Idina Menzel has encouraged women, girls to defy gravity for 20 years
Every artist strives to make an impact on the world.
Idina Menzel has done that in every decade since she first stepped foot on the Broadway stage with “Rent.”
The 1996 Broadway musical about life in Alphabet City and the AIDS epidemic resonated with theatergoers who quickly became Rent-heads. Her character, Maureen Johnson, was a bisexual woman who tackled issues from homelessness to sexuality to social justice.
In 2003, Menzel turned the “Wicked” Witch of the West into the misunderstood, deeply empathetic and incredibly powerful Elphaba. Her song “Defying Gravity” became an anthem for embracing the truest version of yourself and not being afraid of your power. She won a Tony for her performance.
A decade later, she belted out the self-empowerment ballad “Let It Go” as Elsa in Disney’s “Frozen.”
“Those songs were real callings to powerful women to not hide that very thing that makes them strong for fear they are going to be ostracized in some way,” the 46-year-old performer said. “Our true beauty will be reflected in this amazing power we have. These characters had to realize they just needed to surrender to be their greatest self. That is what ends up having the power to change things.”
Menzel loves connecting with her multigenerational audiences as she performs on a world tour that stops in Layton on Saturday, Aug. 19, as part of the Davis Arts Council’s Summer Nights With the Stars lineup.
Singing songs from “Rent” is a good reminder of where she came from, while “Let It Go” lets her see the impact she’s had on children’s lives.
“The songs I select to sing usually represent a milestone in some way; they are a memory or they tell a story of a time in my life — they are not just a bunch of songs thrown together,” she said. “They are a story, if you will, that I’m telling through the music.”
“I’m really proud of the musicality of the show and the arrangements, and I think that people will pick up on that,” she said.
In addition to her musical family, Menzel has been able to tour with Walker Nathaniel Diggs, her nearly 8-year-old son from her marriage to fellow “Rent” actor Taye Diggs. She scheduled her tour around Walker’s school schedule and has been able to invite his friends and their moms to join them at shows.
“This age has been really good. He’s getting a feeling for how cool his mom might be,” she said, with a laugh. “He walks me to stage every day and gives me a kiss and hug. He’s my little travel buddy.”
She and Diggs divorced in December 2013 after a decade of marriage. It was a strange time for Menzel, she said, because while she was going through the complicated and tumultuous emotions of a divorce, she was also enjoying a huge career high as “Frozen” fever swept the nation. It was during this time she wrote her most recent album, “Idina.”
“The two very polar opposite experiences going on at the same time provided a very rich writing environment for me,” she said.
When she wraps up her tour in September, she will begin rehearsing for the off-Broadway play “Skintight,” which will begin previews in late May, and start work on “Frozen 2.”
“ ‘Frozen’ definitely changed my life in a lot of ways,” she said. “It’s such a gift to see how it resonates with people. I love watching the kids sing [‘Let It Go’] — I know that it’s not just a hit song but is also so impactful and has a great message.”