Acclaimed Broadway star talks with O&AN about her gravity defying career

With her third album, Idina Menzel, TonyAward winningstar of Broadway musicals Rent and Wicked, is back with a vengeance.

For the realization of this long-time dream, Menzel was joined by producer Glen Ballard (of Alanis Morrisette fame) to co-write most of the eleven songs on the album. Menzel shines on tracks like “I Stand” and “Brave” when the music seems at times to bleed into the familiar territory of her vaunted stage work.

While that comparison can’t help but be drawn due to her immediately recognizable delivery and vocal range,  the music remains incredibly engaging without being trite imitations of her stage hits. This is no doubt due to Ballard’s more-than-capable ear for catchy music combined with Menzel’s pitch-perfect delivery. The alchemic combination of the two stellar talents has produced a golden sound that immediately draws in fans of finely honed pop music while keeping the ever watchful and oft-critical musical theatre fans happy and sated - no mean task, rest assured.  

The Tony Award winning actress/singer/songwriter has come a long way since her days as a wedding singer in Long Island, NY. In those days, in order to make ends meet the sinewy-voiced budding triple-threat (singing/acting/dancing) took the menial job of singing at weddings and bar mitzvahs which required learning a huge repertoire of songs from classic rock to Motown to jazz to the latest hit single from Madonna.

While working toward her bachelor's degree in drama from New York University, Menzel performed with rock bands in downtown clubs in New York City during the week and continued her wedding gigs on the weekend. In the winter of l995, she auditioned for the Broadway bound "Rent" and won the part of Maureen, an outspoken bisexual performance artist which she portrayed with a singular clarity that many theatre goers of the era still strongly associate with her.  The role earned Menzel her first Tony nomination and the musical went on to win four Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize.

In 2003, Menzel achieved what those with little faith in her prodigious talent thought was impossible when she topped her performance as Maureen by originating the role of "the green girl," the misunderstood witch in the hit musical "Wicked" which included her show-stopping performance of the song "Defying Gravity".  In 2007, she re-recorded and remixed “Gravity” and the song went on to become a Top 5 hit on the Billboard Dance Chart.  Her star turn in "Wicked" won her a Tony Award and huge critical acclaim. Inspired by artists like Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand - triple threats who have conquered stage, film and success as recording artists, Idina Menzel now has embarked on her ultimate challenge—a solo artist singing her very own songs.

In an exclusive phone interview with O&AN, Idina Menzel took time to talk with us about her ever evolving career and her legions of dedicated fans.

O&AN: Congratulations on the success of the new album.

Menzel: Thank you. I owe it all to the people who come to the shows and buy the album.

OAN: When you were recording this album was there any fear that because of your great success on Broadway people wouldn’t want to take you seriously as a songwriter?

IM: No, not really. If you are an artist you are always judged by your work no matter what you are doing so it’s really just the same as it was before if not better. I don’t find that my fans are too difficult to please where I am concerned. They have been incredibly supportive and loyal to everything I do and I really think that success comes from the fact that I made my name in contemporary musicals so I have a younger fan base. I feel like they really encourage me to do whatever makes me happy and as long as I am true to myself they are along for the ride.

OAN: What about the work itself? Is touring from city to city any more or less challenging for you than performing on Broadway often in the same place every night?

IM: I’d like to be able to say it’s 100% different but it really isn’t for me. It’s all performing as far as I’m concerned. It’s all a live audience and that’s why I do it because I love performing and my comfort zone is with live audiences. The biggest difference is that I have an emotional investment in my own work that I might not have possessed with the Broadway work. When you are putting out your own material you place yourself in a spot where you are more vulnerable and that can be hard sometimes but I love it.

OAN: Do you ever see yourself returning to Broadway for another role?

IM: I am always diligently looking and working trying to find the next big vehicle for myself. I have been very lucky to have been able to have some great experience originating a few roles that have gone on to be huge. I love being a part of that process. It’s such a compliment to kind of be the muse for these great composers. It really is such a gift to be able to have this work in your life months before anyone else hears it and further to be able to put your stamp on it. I have some high expectations for what I want to do but I’m chomping at the bit to get back.

OAN: For those who might be familiar with your stage work and are thinking to themselves as they read this “Oh, well she’s just going to be recycling ‘Defying Gravity’ for two hours", what would you tell them to expect from your show if they gave it a chance and came out to see it?

IM: It's funny because a lot of people have this misconception that I'm just doing a couple of shows here and there.  I really want them to know that’s just not true.  We are doing a full-on 15 city tour in a tour bus with my very own band. This is the dream that I remember having back when I first started in Rent. This is the work I want to do more than anything. I really find my performances influenced by Bette Midler where she’s kind of doing all sorts of things on stage and no matter if its stand up, pop music or old time music like "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," it works because it is all filled with the authenticity that she strives for. I feel like I’ve gotten to that point in my life now where I welcome all the different aspects of performance and want to make them a part of who I am on the stage. It is all a part of who I am and where I come from and I feel like it would be silly to choose one aspect over another and thereby limit myself and what I can bring to the audience. If anyone who doubts will just give it a chance I know I can win them over. They can definitely expect to hear a few songs from shows I have done but they are done with different instrumental arrangements to give them context that lends cohesion to the entire evening. Most everything else will be from the album and it’s bound to be a fun night for us all.

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