Gleefully Wicked: Q&A with Idina Menzel
Maybe you know her as Elphaba in the original Broadway cast of “Wicked,” perhaps you saw her as Maureen in the original Broadway cast of “Rent” (or the movie version) or possibly you caught her appearances on television’s “Glee.”
Regardless of your first introduction, once you’ve heard Idina Menzel sing, you can’t forget her. Menzel, 41, will bring her powerful voice and playful stage presence to the Peabody Opera House on Sunday, part of a 30-city tour that stretches into December.
“As prepared and rehearsed as I am, I always leave a lot open so I can be in the moment in each city,” Menzel said in a phone interview from Santa Rosa, Calif. “It can be scary for me, but it’s important for people to feel that each concert is special, individual, just for them.”
Fair warning: Menzel likely will perform barefoot, a decision she made after a recent concert left her hurting from the stylish heels she had worn. She later noted that performing barefoot allows her to feel free and relaxed.
Menzel, who is Jewish, was born in Queens and grew up in Syosset, N.Y. At 15, she started singing at weddings and bar mitzvahs, and she continued to sing for her supper while attending Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, where she earned a B.A. degree in drama. “Rent,” which she auditioned for in 1995, was her first professional theater job and led to her Broadway debut.
In 2003, Menzel originated the role of Elphaba in “Wicked” on Broadway, for which she won the 2004 Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. She later reprised the role in London. Since then, Menzel has performed on and off Broadway numerous times. Her movies include “Just a Kiss,” “Kissing Jessica Stein” (with our town’s Jon Hamm) and “Enchanted.”
On “Glee,” Menzel plays Shelby Corcoran, one-time coach of the rival glee club and the biological mother of character Rachel Berry. Menzel also writes and records original music. She has three solo albums and in March, “Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony” was released as a CD and DVD after her concert at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto was recorded live as a PBS television special.
Menzel lives in New York City with her husband, actor Taye Diggs (they met in “Rent”) and their 2-year-old son. In 2010, the couple founded A BroaderWay Foundation, which sponsors camp programs and theater workshops for underprivileged children.
Before her concert in Santa Rosa, Menzel made time to answer five questions.
What were your career aspirations back when you were singing at bar mitzvahs and weddings?
A little of everything — it was kind of a mixed bag. I wanted to be on Broadway, but when I started writing my own music, I wanted to be a songwriter and recording artist.
So you have met those early goals, even exceeded them?
I have done a lot of things I wanted to do, though there is still more that I want to do. Right now, being a mom overrides any other ambition.
Your husband sometimes tours with you, and you have your son along as well. Does that make your rigorous schedule any easier?
I’ve never been on the road with a child, and it’s very different. Here on the tour bus we have toy garbage trucks and fire engines, a tiny ukulele and several Disney DVDs.
You’ve done Broadway shows, movies, television, concert tours and you write songs — which do you prefer?
I love it all, especially live performances. I feel fortunate that I can move back and forth.
At some point you dropped the “t” in the middle of your last name — do you ever miss it?
I suspect other letters are missing from my ancestor’s names, dropped when they first came from Russia and Austria. But no, I don’t miss the “t,” because “Mentzel” doesn’t have the ring to it that “Menzel” does.