Idina Menzel: Tony Winner and NYU Alum
If you’re a fan of Broadway shows, a hit television series, or blockbuster movies, you’ve probably heard of Idina Menzel. But what you may not have known about this ubiquitous and super-talented mega-star is that she is also a New York University alum! HerCampus NYU talked with Idina about her current tour, past work, plans for the future, and her time as a student at NYU.
HC: First off, what can we expect from your concert at the NY Philharmonic? What genre of songs will you be singing?
IM: That’s a good question! I’m singing songs from some of the shows that I have been in; I’m singing some jazz standards, some original songs. All of them have been beautifully arranged by my musical director for the symphony.
HC: What do you like differently about doing concerts than say Broadway? They are obviously very different, but do you have a personal preference?
IM: Not really, I think that the balance is really what makes you appreciate both. You go from doing eight shows a week, and doing one character and getting to know that person that you’re playing so well and feeling so comfortable with and then you can go [do a concert] and you’re out there on your own in a different city all of the time, alone, without a cast. But it’s a good-mix up and keeps me feeling balanced all of the time.
HC: So let’s go back to a time before your career–your time at NYU. Do you have any particular memories or anecdotes that stand out? Any shows that you performed in as a student?
IM: Ahh, that’s a funny question! [Laughs] The shows don’t stand out too much. I was quite often distracted with my rock band and trying to get a record deal and write my own music that I was often not in the scene at school. But I loved being in [my studio] Circle in the Square and going to class every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday that taught me all different techniques and you got to pick and choose what felt great to you. I also loved that I had friends that weren’t in the arts. Like, if you go to a conservatory, you get one -dimensional enough as it is, so it is important to have friends that aren’t in it. One of my friends was an Art History major and another was a Business major. I loved the spectrum of everyone.
HC: What advice would you give to current NYU students as a recent alum?
IM: Being at school in New York City can get overshadowed by the city and you still want to enjoy those college years and try to do some real insulated things so that you can find your home and your friends and your safety net and training that build your foundation and not get swept away trying to find a job in the chaos of New York City. It can be intimidating and seductive with all of the stuff going on around you. Take that pressure off of yourself and just be in school and do all of the things that other kids would do on a [traditional] campus school. Just try to hold on to some of that stuff because you’ll be out there in the thick of it before you know it.
HC: If you weren’t an actress is there anything else that you could see yourself doing?
IM: Not so much! I always loved playing tennis, and I thought I maybe could have been a really good tennis player if I worked hard enough. I had a really good backhand when I was a kid!
But other than that, I’ve never done anything else with my life, so it’s hard to imagine. I know I’m a good mother! [Laughs] So maybe I would have just stayed home with my kid and been a housewife.
HC: What is your favorite role you have played?
IM: Oh, that’s one of those questions that are kind of like Sophie’s Choice like trying to pick your children. Especially for some of the roles for me that I’ve played since they’ve been life
changing for me. Rent was my first professional job in my twenties, and it was where I met my husband. It was just a phenomenal experience. And Wicked was later on [in my career] and I was able to take it in a little more and appreciate what was happening and how it affected people. I’m just grateful to have had roles that that: original ones that I could help create which is interesting when there is so much out there that is revival. I feel like I’ve made my part in nurturing original pieces.
HC: What was your most challenging role?
IM: All of them are always challenging! [Laughs] You are always terrified and scared at first no matter what it is! But I guess I would say it is Elphaba [my character from Wicked]. It was
the most demanding physically, emotionally, and vocally. And even cosmetically – you had to do all of that make-up and then be on stage so much with such acrobatic songs and always flying around. And it was so emotional and draining because everyone was always on stage bullying and hating your character. It took a long time for me to pace myself and get it in me so that it didn’t affect me.
HC: Do you have any dream roles?
IM: My dream roles really are probably things that haven’t been written yet. Another role in a beautiful original piece that some composer and book writer that I really respect is working
on. Something new. I’ve set high expectations for myself with Rent and Wicked. I could say other roles, but in my heart I know it is something that I haven’t heard of yet.
HC: You’ve done a lot of work in theatre, film, and television: do you have any particular favorite medium to work in and why?
IM: I think theatre and the live performance will always be first and foremost. I love TV and film, I really and truly do, but if you made me choose, I couldn’t live without live performance and getting on stage and feeling that adrenaline and connection with an audience. So theatre or concerts.
HC: Can we expect to see you back on Broadway in the near future?
IM: I’m dying and chopping at the bits to be back on Broadway. There are some logistical problems seeing as my husband is working back here in Los Angeles and I have a child with him and I want to be in the same house. So it might be another year or so before I’m back there, but I’m certainly working on and developing a couple projects that are in their very early stages, but hopefully by the time that they are ready to go, Taye [my husband] and I will be ready to move back to New York and I can get back on stage because I really miss it.
HC: Do you have any other plans for the future right now besides Broadway?
IM: Oh gosh, I can’t think of anything right now! I just changed a diaper before. That’s my reality. Future plans…this weekend I might get some extra hours of sleep! My friend is turning forty and we’re having a party for her, but that’s about it. I can’t think too much in advance with a little toddler running around.
HC: You have a television show in development called the Untitled Idina Menzel Project. What can you tell us about that?
IM: I don’t like to talk too much about that because it is just in development and you never know what is going to happen with that and I hope in a few months we can talk again and I can go
on and on about this project, but you know, I don’t want to jinx it.
HC: How do you feel about ABC with Selma Hayek developing an eight-hour miniseries based on “Wicked”? Do you think that you will want to be a part of it or are you done with that role/show?
IM: I’ve heard about that! I would love to be a part of it, but I doubt that I would be asked to. I’m sure that they are trying to define their own story and their own, you know, visual that has nothing to do with the musical. I love the novel [by Gregory Maguire] so much and I read it before I auditioned for Wicked and I fell in love with the story. And it’s just so different from our show and it’s beautiful and dark and I love that they are working on this miniseries now.
(And we should also mention that Idina’s publicist’s assistant Melissa Munafo is also an NYU alum!)