Get ready for a shot of Vocal Adrenaline, ‘Glee’ fans. Starting Tuesday, May 18 at 9PM ET on FOX, stage and screen star Idina Menzel is reprising her role as Shelby Corcoran, the no-holds barred coach of New Directions’ toughest competitor, on Fox’s hit series. We caught up with the Tony award-winning actress and new mom in between performances of her nationwide concert tour. Here’s what she had to say about her ‘Glee’ experience, a ‘Wicked’ feature film, and who’d she like to work with next.
Your character Shelby is really driven and ambitious. Are you like her at all?
I’m definitely hard-working and driven, for the most part. I wouldn’t say ambitious — I tend to get intimidated in situations, and I’m much more comfortable with someone finding me as opposed to me knocking someone over the head with myself. So I’m a little bit more self-deprecating. I mean, I’m tough — I can be a tough girl and have a lot of strength, but I can also be pretty hard on myself.
So is it fun to play someone who is more brazen and confident?
Yeah. ['Glee' creator] Ryan [Murphy] wanted Faye Dunaway from ‘Network,’ so it’s definitely fun to step into someone else’s shoes and give her a different rhythm to the speech … Also, the way he writes my particular character is so sing-songy. There’s a kind of rhythm to the whole show, so I’ve just been having a really good time with that.
What can you tell us about these upcoming episodes?
Unfortunately, I can’t tell too much, but I can say that I’m really excited about them — I’m singing a lot in the next two episodes. And there’s some big surprises with my character, and they’re not exactly what people think. So I’m looking forward to everyone getting to see her in a new light.
Do you have any say as to which songs you sing on the show?
You know what? I think Ryan is so good at choosing for everybody that I would be excited to see what he’d choose next if I’m lucky enough to be on the show again. He makes some surprising choices that really work great in a context that you wouldn’t necessarily expect.
Tell us about the acoustic version of Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’ that you’re singing with Lea Michele.
It was really fun to get into the studio and record ‘Poker Face,’ because I’m a fan of Lady Gaga, and she does this acoustic version that she does of her own song, it’s with a piano and changes the melody and all that, and so that’s what Ryan was inspired by, and what this recording is sort of taken from.
And you’re also performing ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ from ‘Les Miserables.’
I used to sing it at weddings all the time when I was a wedding singer. It was one of my specials. And I used to use it as a barometer as to how well I did that night. You normally don’t get applause when you’re a wedding singer — nobody’s usually paying attention to you. But when I would sing that song, people would actually stop eating their salad or whatever and applaud. So it’s funny when he wanted me to sing that song. I don’t even have to prepare; I know it in my sleep.
Any other songs that you’re performing?
Yeah, there’s this Barbra Streisand song …
Can you tell us which one?
Sorry — I don’t know what’s rumor and what isn’t, but I was told not to say anything. [Note: it's 'Funny Girl'].
How did you end up getting the part of Shelby? It’s been reported that you and your husband (Taye Diggs of ‘Private Practice’) were fans of the show.
Taye and I were recording the show every week, and we were actually just jealous as could be, because we wished we had a show like that when we were younger. And yet also so excited for them, because we know what a coup it is to get a show out here in Hollywood where you get to show off all your talents, you know? You’re not just acting. You’re singing and acting. … So we were just really envious of it, and supportive of it at the same time. And so we put out feelers — or I put out feelers. I didn’t really expect anything, and then a couple of weeks later — maybe I guess Ryan was getting it on his end as well, and he called me in, and we had a meeting, and next thing you know I was on. And it’s funny … my husband’s a little jealous.
Is there any chance that your husband might do a guest-starring spot as well?
I don’t know. I would love him to. I was definitely putting in a good word for him with Ryan.
It’s not like he doesn’t have the chops as well, considering his musicals background …
Oh, people don’t know. He’s an incredible singer, and a beautiful, gorgeous dancer. You don’t even know.
You and Matthew Morrison had some pretty good chemistry in your first episode. Any chance that Shelby and Will will become entangled again?
Um, maybe. She definitely moves in a different course for a little while.
There are rumors that Shelby will, in fact, end up becoming Rachel’s biological mother …
I know, there are all these crazy rumors. I … uh … you’ll have to tune in to find out [laughs].
