Idina Menzel lets it go from the start of Sands Bethlehem Event Center show
If there was any question about singer Idina Menzel’s talent after a rough performance on last year’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” or her hesitant singing of the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, she blew it away on the opening song of her concert Tuesday at Sands Bethlehem Event Center.
Mid-way through “Defying Gravity” from the Broadway play “Wicked,” Menzel’s voice soared with a huge, high note that drew a huge cheer from the sold-out and worshipping crowd.
That told everything you needed to know about the show to come: Mendel’s voice is a wonder: strong and rich. The singer was outgoing and enchanting and endearing. The crowd was enrapt. And Menzel’s voice is far more suited to the stage than any other medium.
Through a 105-minute show of 17 songs, backed by a 15-piece orchestra, Menzel covered not only her best-known Broadway work, but also paid tribute to other singers, gave a sampling of her solo work and even touched on popular music.
Now 44, dressed in a long, flowing, strapless black dress and high silver heels, she also engaged the crowd throughout, asking during the opening song whether there were any straight men in the audience and told one who so identified himself, “You have no idea who the f—k I am, do you?”
Realizing youngsters were in the crowd – several dressed as Princess Elsa from the Disney film “Frozen” because of Menzel’s connection its hit “Let It Go” – she warned, “hold your children’s ears.”
Much of her early show was that tribute to other singers. She sang a big and brassy “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from “Funny Girl,” and recalled performing it for Barbra Streisand, who Menzel said reacted with an underwhelmed “You were good. And then she left.”
She did a medley of Ethel Merman songs “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Anything Goes” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” that — ironically considering Mormon’s style and Menzel’s introduction about “big, belting Broadway women” — was far less brassy, though Menzel ended it with a huge note.
And she sang Joni Mitchell’s “River” in a fine performance, but also underwhelming in comparison to the rest of the show. Similar was a medley of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” and The Police’s” Roxanne.”
When it came to covers, she was surprisingly far better in Radiohead’s “Creep,” on which Menzel was so intent that she lay down on stage and sang from her back.
Her solo material was good. She was lovely and invested on “Brave,” but far better on “Still I Can’t Be Still,” the title track from her 1998 debut album. (“Three people bought it,” she joked.) Taking off her shoes, she twirled like a princess, kneeled on stage, flailed her arms and whipped her now-blond hair.
But the best of her solo material was her 2008 song “I Stand,” which was more broad-based. It was dramatic in a real, not theatrical, way, and showed the material with which Menzel could be a hit contemporary recording artist.
But the concert showed Menzel’s voice was made for the stage. “The Wizard and I” from Broadway’s “Wicked” (“That was me in the green make-up,” she said) was big and enveloping, and the crowd cheer edit heartily.
And Menzel wisely wound toward the end of the show with those songs. “No Day But Today” from “Rent” was great, as Menzel it in tribute to playwright Jonathan Larson. Sitting on the stage floor, she sang much of it in an evocative lower range before a great high-note finish.
“Always Starting Over” from “If/Then” was a showcase for Menzel’s voice, and she nailed it – her vocals eclipsing the song and drawing a partial standing ovation.
But the concert’s highlight was Rent’s “Take Me or Leave Me,” on which Menzel’s performance was so invested it raised goose bumps.
She obviously knew its worth, as she headed into the crowd, and over 13 minutes sang duets with four anxious audience members: One who identified herself as Genevieve wailed the song; Mike, who said it was his birthday, and Alison sang enthusiastically; and David told her she save his life.
She closed the main set with an a capella – and largely unamplified – “For Good,” which she dedicated to her father, who was in the crowd (“Thank you, daddy, for giving me singing lessons,” she said), and then, of course, “Let It Go,” on which she uninhibitedly danced on stage and to which the audience sang loudly along. It stretched to eight minutes and was great, even with an ill-advised interlude of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away.”
Menzel opened her encore from a stool, singing a new song, ”Child,” which she said she wrote for her son. And it was very good – slow and delicately high. And she closed with the song “Tomorrow” from “Annie.”
The last song was mostly voice over sparse accompaniment, and appropriate. There was no question about Menzel’s talent.