by Alma Hill
AN EVENING WITH IDINA MENZEL 8 p.m. Saturday, July 25 | Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, 445 S. Magnolia Ave. | drphillipscenter.org | $55
Ask a young fan of Disney’s Frozen (the insistently popular princess flick from 2013), “Who is Idina Menzel?” If you’re spared an on-the-spot rendition of the film’s hit song “Let it Go” (originally performed by Menzel), you’d learn that the actress is the voice of the lead protagonist, Elsa. The movie currently holds the record for the highest-grossing animated film ever, beating out the third installment of the Disney classic Toy Story. “Let it Go” is easily the most popular song from the soundtrack – it hit the top five in Billboards Hot 100 and won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2014.
Those of us who are a little older may remember her from the 2005 film adaptation of the musical Rent. In the movie, Menzel played Maureen, the flirtatious, indecisive lesbian. When Rent closed in 2008, it was in the top 10 longest running Broadways shows of all time. She also debuted the role of the fabled Wicked Witch of the West as a complex antagonist, named Elphaba to the public in the 2003 musical Wicked.
We don’t often get to see the 44-year-old Jewish American mother from Syasset, New York, who has to deal with her irate, jet-lagged 5-year-old son as he travels with her on tour. “It’s different now that I’m a mother. I take him everywhere,” she says.
She has a nostalgic soft spot for her hometown. Wrapping up the North American leg of her world tour, Menzel hit venues all over the world, with stops in Korea, Southeast Asia, the U.K., and Canada. But a concert at the Jones Beach Theater in Watanaugh, New York, in July holds a special significance for her; she went to her first concerts there growing up.
“I’m very excited,” she says of the upcoming show. “It’s a beautiful place to play. Any time you’re returning to your hometown is exciting, especially having had such an incredible year.”
When she visits Orlando, it’ll be another side we rarely get to see: Idina, the musician. A versatile performer, she maintains a music career complementary to her acting, which she regards with equal importance. “I’m writing a new album,” she says “ so I might test out a song here or there.” On the current tour, Menzel’s set list is a combination of songs from her Broadway repertoire, her own recordings, and even a few original performances from her personal collection. And of course, at least one rendition of “Let It Go” (very appropriate in Dr. Phillips Center's Walt Disney Theater).
Menzel credits her personal relationship with her audience as a key to her success as a performer. “I’m very proud of the fact that I give very intimate performances,” she says. “I never, ever leave the stage, because I want to maintain my audience's attention.”
By seeing Menzel in this light, as a musician and performer, instead of as the voice on the soundtrack of the world’s most popular ice queen, we get a fresh look at who the person is behind each of her characters. This tour is breaking from her traditional repetitive theater background, a fact Menzel appreciates. “Being from a theater background, eight shows a week, you embrace the things that keep you on your toes,” she says.
Idina Menzel is a woman who wears many hats, rest assured. It is the hard work she puts behind all she does that give her fans a show worth attending. “I treat it like I’m an athlete,” she says of her singing.
This go-around, Menzel says she is ignoring the criticism and performing the truest way she knows how: From the heart. “I’m just making music I love,” Menzel says. “No matter how old you are, there are still common themes. Themes that we all relate to.”