Life is wicked good for multi-talented mom Idina Menzel
NEW YORK — “It’s a baby zone,” Idina Menzel murmurs when you enter her fifth-floor Chelsea apartment.
Indeed, a stroller is parked by the front door. And in the dining area, across from the family-size wood table, her 8-month-old son, Walker, plays on the floor with his nanny, happily chewing on a toy. The child, a spitting image of dad Taye Diggs but with his mom’s almond-shaped orbs, greets entrants with a wide, gummy grin.
“People say he mostly looks like Taye. He has his nose and the shape of my eyes. We think he’s one of those blends that ends up being neither of us,” Menzel says. “He’s just so yummy. My favorite thing is to feed him and rock him and put him down to sleep. My husband and I, we’re connected in a totally different way.”
On cue, a sleepy Diggs emerges from their bedroom, clad in a baggy sweater, pants and Uggs.
“Hi, how ya doing?” says Diggs, heading over to play with his son.
Menzel and Diggs love their “eclectic, like our style” Manhattan apartment, a former sewing factory that the couple bought seven years ago, even though they just closed on a house in Los Angeles. There, he’s shooting ABC’s Private Practice, and she has a recurring guest role on Fox’s smash Glee (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET/PT). Menzel plays a rival choir coach who hooks up with New Directions instructor Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison).
“She’s very ambitious and driven and calculating, but she’s going to have a really big heart. There’s more to her,” says Menzel, 38. “I get to sing some great music, some old Broadway kind of stuff and some new takes on a contemporary song. And there’s definitely some surprises and a twist.”
So, does she end up being high school singing diva Rachel Berry’s mother, as countless blogs have speculated?
“No,” Menzel says.
Glee creator Ryan Murphy cast Menzel for one reason: “She has a huge, huge talent. I really wanted her to sing. When she opens her mouth and out come the lyrics, it’s incredible. She has one of those big voices. And she acts when she sings, which is rare.”
Menzel, a Broadway veteran who starred in Rent and Aida and won a Tony for playing green witch Elphaba in Wicked, relished working again because Glee has similar “camaraderie and energy” to the theater world and “feels a little like home,” she says.
Yet most fans of the show won’t exactly sympathize with her when she recounts how frazzled she was on her first day of work. Her very first day on set involved “making out like crazy” with heartthrob choral coach Morrison, whom Menzel knew from their New York theater days.
“It was so intimidating. It’s tough because I’m still nursing. In the trailer, I have my pump, and on breaks I had go in and set up my human-cow situation and they’d call me back,” she says. “But it’s perfect because I wasn’t ready to leave home. I can come once a week and do my job and go home and be with the baby. For that, it’s been amazing.”
This summer and fall, Menzel is performing with local symphonies across the country, including in Washington, D.C., in July and Denver in November. “I’ve taken a lot of my older material and some new stuff and had it orchestrated for a huge orchestra. It’s glammed up a little bit more,” she says. “We’re trying to keep my intimate connection with the audience.”
Is theater in her future? “I’m really jonesing to go back. I need to find the right project,” she says, but family life isn’t currently conducive to grueling stage schedules. “I like putting Walker down to sleep every night. That’s the thing that would bother me.”