Idina Menzel Stands In A Class By Herself

Tony Award winner Idina Menzel burst onto the Broadway scene in 1996 belting her ass off in Jonathan Larson’s smash-hit musical Rent. From the very beginning, Menzel’s huge voice, rich with emotion and overpowering with beauty and energy, provided an edgier alternative to the classic Broadway sound (Andrea McArdle singing Tomorrow and Lea Salonga singing On My Own). All three of her solo albums, Still I Can’t Be Still (1998), Here (2004) and I Stand (2008) explore the feelings of insecurity, self-consciousness and doubt that border on self-destruction, so often hidden and buried under a myriad of façades especially in young women. Menzel’s poetic lyrics speak of love, of friendship, of frustration and angst and validate the sensitive issues, and the difficult and contradictory ideas that aren’t usually explored in musical theatre, especially in musicals written before 1990. In these albums, Menzel reached out honestly and poignantly to her audience and connected with them through the pure humanity of her words.
In one of her earlier concerts, at the Zipper Theatre in New York, in December 2004, Menzel reworked her first single Minuet to include her “rock star fantasy” in which she says, “the next thing you know, I’d be whisked off in a limousine where I’d be opening at Madison Square Garden. And I get there to the dressing room and I’d be like ‘No fucking green M&Ms, I said no fucking green M&Ms!’ And then a guy would come to me and he’d be like ‘Ms. Menzel, it’s time’ and I’d be like ‘let ‘em wait…’” Her voice then drops down to say, “what really happened… was, um, the first time I heard my song on the radio they called it ‘Minute by Eyedeena Menzul…’
However, with I Stand debuting at #58 on the Billboard Charts, Idina Menzel has never been closer to turning her rock star fantasies into a reality. Her concert at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto on November 7th, 2008 was a perfect melding of Idina the solo rock star and Idina the Broadway superstar.
For Here, she danced and hopped around the stage singing buoyantly about the unconditional faith she has in a love that will always be there for her. In the angst-ridden I Feel Everything, she stomped across the stage overflowing with the presence of a diva, belting out her rage; tongue firmly in cheek. Devorah/Rise Up sweetly paid homage to her younger sister, Cara, who was often overlooked by extended family members when they were growing up because she wasn’t “the singer”. She sang Brave and I Stand, two beautiful songs from her new album that are awing and inspiring at once.
There was an ease in Menzel’s entire performance, a laid back familiar quality, as though she felt as though she were performing for a group of friends. At times she sat down on a stool, sometimes right on the stage. She ate lozenges frequently, throwing some to the audience in the front row, and laughing as she said, “now you can be on what I’m on.” She even gave a shout out to the company that made them (en Français) and said, “fuck you” with a sly smile to a few people near the back that mooed at her. She even did a short improvised song about the fact that she was chewing her candy instead of singing the song that was supposed to come next.
Her gorgeous jazzy rendition of Embraceable You stood as a reminder that she shares the same roots as most of her musical theatre peers, she played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz in fifth grade and sang On My Own as a teenager with a gigantic Long Island accent. For the musical theatre aficionados, she sang For Good a capella, Defying Gravity, Finale B from Rent and a new song, No Trace of Us, by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening). She brought the house down so many times, the audience was standing and then sitting, and then standing again as though we were at church.
Idina Menzel is a performer that needs to be seen to be believed. She defies description and I’m filled with inadequacy at the very thought of trying to capture the essence of her show with my hollow words.
She mentioned to me that her album was not being marketed as stringently in Canada as she would have liked, and so, I urge you all to visit this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jboF6OOCHdU to watch the video for Brave and then go to itunes and buy I Stand. You’ll be glad you did. Thank you.

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