Idina Menzel on life after ‘Frozen’ and more
Idina Menzel may be nursing a cold, which she shrugs off as “par for the course” when you’re touring the country with a 5-year-old in tow. But that cold hasn’t dampened her spirits when she checks in from the road on her first tour since going five-times-platinum with the Disney ballad “Let It Go” from “Frozen,” having what she says has been just an incredible time of it.
“Everything’s just been coming together,” she says. “The music, the show, the experience of traveling all over the world with my son, the rapport with the audience. I feel like people are really getting me now. They’re understanding that the show is not just about singing. It’s a whole evening. It’s me hanging with the audience and we get to know each other.”
The singer shared her thoughts on “Frozen,” empowerment ballads and how she determined that what the show needed, for balance, was a chance for fans to hear her wrap those stunning pipes of hers around the lyrics “I’m a creep / I’m a weirdo / What the hell am I doing here? / I don’t belong here.”
You know, just to offset all that talk of self-empowerment.
She also talked about the very real connection she’s been nurturing with fans since breaking through on Broadway with her role as a bisexual performance artist in Jonathan Larson’s “Rent.”
Question: I spoke to you before the Super Bowl and at the time you said, “This year has been a big year for me so the venues are going to get a little bit bigger than before. And the challenge for me is to keep the intimacy as much as possible.”
Answer: We played in some arenas for the first time — overseas, like in Japan. And it was OK. So I think you can do it. You’ve just got to keep talking to the audience. Everything’s live. It’s just me and the band, with pretty lighting. It’s a show. It’s entertaining. But it’s not overwhelming. It’s not about that other stuff.
Q: I think sometimes people lose sight of the fact that those between-song bits of conversation can be just as entertaining as elaborate stage production or a light show, if not more so.
A: Yeah. I kind of thrive and vibe off the connection with the audience. Maybe it’s because I do eight shows a week in theater and I thirst for that little thing that changes it up from day to day. I’m not afraid of that. If somebody calls out in a lovingly heckling voice, I’m like, “OK, what did you say?” I want to talk about it. The other night, the band started playing “Brick House” because I thought somebody said, “You look like a brick house.” I don’t know what they said. It was “You look beautiful” or something. But I had my ear monitors in. I said, “What? I look like a brick house?” And the next thing you know, we’re playing “Brick House.”
Q: That’s funny. How do you go about choosing the songs for the tour? I’m sure some of the choices are obvious, but as far as the rest of the set.
A: I kind of take the ones that I know people want to hear and then I pick a couple songs I feel really inspired to sing to try a different interpretation. A lot of times I want to pay homage to someone who’s inspired me. I think a lot of it is that. It all just starts with songs that really appeal to me, that I think I can interpret in a way that I think people haven’t heard. I kind of throw a bunch of things out there and see how it feels. It’s an organic thing.
Q: I read an interview where you said you were doing a Radiohead song on this tour.
A: Uh huh.
Q: What song is that?
A: I do “Creep.” It’s sort of my answer to anyone that…. I’m aware that I have all of these amazing songs that I sing and a lot of them are very empowering. They’re songs about sort of overcoming and finding that thing that makes you different and harnessing it and sharing it with the world, all of those very strong, big themes. But you know, there are times when I don’t always feel that way about myself or it’s hard for me to live that, breathe that, be a role model. There are days when I wake up and I feel like crap. Things get me down. So I wanted a song where I could really go there and make sure people know that I wasn’t always trying to preach that it’s so easy to surrender and let things roll off your back.
Q: There does appear to be a tendency to cast you in these strong, empowering roles, these character who overcome some obstacle and thrive.
A: I know (laughs).
Q: Do you think there’s something about you that makes you so successful in those roles?
A: I guess so. I mean, obviously the universe is trying to tell me something. I’ve been told that I have a good balance of vulnerability and power. So maybe that’s what it is. But I don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I feel so grateful that there’s been that pattern for me. As women, a lot of times we’re afraid to show our powerful side. We’re afraid that we’re going to alienate or be threatening or be perceived as a bitch. So I think Elsa in “Frozen” speaks to not just little girls but to adults as well.
Q: Do you feel those roles have shaped the way your fans relate to you on some level?
A: My fans share a lot with me about their lives and their own challenges and experiences. I don’t know if it’s mostly from the theater, where you’re living and breathing so people feel like they can touch you. You’re accessible to them. Ever since “Rent,” it’s felt like that. Young people sharing their sexual orientation and stuff like that. I’ve gotten letters my whole career. It’s a gift.
Q: When you recorded “Let It Go,” did you expect it to have that kind of mainstream pop success?
A: No, not at all. I mean, I knew it was a great song. And I was excited about my character. They wrote it for the character because they thought it made a much more complicated and not your typical Disney villain. It made her very complex and beautiful. So I was excited to sing it and have a song that really allowed me to use my range — vocally, dramatically and all that kind of stuff. But you have no idea what kind of phenomenon is going to become.
Q: What do you think it was about that record that it caught on the way it did? Or have you even had a chance to think about that?
A: Yeah, I have. And I don’t really have the answer. I think those kind of zeitgeist moments aren’t very easy to pin down. It’s a confluence of events. I think the movie had a real fresh take on women. I think it was a combination of that and social media, where we could not just celebrate Elsa’s transformation but all these little girls and boys that felt connected to the song, we could watch them. You don’t always have that. Usually people don’t get to know the Disney voices unless it’s a real famous actor. So I think something about social media, and then seeing me and my face connected with the songs. But yeah, it’s hard to pin down what it really is. We’re all just searching for that permission to kind of be who we are. And when we hear a song, like that Christina Aguilera song, “Beautiful,” they want to be given the permission to sing that or feel that.
Q: Has the success of that film and that song had an impact on the kind of crowds you get at your shows?
Surprisingly, no. That’s been a real pleasant surprise about the tour is that this is my demographic. Everybody’s there. There’s little kids. There’s adults. There’s the parents of the kids. There’s people there because they just love theater and Broadway music. There’s a whole gay contingency. There’s everybody. And that’s good for me. Because I’m very thankful that I have 13-year-old fans. But I am 44 years old. I wouldn’t be able to get on stage and do my thing and feel honest and truthful if I was only talking to the young ones. So I kind of just tell the parents to hold the kids’ ears once in a while and, you know, forge on. But yeah. It’s been amazing. There’s a wide spectrum as far as age and different kind of people. I feel really thankful for that.