Idina Menzel Interview Exclusive with NewNowNext!
Idina Menzel cites gays as her longtime “peeps,” and even though Tonys are always nice, she has the real mark of Broadway success in throngs of gay men belting “Defying Gravity” at Splash during Musical Mondays. But now with a major label behind her, Idina’s stretching beyond her Rent and Wicked fame.
I Stand, which came out Jan. 29, is still very Wicked-y – don’t worry – and I spoke with Idina shortly after the release, an event she likened to giving birth. We chatted about performing for the gays, her early Rent days … and of course, her hot piece-of-husband, Taye Diggs.
Before we get to the Q&A, you can hear four I Stand tracks here, including “Gorgeous,” which Idina wrote about her gay friend’s relationship and the hardships the couple faced living in the U.S. Idina will also be performing at the HRC Gala on Feb. 23. Gay-love all around! Now for the questions…
I’m sure you hear this from gay men on a regular basis, but I love the dance remix for “Defying Gravity” you recorded last year. How did the decision to rerecord come about?
Well, there’s a pop version and then there’s a dance version. I think that song pretty much changed my life; I wanted people to think, ‘Yes I am from the theater, and I love where I come from and I’ve done this,’ but … I thought it had a real pop chorus to it, and I’m really interested and challenged by the idea of bringing back theater music that has a pop hook to it and letting it cross over; and here that really happened.
I thought with Glen Ballard putting his take on it and us keeping Stephen Schwartz’s genius, we could try to do that – not to mention ‘Defying Gravity’ is a great anthem. And then I realized how great that would be … just in a club full of people dancing their butts off.
Wasn’t it the official anthem for L.A. Pride? And you’ve performed it at pride events?
Yeah, I did it in Palm Springs and at the White Party – that was amazing! A sea of naked guys up there dancing their faces off! And I just, you know, put on a fabulous dress and some lashes and went out there and sang to the track – which I don’t enjoy that much because it’s hard to hear where you start and where you end. I much prefer doing it with a live band, because you can’t really make mistakes with the club mix; it kind of goes without you.
But it was so much fun! It was a great to be a part of that. I had never gone to a gay pride event, and actually my friend who I was telling you about from ‘Gorgeous,’ he brought his date, so it was fun.
So in a lot of your lyrics and in tracks like “I Stand,” I could definitely see an appeal to the gay community. Did you always have a gay following?
When we were first starting out with Rent, after Jonathan Larson had died, we were trying to get his message out there … and we got these amazing letters. They really liked Maureen and how she was so self-assured. Little did they know I didn’t have much self-assurance. –laughs-
Definitely playing a part?
That’s why I’m an actress! But no, we got these amazing letters from people about feeling more comfortable about who they were and their own sexuality. So even back then…
I wanted to ask you about the track “Perfume and Promises,” about passion going to waste. Is that about anything or anyone?
Sometimes … I call it ‘gibberish writing’ … I just sing melodies and record myself and words come out, and they make sense sometimes, sometimes they don’t. But sometimes something really cool comes out.
That one, I just kind of created, the words fell into – I don’t know – I wrote it about regret, but that’s one of the ones I can’t put a specific personal thing on. It’s kind of … imagining someone else’s story.
Oh, OK – I just loved that one, so I was very curious about it.
Thank you! It has a theatricality to it – like a Rickie Lee Jones song, you know? It’s a good marriage of the different worlds that I come from. [Warner Bros.] was so supportive of me being who I was. They weren’t like, ‘Don’t do anything theatrical!’ They just said, ‘Really, be yourself.’
That’s really cool. I feel like you usually hear about record labels being like, ‘You have to record it our way. We want to make the most money.’
Yeah, but they weren’t like that. You know, they have people like Josh Groban and Michael Buble, who aren’t typical artists, who don’t fit into a specific mold…
And they do so well.
They do amazing! They’re much more about, ‘Go be yourself and we’ll find a way to make it marketable,’ because it’s not all about radio these days: We have the Internet, we have so many other mediums; they are less afraid. And it’s Glen Ballard, my producer, you know, he’s an incredible artist himself, and he said, ‘Be yourself,’ and he found a way to make it more mainstream and make my songs … to really let the chorus and the hooks stand out. So he’s a great producer!
I must ask, do the gay fans ever go crazy over your husband?
Over Taye? Um, I think so. We’ll be out, and they’ll usually say things – they’ll come up to him when I’m not around – and say, ‘Oh my god, honey, I love you – but I love your wife more.’
The gays would all take you over him!
Well, that’s what I tell him!
Who takes longer to get ready?
-laughs– Taye. Wait – he would be mad. He takes longer putting his outfit together; he cares more about what he wears.
He lays out different outfit options and all that?
Oh, yeah. Whether or not he’s late out the door because of me, ’cause I’m a late person and, you know … just took a shower with 15 minutes to go … but he puts a lot more thought into the perfect tie.
Well, I know you guys met doing Rent together – but what was the first date like?
Well, what happened was – we really became friends first. We were very attracted to each other; we were in lust when we met, and we thought we had nothing in common. We both pretty much insulted each other at different times – and would be like, ‘Whatever!’
But then, Rent was such an impactful experience, and we all just got so close experiencing that. … Also, his role and my role had very similar on and off stage times, so we would start to spend a lot of time together.
And I told him about all my ex-boyfriends and – oh my god! – so many things I would never do! And then we went to a movie with a bunch of friends – I think it was Adam Pascal and Jesse Martin – to see, I think it was Twister. Remember that movie?
And we went, and he sort of ‘swiped my angle’ with his hand – it’s like the movies – and then we started flirting a lot. Then one day we did the ‘friends-hang-out-and-cuddle’ type of thing, and it … went a little bit further than the cuddling.
Last thing! You’re going to be on The View next week, right? Excited or nervous at all?
Yeah, on the 13th!
I love The View, first of all. But any opportunity – I’ve been on a lot of these shows before in green makeup – so I’m so excited to be on there with my real face and singing my own music. The real me!