Idina Menzel mixes Broadway, pop tunes during charismatic Fox Theatre concert
There were more children in the audience for Idina Menzel’s concert Tuesday at the Fox Theatre than at her concerts at Powell Hall, Peabody Opera House and the Pageant.
Then again, when she performed at those venues, there was no “Frozen.”
That 2013 animated blockbuster film was a game changer for Menzel. She voiced Queen Elsa and delivered its monster-size hit “Let it Go,” making her more of a generational artist who also appeals to children.
For her rendition of “Let it Go” at the Fox, Menzel invited a few dozen children to join her for a sing-along. In a cute moment, she allowed many of them to sing a line from the song.
One little girl asked Menzel if she would return to St. Louis in 2018 to appear at the Muny for its 100th anniversary. (Muny executive producer and artistic director Mike Isaacson said after the show that he had no idea who the girl was and that she wasn’t a plant.)
Menzel deftly mixed Broadway and pop material throughout the two-hour show (no intermission or opening act). She can be compared to Celine Dion, at least by her choice of tunes — treacly ballads and big pop songs that suit her outsized, unmistakable voice.
That was evident on opening song “Queen of Swords,” a track from her latest album, “idina.” She opened the heavily percussive song dramatically, banging on a pair of drums emblazoned with her name. She followed with “Small World,” another track from her album, ultimately performing half of its songs including “I Do” and “Perfect Story,” a ballad she says she wrote for her son.
But she first hit her stride with a drums-heavy version of “Seasons of Love,” from the musical “Rent,” in which she originated the role of Maureen. “I’m Not That Girl” was delivered lovingly, as was “For Good,” which she impressively performed a cappella and without a microphone. Both are from “Wicked,” the Broadway musical in which she originated the role of green witch Elphaba. Clearly, “Wicked” remains Menzel’s sweet spot.
The night’s highlight came with a perfect mashup of her cover of “Wind Beneath My Wings” and (a version that can be difficult to cozy up to initially) “Defying Gravity” (also from “Wicked”). It was a breathtaking tour-de-force.
Menzel said she considered eliminating “No Day but Today” (“Rent”) from her set, but decided something would be missing without it. She holds onto the song as a tribute to “Rent” playwright-composer Jonathan Larson, who died suddenly before the musical’s first off-Broadway preview. During the show’s most poignant moment, she talked about “Rent” and Larson sitting cross-legged at the front of the stage. She ended the song with the crowd repeating its title with her over and over.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water,” with its gospel undertones, exuded grace. But Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” mostly cried out for the original and unexpectedly veered off into the Whispers’ own “Rock Steady,” a song that might be unknown to many of her fans.
During a humorous interlude, Menzel attempted to fill an empty seat in the front row, encouraging her tour manager to find someone from the rear of the venue to move there. A male concertgoer finally took the front-row seat, and she chatted with him; he eventually asked her to marry him. She said she’s recently engaged.
Menzel said her fiancé, actor-singer Aaron Lohr, inspired much of the new music she’s performing on tour, including the song “Cake.”
She closed the evening with the ballad “I See You” (from “idina.”). Fans submitted video of themselves that played in the background.
At the end of the night, Menzel admitted she almost forgot to congratulate the Fox Theatre on the 35th anniversary of its reopening.
Earlier this year, her “Wicked” co-star Kristin Chenoweth performed her own show at the Touhill Performing Arts Center. What would it take for these two to tour together?