Idina-Here: The Premiere Idina Menzel Resource

Idina Menzel brings ‘If/Then’ to Bay Area

Idina Menzel takes defying gravity in stride.

The raven-haired beauty first blazed into the celebrity firmament in 1996 as the outrageous Maureen in “Rent” on Broadway. Then her career got an extra layer of sparkle as the emerald girl, Elphaba, in “Wicked,” which opened in San Francisco in 2003 and went on to become the biggest Broadway hit of its generation.
 But the actress/singer didn’t belt her way into mainstream America’s heart until she lent her brassy pipes to Disney’s insanely popular animated movie “Frozen.” Oh, and it didn’t hurt that John Travolta mangled her name at the Oscars last year, famously dubbing her Adele Dazeem, a snafu he followed up by fondling her face at this year’s ceremony. Now she’s a glittering pop culture queen.

“That was a very happy accident,” says Menzel of the Travolta name-botching incident, during a break from shooting a TV pilot in development, “Happy Time,” produced by Ellen DeGeneres. “It was the gift that keeps on giving.”

 A new production
 The Tony winner is now lending her star quality to “If/Then,” the new musical from Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics), the team behind the Pulitzer-winning “Next to Normal.” Menzel’s personal radiance is part of why the musical glows. Directed by the estimable Michael Greif, who also directed Menzel in “Rent,” it runs Nov. 10 through Dec. 6 at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre.
 “Idina is the definition of a star, she is a singular groundbreaking talent,” says Kitt. “You go to watch Idina because you know you are witnessing a truly unique and thrilling event that you will always cherish. She has so many gifts, but I’m most impressed with her musicianship and artistry. Idina doesn’t waste a single note or gesture on stage. Everything comes from her heart and her passion for musical theater.”

From Elphaba to Elsa, Menzel, 44, has made a name for portraying young women who come into their own, growing into their power in anthems such as “Defying Gravity” and “Let It Go.”

“A lot of girls look up to me now because of ‘Frozen’ and ‘Wicked’ and I feel a responsibility to live up to the characters I have played,” she says. “They are strong women who overcome adversity and live life on their own terms.”

The same can be said of “If/Then’s” Elizabeth, a newly divorced city planner who moves to New York to reinvent her life. The New York Times described the musical as “a portrait of alternative existences, of roads taken or not, of the person a person might have been if she had only done this instead of that.” Menzel found much to relate to in Elizabeth’s life.

“She has to learn how to live with the choices you make and how to let go of regret,” says Menzel. “That’s something we all have to learn.”

Menzel has certainly had to weather some storms of her own in recent years, including her divorce from Taye Diggs, whom she met when they were both in the original cast of “Rent.”

“Some days are hard, even though I try my best,” says the actress. “Sometimes you have to tell yourself to get out of bed, girl.”

Certainly, she’s got a lot to get out of bed for, from a TV career that’s taking off to her 6-year-old son, Walker Nathaniel, who usually demands that mommy get up and play dinosaurs on the floor.

Though the Broadway diva is thrilled to do more movies and television, she remains in love with the stage, particularly the joys of giving birth to original musicals.

“I love ‘If/Then’ and I love doing new musicals, which are quite rare these days,” says the actress. “This is a new musical that’s not a revival, it’s not based on anything, it’s completely original.”

Up for a challenge

Her willingness to take a risk on the new and untried is one of her biggest gifts, collaborators say.

“Idina is an unbelievable collaborator,” says Kitt. “She will try anything, and often she will make the work better than you ever thought possible. And even with all the exciting things that have been happening in her life, she is always available and committed to the process.”

Indeed, despite the roller coaster nature of fame, and the intense scrutiny over her breakup in our TMZ-obsessed culture, friends say Menzel remains a trooper and a peach.

“To me, her greatest gift is that with all her other gifts she is a generous, openhearted colleague and friend, and an absolute joy to work with,” says Yorkey. “She doesn’t have to be any of those things, but she is all of them and more, and we love her for it.”

Perhaps best of all, her “Frozen” fans simply can’t let it go, and their love for Menzel could make her a gateway to new fans of the magic of the Broadway musical.

“The popularity of ‘Wicked’ and ‘Frozen’ are wonderful, in that they invigorate the musical theater and create new fans,” says Kitt. “And of course, they add to Idina’s legend, which will only continue to grow as she turns to new projects in the future. I certainly can’t wait to see what’s next.”

For her part, Menzel is now trying to approach her career with a measure of serenity.

“I’m not as ambitious as I used to be,” she says. “One thing I have learned is that the less you push and the more you do what you love, the more that comes to you.”


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