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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 1, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 22
The bewitching Idina
Wicked star in solo performance at the Paramount
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The bewitching Idina
Wicked star in solo performance at the Paramount

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

IDINA MENZEL
PARAMOUNT THEATRE
June 2


Idina Menzel is a face that is quite familiar. Whether it's from her stage work in Rent, or as the green gal herself in Wicked, theatergoers know her well. Other audiences will recognize her from either the small screen (as a recurring character in Glee) or the big one (Enchanted and the Rent film adaptation). Her distinctive features are matched only by the beauty and power of her singing. Now headed for Seattle on her concert tour, this wonderfully wicked woman spoke with SGN.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences?

Idina Menzel: I always say Barbra Streisand. A Star Is Born was the first album I ever owned. I started off as a wedding/bar mitzvah singer and so had to learn all sorts of music. I became a fan of Aretha Franklin and Chaka Kahn and had to study them for the parties I was singing at. I also sang Billy Joel and Bono.

Andrews-Katz: How did the audition for Rent come about?

Menzel: I had a friend who worked at an agency, and he submitted my picture under the table without telling his boss. That got me an appointment. I went in and got a callback, and there you have it.

Andrews-Katz: Does Rent still pack the same punch it did when it premiered in 1996?

Menzel: Sure! Yeah, I think it does. I think that it's incredible that Rent is being done in high schools all over the country. Kids are coming home and sitting down at the dinner table discussing the characters they are going to be auditioning for at the school play. They discuss who these characters are and what [the play is] about. That is what's so transformative.

Andrews-Katz: Were you familiar with Joseph March's epic poem 'The Wild Party' before you were cast in the Andrew Lippa Off-Broadway musical?

Menzel: No, not really. I read it afterward but wasn't familiar beforehand.

Andrews-Katz: What is it about any particular role that draws you to it?

Menzel: Well, there have been times I haven't been given a choice. But, there is usually just something in the character that speaks to my soul, really. If it's a musical, then the first thing I feel is the music - it's an extension of somewhere inside of me. If it's an acting role, then it has to connect with me. There has always been some kind of magnetic force that brought me together with these characters, whether I auditioned for them or they were given to me. I see it as each role has something that I'm supposed to learn from in my own life.

Andrews-Katz: Wicked opened in San Francisco prior to its Broadway run. How did the character Elphaba change as the musical approached Broadway?

Menzel: She got more and more specific. She took on a different nuance, and got a little funnier. The story telling for her got clearer. From an actor's point of view, she got more specific and more fun.

Andrews-Katz: You've worked with your husband Taye Diggs on several occasions. What are the pros and cons of working professionally with your spouse?

Menzel: It's mostly pros for me. It's how I met him and so whenever we are on stage together it feels very romantic to me. We have a great rapport on stage. It keeps it feeling young and we can revisit that time [when we met] in our lives. We both respect each other and I love how he sings and moves and dances, so it's a way of reliving it. The cons come in our preparation for when we go on stage; it's more tumultuous. We argue when I feel he directs me too much.

Andrews-Katz: What kind of music do you prefer for your own enjoyment?

Menzel: Lately, because I have a 2-year-old, I listen to what he wants. Beyoncé, O'Dell, over and over and over. If I have a choice, I like classical music to clear my head. Joni Mitchell inspires me; it's her lyrics that inspire me. I listen to Annie Lennox, and of late it's been Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan.

Andrews-Katz: How were the songs chosen for your Barefoot at the Symphony concert CD and DVD?

Menzel: Sometimes I pick them because they are a song that I always wanted to sing, and some because of their melodies. Other songs chronicle a certain time in my life that I want to share with the audience. Some songs are nostalgic. If there is an emotion I want to convey, I find the song to fit.

Andrews-Katz: Rumor has it that you are planning to return to Broadway in a new musical. Is there any information you can share about that?

Menzel: Not so much. I've been saying that I'm dying to get back, and that I really long to be in the New York theater world again. I'm doing everything I can to find the right vehicle for me. In the past I've enjoyed the process of working in an original show, so I'm trying to see what's available. It's so early.

Andrews-Katz: Regardless of gender, what roles would you like to perform?

Menzel: That's the thing; it's the roles I don't know of that I want to do. I like to originate characters. There are amazing shows waiting to be revived, but I have a more idiosyncratic nature and look forward to the roles that haven't been written yet. I believe in exploring new composers and more original work.

Idina Menzel was born in New York. She received her first Tony nomination in 1996 for her Broadway debut as Maureen in the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Rent. She's been nominated three times for the Drama Desk Award (The Wild Party, Wicked, See What I Wanna See) and winner of the 2004 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical as Elphaba, the Witch of the West in Wicked. In addition to her Broadway cast albums, Menzel has released four solo CDs.

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