Taking a Hike With Actress Idina Menzel
STUDIO CITY, Calif.—This is how we can tell that the actress and singer Idina Menzel has put at least a little bit of her New York roots behind her: “I live right up the street, and of course, I drove here,” Ms. Menzel said, stepping out of her sports-utility vehicle in workout clothes, in preparation for a hike near the house she shares with her husband, the actor Taye Diggs, and their 17-month-old son, Walker.
“Mostly I just do yoga,” Ms. Menzel said as she started up the hill. “But since I live so close I feel like I should know this hike. So, I’m using you as a guinea pig.”
It’s only recently that Ms. Menzel and Mr. Diggs (who is on the hit ABC show “Private Practice”) bit the bullet and bought a house in Los Angeles. They did it “kicking and screaming,” she said. “But we thought with the baby coming, let’s do it right. I don’t want to decorate a house we’re renting.”
“I’m kind of a homebody,” she went on. “But having a baby gets me out of the house. At least I want him to be social. I want him to have a bright happy start in the morning.”
It is not as if the pair, who met during the original production of “Rent,” have left Manhattan behind. They still keep an apartment there, and on Saturday, Ms. Menzel will perform with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. Marvin Hamlisch conducts. (On Thursday, she will perform in Red Bank.)
“I’ve never sung with the New York Philharmonic before and it’s a moment I’d like to be in my body for,” Ms. Menzel said, as the mountain path leveled off. “I don’t want to be so nervous that I can’t enjoy it.” She’s not sure yet whether or not Walker will be there to watch her. “If he’s still on L.A. time, he can stay up. It’s always a toss-up: is he going to be a cooler kid because he meets all these cool people in these far-flung situations and his sleeping is off, or is it better for him to stay in one place?”
To that end, Ms. Menzel, who won a Tony for her role as Elphaba in the musical “Wicked” and did a cameo on “Glee” this season, has tried to keep her family life as steady as possible. “Last weekend, I put Walker to bed, got on a red eye, went to St. Louis, sang with the orchestra, watched the Jets in the airport lounge, and then I was back in time to have missed only one day of his life,” Ms. Menzel explained. “I like the tempo of having quality time and then running out to do a show and then I’m back. ”
In another short uphill section of the hike, Ms. Menzel, who famously got her start as a wedding singer, said most of her concert includes songs from “Wicked,” “Rent,” and a few old standards from Cole Porter.
What about the dance version of “Defying Gravity,” her anthem from “Wicked” that was a small club hit a few years ago?
“That would freak everyone out, don’t you think?” she said. “It’s bad enough I do ‘Pokerface’ by Lady Gaga, because I sang it on ‘Glee.’ With an orchestra we have fun with it. I assume they would rather be doing Beethoven, but what are you going to do?”
Sometimes she’ll Skype with her voice teacher back in New York. Otherwise, she tends to practice with her computer and a microphone in a studio in the Valley to build up the stamina to “reach that stupidly ridiculous key that I put ‘Defying Gravity’ in myself,” she said.
“I’m competitive with myself, and I don’t want to take that key down. It’s like karaoke Idina.”
Since Ms. Menzel left “Wicked,” there have been 10 Elphabas and 24 understudies. In that time, she has been developing a nonprofit theater camp for city children that will involve the composer Jeanine Tesori. While looking for a new original musical to do, she has turned down many a Broadway show. “There have been a bunch that didn’t feel like me,” she said. “I worry because I’d like to get back there, and I don’t want people to forget about me.”
Rumors she will star in revivals of “Evita” and “Funny Girl” are unfounded, she said. “People would love to hear ‘Funny Girl’ but anyone who attempted it is pretty doomed. There’s a reason no one does it.”
She has been developing a musical television show with the producer of “Samantha Who?” and ABC that would cast her as a working mother with Broadway dreams, but a pilot hasn’t yet been ordered. “Who knows with these things,” she said.
“They say you can see George Clooney’s house from here,” Ms. Menzel said, as the canyon’s path took a turn into a wide expanse. “Do you think it’s that one? Why doesn’t it say George Clooney’s house on it?”
Eventually, the hike ended up back on a cul-de-sac and at Ms. Menzel’s SUV. “My first hike in six months,” she said. “Well that didn’t kill us. My butt doesn’t hurt too much.”