‘Barefoot’ in the park
Thanks to Broadway roles in productions ranging from Rent to Wicked, Idina Menzel has gained a legion of fans though the years.
After winning the Tony Award in 2004 for playing Elphaba in Wicked, she went on to appear in several movies, such as Enchanted, and perform her solo work at Lilith Fair. Her turn as Shelby Corcoran, Rachel Berry’s biological mother on Fox’s Glee, was a match made in heaven and broadened her appeal.
Menzel recently made a DVD and album of her tour called Live: Barefoot at the Symphony. She brings a similar tour to Ravinia for an outdoor concert with wine and cheese, and we tracked her down on the road to talk about it.
Windy City Times: Hi, Idina. Last time I saw you was at your show in Indianapolis.
Idina Menzel: Did we hang out after?
WCT: We did.
Menzel: I’m sorry. I am trying to put it all together.
WCT: That concert seemed very similar to the Barefoot video. Was it all part of the same tour?
Menzel: Yes, the PBS special was a culmination of a whole year and a half of touring that you saw. This tour has some things that are the same and a few things that people have been asking me to keep. They have become things that people expect. I have changed about 75 percent of it.
WCT: Are you still wearing that purple dress?
Menzel: [Laughs] There are a couple of dresses I like to switch out and one of them happens to be fuchsia, which is the one on the cover—and that happens to just be coincidence.
WCT: I never ask celebrities their favorite color but I thought yours must be fuchsia.
Menzel: No, but everyone tells me they are the best colors for me. When I was in Glee, Ryan Murphy was always making me wear purple.
WCT: It looks good on you. Is Ravinia the first stop on this tour?
Menzel: No, it’s not. This whole month I have been on the road. We started in Vancouver. We are doing about 21 dates through the whole month. I have been with my 2-year-old on a tour bus.
WCT: How is that going?
Menzel: It is going great, better than expected. I was very anxious about it. He is doing great. It is not the same because your mind and your heart are split as you get used to life. He gets to see me every day.
WCT: Does your husband, Taye Diggs, pop in to some of your shows?
Menzel: Yes; he did the whole northern California part of it. He is on hiatus from [the TV series] Private Practice so he has some vacation time. He was with us and then went to Europe to visit some really good friends of ours; then, he will be back.
WCT: You guys are making it work!
Menzel: Well, we don’t stay in separate cities for very long. That is rule number one, really—no more than a couple of weeks. With the baby it has become even less than that. If we have to sacrifice the job because of that, we will. We just know from all of these years of being together, and the ups and downs, that you have to put each other first; otherwise, it can lead to feeling very alienated from each other.
WCT: I love the personal stories that you tell in the show.
Menzel: Oh, thanks. I tell some of those again and I have a bunch of new stuff. It has been fun. I try to keep spontaneous but have this sort of elegant evening but also very improvised. The balance of all of that has been fun for me to play with. I think it has been going over really well. To be out there playing music and doing it for a living especially in this climate of the music industry it feels very empowering. We are hitting the cities and pounding the pavement.
WCT: Do you want to make another studio album soon?
Menzel: Yeah; probably next year I will get into the studio again. I want to compile a bunch of songs from this tour that I think are really working. I want more orchestra with the new songs. I am not really sure. I have to think about it a little more.
WCT: Are you going to sing “Brave?”
Menzel: That is probably a sign because people have been asking that lately. It is not in there. You know, I get tired of my own music and I forget that people want to hear it. I don’t have it in the set list but maybe I can get it in there in time for Chicago.
WCT: Maybe you can squeeze it in. It seems like a very good anti-bullying song.
Menzel: That’s true. Thank you for reminding me.
WCT: Your gay fans have certainly made you a household name.
Menzel: I don’t know if I am a household name but I am certainly very grateful to the gay community.
WCT: There are a lot of Gleeks out there, too. What did you think of that storyline with Puck?
Menzel: It was fun for me!
WCT: He’s a cutie.
Menzel: Yeah, he’s cute. It was a cool storyline by Ryan Murphy. I was excited to be back. It was complex and a little risky but it was fun.
WCT: Do you know of other plans to return to Glee?
Menzel: No; they don’t let you know until they know.
WCT: Do you watch The Glee Project on Oxygen?
Menzel: No; I was on it once as a judge but haven’t seen it since.
WCT: Your old buddy from Wicked, Kristin Chenoweth, is coming next in concert, too.
Menzel: She seems to be within a couple of weeks on my whole tour. We are following in each other’s footsteps, which I like. She is christening all of these theaters and dressing rooms for me and bringing me good luck.
WCT: Do you get a chance to Twitter to her or talk much these days?
Menzel: We do a little bit but we are both so busy. Twitter is an easy way to do it but it would be nice to get together socially.
WCT: I know she is on vocal rest but do you take care of your voice as well for those high notes on “Defying Gravity?”
Menzel: I do. She is pretty infallible so she’s probably just sick. She can usually just sing for days and it doesn’t even matter. She takes off and has a beautiful voice. I, on the other hand, can’t even sing until I get on stage for a couple of weeks and try to build up the amount I will be singing. It is like running a marathon, so doing three miles [and] then five miles. With belting, it is a muscle; the more I prepare it, the better I do.
I have a couple of pieces that the orchestra is prepared to play a half-step lower in case I am not feeling it. I am not ashamed of that because I would rather be there the next night at another city than miss a show. There is nothing worse than feeling pressure to hit notes. You just want to be up there and have fun and be yourself. People don’t care if it’s a C or a C sharp.
WCT: Singing live, you have to be ready for a back-up plan.
Menzel: Exactly. Just having a back-up plan makes me feel at ease and relaxed. I do that on Broadway, too. I have an A show and a B show. You probably wouldn’t even know the difference. There are only a couple of melody changes. Instead of making myself feel intimidated, I just hit the B show and make it awesome! Then I never feel like I am coming up short; it is all psychological and how you set it up in your brain.
WCT: At Ravinia you have nothing to worry about. People bring their blankets and drink wine on the lawn and are laid back.
Menzel: I heard it is one of the best venues in the whole country. I am very excited about it.
WCT: Hopefully, it won’t be too hot.
Menzel: We were just in Nashville and it was hot but the sun went down and a breeze came and it was nice. It is a whole other vibe than being indoors that I like. It is nice to trade off.
WCT: Do you have more Broadway projects planned?
Menzel: Yeah, I am missing the theater community. I have dipped my toe in the water with a couple of different projects that are in very early stages. They are original pieces and out of respect for the writers I don’t really talk about it but I do talk about originating things. Being invited into their process is an honor. That has worked for me in the past and hopefully one of these things will bring me to New York soon.
WCT: You have a new movie coming out, too?
Menzel: Yes—I am so excited. It is animated and called Frozen. It is with Kristen Bell, who will be singing. It is a beautiful story. It will come out sooner than you think because they have done a lot of the artwork for it already. It might be a year away.