Idina Menzel on Glee, concerts and motherhood
One of the nice surprises about Glee this spring is the addition of Idina Menzel. The Tony-winning actress joined the show to play Shelby Corcoran, the coach of the champion glee club, Vocal Adrenaline, that New Directions, the Glee’s team, face in the finals. On her debut episode it didn’t take long for her to be lip-locking with Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), her rival coach, suggesting another layer of complexity in the evolving rivalry between the teams. (She may be off the series for the next few weeks, but returns on May 18 for the final four of the hit show’s first season.)
While Menzel may not be joining the upcoming Glee cast concert tour; she will be appearing in major concert halls throughout the country over the next few months. She started last week in Jacksonville, and continues this week with the Boston Pops, where she appears in the opening night concert on Tuesday, May 4 with conductor Keith Lockhart. (The concert is repeated on Wednesday, May 5 and Thursday, May 6.)
Her appearance on Glee and this concert tour marks the first professional work by Menzel since the birth of her son Walker Nathaniel Diggs (with husband actor Taye Diggs) last September. Now some eight months later, she’s back in New York preparing for her concert appearances, talking to reporters and attending to her day-to-day routine as a new mother.
“If you hear a loud beep,” she told me over the phone, “it’s because I need to let the food delivery guy in the apartment. So I’m warning you now.”
When it came, the beep wasn’t loud, nor was the Menzel distracted by her mom duties as she talked about her experience with motherhood, her role on Glee and how she needs to tone down her image when she appears in such venues as Boston’s Symphony Hall.
EDGE: Your son Walker is eight-months old now. He’s your first. What has the experience been like?
Idina Menzel: It’s so hard to explain. Everyone tries to tell you what it is going be like to have a baby, but it’s so surreal when it happens. We look at him and think: one day he wasn’t here, and the next day he was. It such an amazing feeling to think he was inside my belly just a few months ago. He’s doing great; not the greatest sleeper, so we’re a little tired over here. He’s always laughing and smiling, and he’s becoming quite the traveler, coming to all these concerts with me. Hopefully I’m not going to screw him up for life with my schedule.
EDGE: Has it been difficult balancing being a new mother and your career?
Idina Menzel: Not yet, really, because I’m just starting to go back to everything. And I really want to spend as much time with him as possible. My job on Glee is amazing because I’m only there once or twice a week, so I’m able to part of this incredible hit show and still be home with my baby most of the time. I’m figuring out the concerts now. Last week was my first one in Jacksonville, but I didn’t take him because I had to fly to Los Angeles for Glee and then back to New York. But he’s coming to Boston with me – we’re taking the train for the first time. And my rider – the things we ask for in your dressing room – it’s all about baby food and stuff like that, not cool stuff like alcohol and beer.
Elegant, sophisticated evening
EDGE: What will you be doing with the Boston Pops and your other concert appearances?
Idina Menzel: I have this wonderful music director who arranged and orchestrated my program for me. We’ve taken a bunch of Broadway songs that I’ve done and a couple of songs from my pop album; and then we’re doing some new things, some standards, an interesting Cole Porter medley… kind-of a plethora of things.
For me it’s so exciting to be standing in front of a big orchestra. Usually I’m out with my band – five pieces – and we’ve taken everything and are rediscovering it in a new context. There are some beautiful arrangements. But I was afraid I’d lose the intimacy of the shows I like to do. I’d lose my repartee with the audience. And with the magnitude of the arrangements. I was afraid it would be overblown to the point where I would lose that organic thing I like about my passion. But I think we have reached a nice balance – a nice back-and-forth. It’s an elegant, sophisticated evening, but one where I will feel comfortable with the audience.
EDGE: Do you get nervous before these big concerts?
Idina Menzel: It’s funny that you say that. Normally I would, but that hasn’t been the case since I’ve had a baby. It’s not that I want be nervous or anxious or thinking about how to improve things with the show and my singing; but I usually am. Now I guess I don’t have time anymore to be nervous. Which is very liberating for me because I’m one of those people who is often in her head and can work myself over and over. Now it takes everything for me to get there with my hair washed and my nails manicured and remember my lines if I’m working on a set or warming up if I’m performing a concert. But it just feels right for me. It’s a relief not to worry so much and to realize that there are more important things out there in the world, It puts everything in perspective so I can have more fun.
EDGE: Your Wikipedia page says that you wanted to do Glee because you wanted to play Lea Michele’s mother on the show. (Michele plays Rachel Berry, one of the glee club’s members.) E! Entertainment has also made the same speculation. Is there any truth to that?
Idina Menzel: No. I don’t want to play a 23-year old’s mother. I could play her older sister. I have no idea where that all got started. That said, I’m so happy to be on the show. My husband and I were recording the show every week and were extremely jealous that we didn’t have a show like this when we came out of Rent. And so it’s perfect for me. Ryan Murphy (Glee’s creator) has been so great about my schedule and respecting the baby factor. I’m really excited about the show. I’m not in the next three of them, but then I come back for the end of the season.
EDGE: Your character – Shelby Corcoran – is a bit abrasive. Do you like her?
Idina Menzel: Yes. I do like her. And I like her even more as the season goes on. She’s got a lot more to her than people realize. You always have to like your character. But I agree that she comes off as abrasive. Ryan always describes her as like Faye Dunaway in Network, but they’ve softened her up a lot in the coming weeks. And I like that.
Singing ’Poker Face’
EDGE: Are you singing on any upcoming episodes?