Is there a chance that you could return to the show next season?
I hope so. There was some talk of it, but … I don’t really know. I guess the door is kind of open still. I would love to, but we’ll see.
Did you get a chance to work with Neil Patrick Harris in this upcoming episode?
No, we’re in the same episode, but we don’t have any scenes together. I wish. I love him.
Are there people that you would like to work with?
On ‘Glee’ or just in general? … I would love to do a Broadway show with Hugh Jackman. … I’d love to work more with Jane Lynch. She’s just so much fun. It’d be great to have more scenes with her.
As someone who comes from Broadway, do you feel like ‘Glee’ has raised the bar in terms of what people expect from people who sing in TV and movies?
Yeah … I feel like it’s educating audiences to the work ethic, the discipline that it takes to put on a show, you know? … Mostly I think it’s helping people appreciate really talented people. I feel like it’s subliminally a love letter to the theater, to New York people. Because there’s so many people [from Broadway] cast. It’s subconsciously raising the audience’s level of what they want to hear.
The ‘Glee’ guest-starring stint seems pretty ideal for a new mother.
Yeah. I mean, what a perfect job to come back to after having a baby. You first job is on this hit show and they put all my scenes in one day so that I don’t have to be away from my son. It’s amazing.
So you’re pretty much based in L.A. at this point?
Yes. We still have our place in New York, and we will forever call ourselves New Yorkers, but for the last couple years we’ve been out here more than we’d like to admit.
Does it help that this show also brings a pool of Broadway talent over to the west coast?
Honestly, as a mom of an eight month-old, I don’t have much of a life right now [laughs], but yes, what Taye and I miss so much about living in L.A. is our camaraderie that we have when working with a cast on a show in New York, and the community. And so there definitely is more of that kind of energy and vibe on set, and the singing and the dancing and the silliness, and it’s that that I love, and it’s that that I would love to be more a part of. It makes L.A. feel more comfortable to me.
In addition to ‘Glee’ and motherhood, you’re also doing a nationwide concert tour. Has it been a challenge to juggle all these things?
It’s challenging. But I love having [son Walker Nathaniel] with me, and it gives me a perspective that I didn’t have before. … I used to be really extra particular and anal about my warm-up routine, but [now] I don’t worry if I don’t get it in as much. Or it’s like sleeping: I used to worry so much if I didn’t get enough sleep before a concert, and now it’s like, there’s nothing I can do. My kid wakes up and I’m not going to have 10 hours of sleep. And so rather than freaking out about it, I’m getting over it, and getting up there and actually singing better. So I think there’s something liberating about not having all that time to worry about that.
Your tour goes through the summer and into the fall. But then what’s next?
Mostly, I’m focusing on being a good mommy. That’s my thing that I do right now, and I don’t want to work so much to the point that I can’t balance that and be with my son, because I’m pretty addicted to spending as much time with him as I can. So it’s about finding the right job that would fit in with you know, mommyhood and the symphony concerts, they’re great, because they’re on weekends, I take him with me. And I would love to do more TV and film.
What about a ‘Wicked’ movie?
I don’t think that there’s a movie in the near future, and I think that when they get around to it, probably I’ll be too old, unfortunately. But ever since ‘Avatar,’ I’ve been calling the producer and saying, Look, just do it like ‘Avatar.’ Make me green and take out a couple wrinkles and do the movie like that.
So it’s not coming soon.
Even if it were to happen tomorrow, they could want Vanessa Hudgens or somebody, you know? I can’t compete with that age.
But you originated the role!
I know, but Julie Andrews originated ‘My Fair Lady,’ and she didn’t get to play her in the movie. Well, I did get to play my character in ‘Rent’ 10 years after the fact, so I feel like I already got away with one – if I could get another one, that would be, oh my god, I would be over the moon.
I think fans would be up in arms if you didn’t play Elphaba.
You would think, but I don’t know — look at all the movie musicals that have come out with A-list movie stars, and nobody really thinks twice about it. What I think ‘Glee’ is helping is that I think people are realizing that it’s about real singing. Just finding an actress that can sing a couple notes in a studio is not the same as a singer that really knows how to use their voice to interpret the material. It’s much different, you know?