Footloose favorite Idina Menzel enjoys classical, pop
When she takes various stages to present both timeless Broadway classics and modern pop hits backed by orchestras, an evening-gown-clad Idina Menzel is absent one typical accessory.
The Tony award-winning singer goes shoeless, the result of kicking aside a pair of high heels moments before a Toronto performance last spring.
“My back was killing me from carrying my baby on the plane,” said Menzel, who spoke recently while on the road. “I got rid of them out of necessity and had the greatest show.
“I’m so comfortable in my body, I never went back.”
The impromptu choice begat her recent album, fittingly titled Live: Barefoot at the Symphony. The recorded set list, which ranges from Cole Porter and Funny Girl tunes to the Police song Roxanne, has endured throughout Menzel’s ongoing footwear-free tour — which will include a Picnic With the Pops stop on Saturday with the Columbus Symphony.
Given the arrangement, does the diva demand daily pedicures?
Not so much.
“I’m horrible at the upkeep,” said Menzel, 41, adding that she is more likely to spend downtime with her 4-year-old son than at the salon.
Best-known for her Broadway roles, she got her first professional theater job in 1996 playing Maureen Johnson in Rent, a rock-musical adaptation of La Boheme that centered on a group of struggling New York artists amid the AIDS epidemic. She nabbed a Tony in 2004 as the original Elphaba in Wicked.
Still, Menzel was unaware that both productions would flourish.
“I know I’m part of something special but not a phenomenon,” she said. “Usually, I’m just moved by the music and excited to have a job.”
Others might recall her guest stint as Shelby Corcoran, a rival choir coach and estranged mother of ambitious teenager Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) on the Fox musical series Glee.
The role and program appealed to Menzel because of “the issues and themes it explores” and, as a result, has “changed the culture, the conversation that young people can have about themselves.”
Bitten by the theater bug as a child after trips to see Annie and Dreamgirls in New York, the Long Island native wasn’t permitted to pursue acting jobs as a child.
Her first real stage time came as a teenager while singing for a band that did mostly weddings and bar mitzvahs — taxing performances that taught the nascent entertainer skills she continues to apply today.
“The older I get, the more I call upon those days,” said Menzel, who went on to study drama at New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. “Just the repertoire . . ., having to learn so many different kinds of music. I was a sponge.
“I was smart enough to use the actual gigs as a place to practice, learning how to emulate but not imitate.”
Likewise, the experiences of interpreting a diverse musical catalog helped Menzel choose selections for her present program.
“They kind of picked me,” she said.
When she isn’t playing the parts of mother and wife — her husband is actor Taye Diggs, whom she met when both were performing in Rent — Menzel is at work on a starring voice-over role for the forthcoming Disney animated film Frozen as well as an original stage musical in New York.
For the moment, she’s glad to bridge the worlds of button-down classical types and pop lovers, even putting a high-low spin on Lady Gaga’s Poker Face.
Much like her cast-aside stilettos, a formal arrangement needn’t be stuffy.
“Music is music,” Menzel said. “The orchestra is just a beautiful addition to any kind of song.”