Idina Menzel: I can’t really talk about it… I know that sounds so important that I can’t discuss it, but they’ll give me a hard time. But I think it’s been released that I’m singing ’Poker Face,’ an acoustic version that Lady Gaga sings it’s modeled after (in a duet with Lea Michele). And a Barbra Streisand song – I can’t really say what it is – and I sing ’I Dreamed a Dream.’
EDGE: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned from being a mom?
Idina Menzel: I guess it’s that children make you stay in the moment. It’s fascinating. Like today, I overslept. I thought I had another interview at 10, but they cancelled; but I didn’t know it. We’ve been up and down and up and down all night. Walker’s on LA time and we’re in New York, so his schedule is all screwed up. I fell back asleep at 8:30 and woke at 10 and thought I had missed the interview and had screwed up. But they had rescheduled. That’s what it’s been like – I was able to get a coffee and here I am. So it’s been minute-to-minute here.
I think I have Mommy-brain. Sometimes I leave the house and go to the store with no wallet, no keys, no phone. For instance before the baby I could have rattled off what orchestras I’d be singing with and the venues. But now all I can about is whether I’m going to be able to take the baby with me on these dates. That’s where I am now.
EDGE: With both Glee and your husband’s series (Private Practice) filming in LA, are you acclimated to the West Coast or are you a New Yorker at heart?
Idina Menzel: My husband and I grew up in New York. I grew up in Long Island and went to school at NYU. And are having a real tough time digging our feet in LA even though I know we need to. His show is doing really well there. We are trying to find a place that feels like home out there now that we have a baby. I want it to feel right for the baby. So we have the place in New York that we own, and are now are looking for a place in LA. I don’t want to do rentals anymore and live in other people’s places. But when we come back to New York, it feels the hardest because it’s like we’re missing things. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but it’s who we are. We feel right here. We’re happier. We like to move and walk and go. The whole car situation makes it more difficult than you realize. It’s about your soul. It’s about the energy here and what you need. We get to go to theater – we’re going to see Fences on Saturday.
EDGE: You’re first solo CD – I Stand – sold very well. Do you have a new one in the works?
Idina Menzel: Right now I am focusing on the ’live’ thing. I recently put out an EP with live recordings from a PBS show I had done just for the new people I am doing with these symphony dates. Hopefully I am expanding my audience and I want them to have something fresh out there. I think it’s a six song EP. I’m focusing on making this show really great and we’re talking to PBS about perhaps filming that and releasing that as I live CD. And hopefully after that I will be going back to the studio do some original music again.
EDGE: Do you feel more vulnerable since you’ve become a mother?
Idina Menzel: I’m feeling little vulnerable, I guess, but not about being a mother. No, it’s doing these classy shows. I just want to make sure that I understood the protocol. My manager said for me to watch my cursing and clean up my act a little bit. I tend to tell stories and go off on tangents and be pretty open about my life; so I was concerned about standing in front of an orchestra and feel free about things – like tell a risqué story Bette Midler-style – is that okay? So my manager said, be careful. Just watch it. You know yourself, Idina. And in Jacksonville I was up there and it started to creep in and it seemed like everyone was having a good time. So I turned to the conductor – Matt Kraemer – and said, am I all right here? And he said it was all good. Later he said that some of his musicians missed entrances because they were fixated on listening to my stories. So that’s what happens. It’s like I feel like the girl from the other side of the tracks. I wear a long dress and cross my legs. But it’s the story of my life – is mixing styles and genres. I studied classically in school, but my very first job was in Rent – in this rock show, so people thought I was this raw, rock singer. Then I did this pop album and people thought I was too Broadway. So that’s my life – finding my place with all these styles and hoping people will accept me as who I am. That’s really my struggle.
EDGE: Wicked continues to be one of Broadway’s biggest grossers. Will it ever be made into a movie?
Idina Menzel: I’m sure it will, but it is having such a success all over the world the producers want to wait a bit. The more they wait, though, the older Kristen and I get. I did mention to on of the producer after Avatar came out that Wicked could be this amazing world just like Avatar with me in the green make-up. And they could digitize us to get rid of the wrinkles.
EDGE: Have you been surprised by the show’s success?
Idina Menzel: Surprised at the beginning. I worked on it for about four years before Broadway and I wouldn’t have stayed on that path if I didn’t think it would be that special. But I didn’t think that it would be such a phenomenon with young people. I thought it was this witty and sophisticated show for adults, but didn’t see it would appeal on two levels. I never thought it would resonate with young girls and boys so strongly.
EDGE: And will you be back on Broadway with a new musical anytime soon?
Idina Menzel: I hope so. I am trying so hard to find the right project. I miss it so much. But I think it’s important to originate roles and it’s important that Broadway get original musicals. I love that process so much. But it takes such a long time. I am certainly working on things, but I can’t be in New York right now because I can’t take Walker too far from LA until he’s a little older. But I am looking.
Idina Menzel returns to Glee on May 15 for the final four episodes of the season.
She appears with the Boston Pops on May 4-6 at 8pm at Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA. For more information, visit the Boston Pops website.
Upcoming summer concert dates for Idina Menzel are in Dallas, Philadelphia, Tanglewood, San Francisco, Washington DC, Bethel, NY, Hyannis, MA, Brookville, NY, Denver, Costa Mesa, CA and Minneapolis. For further information about these concerts and about her new EP CD, visit her website.