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Live review: Idina Menzel (Adelaide Cabaret Festival)

Idina Menzel closes the Adelaide Cabaret Festival and kicks off her Australian Tour as only a Broadway legend could.

Adelaide Festival Theatre, June 22

From the moment the opening bars of Somewhere over the Rainbow rained through from the wings, Idina Menzel had the audience in the palm of her hands. It was an incredibly special evening, for everyone, and she seemed as excited as the fans to be performing for the first time on Australian soil.

Everything felt warm and totally genuine, the banter, the stories, the laughs. And the music was sublime. Conducted beautifully by Vanessa Scammell, the 55-piece Adelaide Art Orchestra, plus some American extras, played majestically, and Menzel graced the auditorium with musical theatre numbers, new writing and personal favourites. The audience gave back in laughter, presents, tears, cheers and several standing ovations.

There is something about Broadway: it seems to bless its stars with something, indisputable and intangible. But for all her greatness and extraordinary talent, Menzel comes across as so beautifully normal. She walks on stage without shoes in a dress that is lovely but not made to make her look like a sex goddess. She jokes with a man in the front row: “Your wife must have dragged you along! You’ve no idea who I am, have you?”; makes various self-depreciating comments about her time as a wedding singer; she even makes sucking a throat lozenge entertaining.

Alongside the jokes, Menzel also shares some heartfelt stories and tributes too. She talks lovingly of her son and how becoming a mother has given greater depth of emotion. She speaks adoringly of her husband Taye Diggs, and says that meeting him changed her life. “And yes, I know he’s hot,” she throws back to a whoop from the stalls. And she mentions friends, from the world of show business, who have shaped and made her who she is today, both as a person and a performer. The evening feels magically intimate and personal, as if there are only a few of you there in the 2000-capacity Festival Theatre.
Every song is a show stopper, even the lesser known ones. There are favourites from the big musicals, Wizard, Rent, Chorus Line, as well as a great Glee moment. There are also some stunning renditions of Cole Porter and Joni Mitchel, and some of her own new pieces and a taster of her next Broadway show, If/Then. As the evening drew to a close, it seemed impossible to imagine what else could top the line-up we’d been spoilt by. But then, in centre stage, she quietly silenced the orchestra, slowly took off her microphone, and sung For Good. It was beyond words. The purity and brilliance of her voice filled the auditorium. No one moved or barely took a breath. It was exceptional.

Menzel’s stage show brought the 2013 Adelaide Cabaret Festival to a close. It has been a truly star-studded event, which, under the incredible steer of its Artistic Director, Kate Ceberano, brought together an amazing array of international and local talent. I’m sure there will be much debate as to what was the highlight, but it would be hard to top Menzel’s stunning performance.

Menzel leaves Adelaide for Sydney and Melbourne. If the reception she gets elsewhere is anything like the one she received in Adelaide, she’ll hopefully be tempted to come back to Australia again – sooner rather than later.

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