‘Defying Gravity’ with Idina Menzel
The “green girl” is coming. That girl also goes by the name of Idina Menzel, who is known around the world as the source of the ground-shaking voice behind such memorable characters as Maureen Johnson in the original cast of “Rent” as well as her most recent Broadway role as the witch Elphaba in the “Wizard of Oz” inspired “Wicked.”
Menzel, whose performance of the song “Defying Gravity” has always been popular among musical fans, will be visiting Madison this Sunday for a show at Memorial Union Theater. In a recent The Badger Herald interview, she let us know more about how she got into music and the journey she took to get to where she is now.
“Oh,” Menzel began sleepily. “I don’t know, I’ve been singing my whole life, just been singing. [laughter] It’s all I wanted to do, and I wouldn’t feel happy if I wasn’t doing it.”
While her onstage charm wasn’t entirely there, Menzel continued to explain how she worked up the musical ladder, from acting in school plays to her position as a wedding singer, anything that could get her by until her big break in “Rent. “
While “Rent” did result in her first Tony nomination, it wasn’t until “Wicked” rolled around that she gained the notoriety she has today. “Wicked,” based on the novel of the same name by Gregory Maguire, tells the tale of the Wicked Witch of the West and her struggle for acceptance in a non-green world. Menzel originated this role, and her efforts garnered her a Tony award.
“That entire “Wicked” experience really changed my life. I learned a lot of life … lessons through that character. I learned … how to embrace what makes you unique. I learned how to come out of myself, and not be afraid of your own personal power,” Menzel said, although passively.
After making the show-stopping song “Defying Gravity” a hit both onstage and off in her remixed dance-floor version, Menzel left the Broadway stage for other projects, among them a role in “Enchanted” and reprising her role as Maureen for the film version of “Rent.”
In 2007, however, Menzel was given the chance to reprise the role that made her famous on the London stage.
“I was excited to get back into a role I had already experienced doing, because I actually thought I’d enjoy the process more and rediscover the role, and take some of the experience I got from the other projects I did in the meantime and apply them to building the character. I just had a great time in London,” Menzel said.
Yet Menzel simultaneously lives in two worlds of music: singing and songwriting. In that respect, it was inevitable she would leave the stage and move toward the studio, where she would record her first solo record, I Stand.
“I’ve been recording ever since I was a teenager, and it just so happens because of my success with “Wicked” that this album is getting more looks and everything, which is a wonderful thing. I think I made an album that people that know me from the theater will respect the change in direction but also to see the same woman in there, and hear the same voice, and hopefully be drawn to authenticity and passion.”
As a lifelong performer either in character or as herself, Menzel continued to speak of how performing has the same common denominator:
“Whether or not you’re singing behind a costume or you’re singing as yourself, you’re still having to put yourself out there as a performer and make yourself vulnerable to an audience. That’s the only way people are really going to feel something, if you get in touch with what’s genuine about the role or what you’re experiencing in yourself. “
When touching on the subject of politics, Menzel’s apathetic tone subsided as she audibly illuminated. In addition to her tour for her I Stand album, Menzel has also made time to show her support for Barack Obama.
“I’m just like everyone else, just really touched by his campaign and everything that he represents. I just wanted to get up and do something and be a part of it, so when I look back on it I could say I was really there, and part of a movement and making history.
For those wondering if Menzel will be “Defying Gravity” during Sunday’s performance, Menzel offered some promising info.
“I do a little bit of everything. I’ve rearranged some of the songs so they fit more in the context of pop music, but I think there’s a real cohesive flavor to the whole things. We’ve got some fun covers in our pocket that we’re going to surprise people with so each performance is a little different. They should expect a fun, eclectic, spontaneous evening.”
Idina Menzel will be at the Memorial Union Theater this Sunday at 8 p.m. Tickets are avaiable at $10 for University of Wisconsin students.