Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Idina Menzel at Grand Opera House

To be considered in the same exhale as La Barbara or The Divine Miss M suggests not only great artistic achievement but also that indefinable, alluring and intangible “je ne sais quoi.”

Barbara Streisand and Bette Middler are triple threats: they began their careers on stage, ascended quickly to film, then to solo careers.

And though Idina Menzel hasn't yet attained these living legend's Olympian status -- she does, dare it be said, do these stars one better.

She has written her own songs for her debut album “I Stand” for Warner Bros. and is touring in its support. Last year it was the 300 seat Baby Grand for Ms. Menzel. This year it's show time: The full Grand, with all its superb acoustics, will embrace her singular voice and send it resonating through all of us.

Aisle Say had the opportunity to chat with her on her tour bus headed for the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, N.J.

In 1995, Idina auditioned for the Broadway-bound "Rent" and won the part of Maureen, an outspoken bi-sexual performance artist. The role earned Menzel her first Tony nomination and the musical went on to win four Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. She played the part in the subsequent movie.

I asked her about the emotion of the cast on opening night -- the same day composer and lyricist Jonathan Larson died.

“Chaotic,” Idina explained. “We were all so young. We deeply loved Jonathan not only as a person but for the great gift of music that he bestowed upon us. When we were offstage we were all crying. Right before we went on we wiped our eyes and regained character. We sang our hearts out for Jonathan that night.”

In 2003, Idina originated 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 five hit on the Billboard Dance Chart. Her star turn in "Wicked" won her a Tony Award and huge critical acclaim.

Her growing international following includes a cult-like gay crowd -- she's not sure why, but perhaps due to roles she's played on Broadway, she explains.

There are nine tracks on the new album. She's not sure which she'll do in Wilmington March 27, where she'll be perform with a four-piece combo and two back up vocalists.

"I get bored easy doing the same stuff all the time. But I must say, standing alone in front of a packed audience is a real rush.”

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