BWW Interviews: Idina Menzel Set to Take to the Western Sky at Red Rocks
Tony Award-winning actress Idina Menzel is performing at famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado on July 17, backed by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Marvin Hamlisch. It’s part of an 18-month concert tour that has zig-zagged the singer across the United States from Los Angeles to New York (and soon overseas to the United Kingdom), placing her in front of the nation’s best symphony orchestras. Idina recently took some time to speak to me about her upcoming concert and her approach to performing.
BroadwayWorld: You have a concert coming up with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, conducted by EGOT & Pulitzer-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch at legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre. How do you feel when you hear that statement?
Idina Menzel: I feel really proud, because I’ve always wanted to play at Red Rocks. I’ve heard it’s the most spiritual and spectacular venue, and to have Marvin there as well is a great confluence of events.
BWW: What can the audience expect to hear at your concert?
IM: They can expect to hear an eclectic setlist. They’ll hear songs from shows that I’ve been in, some old standards, originals. The orchestra ties it all together and it feels cohesive.
BWW: Marvin Hamlisch has been conducting on and off for you over the past year, including your Lincoln Center debut with the New York Philharmonic in February. How did your ongoing partnership come to be, and will we see him at the podium at future performances?
IM: We were scheduled to work together last year at one of my shows [with the National Symphony Orchestra]. We hit it off, it was love at first sight. Ever since then, we jump at the chance – if we’re both available. He’s going to play at Royal Albert Hall [London, October 6] with me and at The Greek [Los Angeles, October 22]. We have a great relationship and a mutual respect for one another.
BWW: Have you convinced him to write an original musical starring you yet?
IM: [laughs] No, I haven’t convinced him to write an original musical with me in yet.
BWW: Is there anything you can share about the new musical projects you are working on?
IM: It’s a little too early to talk about them and I don’t really want to jinx them, but they are original stories and they’re with creative teams that I’m very excited about. I’m excited to share them with everyone as soon as I can.
BWW: The altitude at Red Rocks is 6,450′ above sea level. How do you prepare for singing in such thin air?
IM: Well, my family lives there, so I’ve visited Denver in the past and I often get a headache from the altitude. I’m planning to go a couple days early so I can bring my son, he can see his grandma, and hopefully by then I’ll be a little bit more used to it. I don’t know! I’m just going to have to take an oxygen mask with me.
BWW: Are there pre-show rituals that you must do in order to feel prepared to perform?
IM: I try to get some rest, some good sleep if I can. I vocalize to a CD that I have from my voice teacher, and that’s about it.
BWW: What’s your favorite aspect of performing live, as Idina, opposed to a character?
IM: I really enjoy the intimacy that I can develop with an audience. I actually look forward to revealing certain sides of myself that maybe the audience hasn’t seen before. I like that I can be really spontaneous and change things when I feel like it.
BWW: Do you still experience stage fright before a performance?
IM: Sometimes I experience stage fright, usually in a context that I’m not used to being in, for instance, singing at the White House in front of the President. I can sing “Defying Gravity” millions of times, but because I had to sing it in that environment, it was terrifying.
BWW: How do you overcome it?
IM: I try to return to the lyrics and remember what I’m singing about. Sometimes I try to imagine I’m singing to my son. If it’s appropriate, I can use the nerves in order to channel them into the emotion of the song.
BWW: You’ve been racking up an impressive roster of headliner venues – The Kennedy Center in DC, Lincoln Center in NY, Red Rocks in Colorado, Royal Albert Hall in London, and The Greek Theatre in LA. What’s your personal dream venue?
IM: I have to be honest that a lot of these are checking off my dream list. The Greek was one of them, The New York Phil [Lincoln Center], Red Rocks, Royal Albert Hall. It’s just been a really significant year. I put out there in the universe that I wanted to play at those particular places and it’s happening, so I feel really good about that. Radio City would be the next goal I would set for myself. It’d be fun to play Jones Beach one day, just because I’ve seen lots of shows there, having grown up in Long Island.
BWW: You recently appeared on The Glee Project as a guest mentor to the young performers. You’ve also realized your dream of founding an organization dedicated to bringing underserved youth into the performing arts with A BroaderWay. What influenced your ongoing dedication to working with children in the arts?
IM: I feel that I was very fortunate as a child. I had parents and teachers that were very supportive of me. I had a school system where the arts were very supported and I want to help kids have the same opportunities that I had. Also, I feel like there’s a strong connection for me that happened through the characters I’ve played and how they resonate with young people. There’s a responsibility that I feel, that I take very seriously, to try to connect with young kids because they’ve been so generous in sharing their experiences with me.
BWW: What advice do you have for young people hoping to make it to Broadway someday?
IM: Don’t be afraid to be different.