows are set to start at 8 p.m.

You’ve built quite the successful career over the years between your work on stage, television, film, and in music. I’d like to know where it all began. Where did your interest for the performing arts spark and what ultimately led you to continuing this as a full-time career?

I can’t remember. I just know that I’ve been singing and running around the living room ever since I can remember, putting on shows. I had a grandpa who inspired me to tell stories and sing. I’d pop up from behind the couch and perform at the house. It was always something I wanted to do. My parents were supportive and I was a part of all the school plays, choirs, stuff like that. They took me to Manhattan to see Broadway shows all the time and that of course changed my life. I knew I wanted to do that. I’ve always been on this trajectory really.

How would you say the industry has changed from when you first began up until today?

The music industry has changed dramatically. There’s not much of that left as far as record labels are concerned. A lot of that is positive because the artist has more control over what they want to do and they have more resources at their disposal to get music out to the public. Especially with all the social media. On the other hand, you don’t make any money making music these days. As far as the rest of it, I don’t see that much of a change, I think that it feels the same to me. It’s about artists getting together and being creative in a room together and being given the opportunity in a safe environment to work. I think that the theatre community is embracing original material, so that’s a good thing.

Your first professional role was with the Broadway Production of Rent. What was the experience like joining a professional cast and breaking out into the theatre scene?

I’ve gone on record many times saying that experience was a life-changing experience for me. I mean, I had no idea that when I got cast into a small off Broadway show downtown in the East Village, that it was going to have such a future and have so much success and yet we had a lot of turmoil because our composer, Jonathan Larson, passed away on the very first show. I think we as a young family learned a lot together about not taking things for granted and really understanding how important it is to get on stage and make every moment count to communicate his music and message every night, that was the most important thing.

How different was it when you filmed the movie?

It was a long time, I mean several years later. We didn’t have our entire cast from the New York [production], so that took some getting used to. But, it was nice to revisit it as a more accomplished performer. When I first got the role, I was 25 years old and I had graduated from NYU Theatre and that was the extent of my experience. By the time we got to film making, I had done several other things and found my rhythm and my process. I felt more confident in how I approached the role and sort of brought the spontaneity to that role, but it was also a thought-out process that made me feel in control and like I really could take the character apart.

I was fortunate enough to see your performance with Kristen Chenoweth in Wicked. What was your favorite part about working with Kristen? How was it to reconnect and perform “For Good” as part of the #OutofOz Series?

I think my favorite part was singing the duet “For Good.” It’s a beautiful moment between two friends and I think the two of us recognized the importance of that and every night we could feel the way it connected to the audience and the way it resonated with everyone. We felt such pride about that. On the lighter note, every time she sang “Popular” was fun because I could sit back and watch her amazing comedic prowess and see it a little differently every night. Watching her improvise and do her thing. We did this in tribute to our producer of Wicked, who we love very much, and it was pretty emotional. That song was the song that really spoke to both of us every night, so to do it again years later, it was sort of like riding a bike. It felt wonderful to see her and sing that melody with her and harmonize with her again. After so many years and success and with Wicked being performed all over the world, it really felt wonderful to know we were a part of that.

Let’s talk about your most recent album, Idina. It’s the first release after all the hype of your Frozen soundtrack. Can you tell me a little more about the album, where the inspiration from it developed?

You go in a studio to make an album when you feel like you have something to say. I had a really big couple of years in a lot of opposing ways. I had one of the most successful professional careers, but also one of the tumultuous personal years. I was going through a divorce and all that. With all those opposing forces, it gave me a lot to write about. I went in the studio…with great songwriters and producers who could take my ideas and turn them into real songs. That’s why I do what I do because I use music or acting or whatever medium it may be to express myself at the time of my life and the things that I’m experiencing.

What’s the story/message behind your song, “Queen of Swords?”

The song is based on a tarot card. It’s a pretty amazing card. She’s an amazing and powerful woman who speaks the truth and is very powerful. She’s often picked when someone is experiencing a divorce or heartbreak or something like that and so that’s sort of what inspired the writing of that song. When I go up to spend time with the girls in our camp, we always do a music video with them where they sort of put it together, shoot it, direct it, choreograph it. Because I had my album coming out, they said let’s do it because they’re like my little queens of swords. They are a bunch of kick ass, powerful women trying to find their voice.

What are you looking forward to most on your upcoming tour and what can people expect from the show?

My goal is always the same. That no matter how big the venue is, to give a really intimate performance that people really feel they’re a part of. I want them to feel like they’re in my living room so to speak. I chose songs that chronical memories and moments in my life and so they all have a lot of meaning to me. Each set list is some of the same songs, but also some different because it’s a new album. I got a bunch of favorite musicians and bands and were just having a great time!