Concert review: Idina Menzel at the Dr. Phillips Center
Late in her sold-out Orlando concert, singer-actress Idina Menzel confessed she had been feeling “a little low” before the show began. “Thank you for reviving me and reinvigorating me,” she told the audience at the Walt Disney Theater in the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
That’s precisely how I felt about Saturday’s two-hour mix of Broadway music and great cover-song choices by the star of “Wicked,” “Rent” and singer of “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen.”
As the concert progressed, the singer, 44, visibly relaxed and become more animated. Her voice grew stronger and stronger. And by the inevitable “Frozen” finale, her casual, chatty personality was on full view right along with her musicianship.
Not that Menzel was slacking at the start — she opened with a one-two punch of “Defying Gravity,” the well-known “Wicked” anthem, followed by classic showstopper “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” But though she hit the right notes and held them for a dizzyingly long time, the sparkle that she can bring wasn’t fully there.
Curiously, it was a beautiful rendition of a downer of a song — Joni Mitchell’s “River” — that seemed to perk Menzel up. Perhaps she gave a clue about her early frame of mind when she talked about the bad days everyone has, when they have to face down their demons — a launching pad for an inspired slow-burn take on Radiohead’s “Creep.”
Other covers were more traditional, but equally entertaining. She showed off her acting chops in a poignantly delivered version of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale,” cleverly mashed up with Sting’s “Roxanne.” A version of “Tomorrow” turned the kids’ ditty into a song of triumph for adults.
Backed by 15 musicians, including strings, woodwinds and brass, Menzel tore through a powerful “Always Starting Over” from her latest musical, “If/Then.” She returned to “Wicked,” as well, with a zippy “The Wizard and I” and a heartfelt “For Good,” sung a cappella to a silent house. (It’s a nice touch that her drummer’s kit is colored a sparkly Emerald City green.) Menzel is big on audience participation, which adds to her charm. She chatted with those in the front row, tossed a patron a candy, and joked about her gay following.
She clambered off the stage — there were no steps — to sing “Take Me or Leave Me” from “Rent” with audience members, a tired concert staple that in this case proved surprisingly fun. Of course, it helped that her fans know all the words.
She also had fans join her on a poignant “No Day But Today,” also from “Rent,” as she paid tribute to the show’s creator, Jonathan Larson, who hired her for her first professional job but died just before the musical’s opening.
Before launching into “Let It Go,” she acknowledged the theater’s namesake.
“Thank you, Mr. Disney,” she said. “I should thank Mr. Disney… it’s good to be a Disney princess.”
Whatever her worries at the beginning of the evening, Menzel had clearly let them go.