Idina Menzel is not that girl
The Broadway superstar on being a gay icon, diva and role model
Idina Menzel may be on top of the world, but the American actress and singer insists that she’s no diva. “I’m pretty low maintenance,” says Menzel. Her rise to fame originated from her Tony-nominated role as Maureen Johnson, in the 1996 Broadway musical Rent. She later won the Tony for best actress in a musical in 2004 for playing Elphaba in Wicked, a role she would reprise when the show opened in London’s West End in 2006. Superstardom came when Menzel voiced the character of Elsa in the Disney movie Frozen, and topped the charts with her Oscar-winning anthem “Let It Go.” In this edited interview, Daily Xtra sat down with Menzel to talk about fame, performing and being a gay icon.
Daily Xtra: How do you protect your voice on a long world tour like this one?
Idina Menzel: I warm up with my voice teacher. We treat it like an athlete trains for the Olympics. You don’t run a marathon coming out of nowhere. It’s important to train, especially for when you have a cold or you’re having a bad day. You have to be able to get up there onstage and still be powerful even if you’re not 100 percent.
How did your recurring role as Shelby Corcoran on the TV series Glee affect your career?
More people see television than see theatre, so I think if anything, people said, “Oh, that’s the girl from Wicked in the green make-up!” It allowed people to connect the dots.
Speaking of Wicked, I have to ask you about your Jan 8, 2005 performance, when you fell through a trap door and cracked a lower rib.
I thought I had punctured my lungs or something. It was crazy and I was surrounded by all the crew guys backstage, who were my friends. They were trying to get me to breathe and were afraid to move me because they wanted to make sure my spine was okay. It was scary.
How different is it performing on Broadway versus the West End?
Not much of a difference. Londoners get a bad rap for being more refined of an audience, and I think that is completely unfounded. I find them to be as or more supportive than any New York audiences. They’re excited, smart and sophisticated, and I love going back there.
Are you involved with the upcoming US national tour of the Broadway musical If/Then?
I am going to headline a couple of the opening cities, get it started, because it’s really important to me that the rest of the country gets to see this incredible show that I was with from the very beginning and feel very connected to.
Will you star in the Broadway adaptation of Frozen?
We’ll see if they want me to. They’re still working on the story, and I might be too old to play Elsa onstage.
Beyond your championing LGBT civil rights, what is it about Idina Menzel that your gay fans love?
That question is always one of the hardest ones for me to answer because I’m not quite sure. I think it’s partly the underdog characters that I’ve played — characters who overcome alienation, or being ostracized, who overcome adversity to feel beautiful. Also, good big hair, a good big voice and a nice vibrato is always good for the gay community. I owe everything to my gay fans, ever since my Rent days.
A new generation and wider audience discovered you via Frozen. What is it like for you when young girls and women celebrate you?
It’s beautiful, but it’s also quite a responsibility. It makes me need to be on my game and make sure I am not just talking the talk, but walking the walk, that I am practicing what I preach. I am out there singing about empowerment and accepting who you are, and what makes you extraordinary in this world. So I make sure I do that for myself, as a 40-year-old woman. I don’t want to be hypocritical. It’s a big responsibility, not just to young girls, but also to young boys.
Is Idina Menzel a diva?
(Laughs) Not in the negative context they use it these days. I hope I’m not. I’m grappling with asking for what I need [to do my job] as a powerful woman in this world, because women get a bad rap when they stand up and speak for themselves. But I’m pretty low maintenance, I would say. It’s a balance. It all ties into Frozen and Elsa and not being afraid to embrace power and harness it, and know you can change the world.