Idina Menzel on touring, ‘Frozen 2’ and how her 7-year-old son feels about it all
Idina Menzel says she’s proud of the tour that makes it to Phoenix Sunday, Sept. 3 for one final show.
“I’m proud of the shape of the show, the musicality, the intimacy that we maintain even though it might be in a larger venue,” she says. “I’m proud of the spontaneity. I feel like every city has gotten a show that’s completely unique to them. I’m not afraid to go off on some kind of tangent because a fan yells something out and it inspires something in me to talk about.”
It’s a challenge, she says, to put this kind of tour together for the sort of artist she has become, because of her multi-faceted career.
She owes her first success to Broadway, where she earned a Tony nomination for her role in “Rent” in 1996 and won Best Actress in a Musical eight years later for her work in “Wicked.”
And she hit the mainstream hard with “Frozen,” the Disney smash in which she voiced the character Queen Elsa and went eight-times-platinum with the soaring ballad “Let It Go.”
But at her core, she’s more about just jamming with her bandmates, something she’s been doing since before she got that role in “Rent.”
“Sometimes I worry,” she says, “about bringing it all together. But I’m starting to worry less because I see that it’s all part of my story. There might be a song from a Broadway show, a song from a movie, a rock-song cover tune that I’ve always wanted to do. But they all speak to a time in my life that’s true to me. So that’s sort of the common denominator that keeps it all on the same page.”
Here’s Menzel on touring, “Frozen 2” and what her seven-year-old thinks of his mother reprising the biggest role of her career (“He doesn’t give a s–t,” she reports with a laugh).
Question: You’ve added two string players on this tour.
Answer: The past couple tours, I’ve had an orchestra with me. The difference is that usually you pick up a bunch of musicians in each city, and on this tour, I decided to have strings as part of the band, so we all travel together and we’re not strangers. We know each other.
I have an amazing violinist and cellist and a background singer who is also an acoustic guitarist and percussionist. All three of them are women, which I love having all that girl power. And then the other guys are guys I’ve had on the road with me for years. So it’s been a really good vibe.
Q: Are you doing much from the album you released last year on this tour?
A: I do a couple songs from that, which has been exciting to see the mouths moving along in the audience and people actually singing along. That’s always a really rewarding feeling. But I have songs from the newest album and then songs from the shows that I’ve been in that you would probably expect me to do. I have some covers that I’m doing that are a lot of fun and little surprises sprinkled in.
Q: The last time you toured, I know you were covering Radiohead, doing “Creep.” And when I interviewed you last, you said that was meant to offset the more empowering stuff in the set.
A: (Laughs). Yeah, that’s my angry song. I’m not doing Radiohead again but I have that part of me. It’s rare. And it’s rare on this latest album, even though I’d go in there like “I’m getting a divorce and I want to write about this and that.” And then the amazing writers would always find a way to put this optimistic, hopeful angle on the song.
And I’d be like, “All right, fine. This is a great song. But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to write something angry.” (Laughs). I think it’s more interesting for people to see someone struggling and fighting through something but coming out the other side.
I guess that’s just who I am and I have to stop fighting it so much. If that’s what happens when I’m in a room writing music with people, then it is what it is.
Q: You do seem like someone people turn to for those types of songs.
A: I guess the characters I’ve played, the projects I’ve been in, there’s a pattern in a lot of the work that I’ve been lucky to be part of.
And I’m not sure if I attract it to me or I’m attracted to it or it’s all just coincidence but for whatever reason, there’s this really beautiful group of characters, songs, whatever it is, these women who are super-powerful and strong and yet risk being alienated and misunderstood in their world.
And even though the projects I’ve been in attract such a young audience, there’s a staying power to them because the heart of them are these women and what we all have as women, whether it’s our young girl self or our grownup self where we’re just really struggling to reconcile this part of us and the part of us that doesn’t want to alienate anyone, that wants to fit in.
Q: You recently stepped into Bette Midler’s role in a remake of “Beaches.” What was that experience like for you?
A: That was a pretty complicated experience because it’s not something I like to do often, some kind of remake or revival or set myself up for failure by putting myself in an iconic role that’s already been created. So it was difficult. But I really enjoyed the TV aspect. I don’t get to do that as often as theater, so I got to exercise those muscles.
And I also liked modernizing the story so that we as women could see where we have come in those 20 years because a lot of it is about managing career and family and passions, and compromising our desires in our lives. And these two women sort of having that friendship and figuring that out and having that conversation. So that was why it felt important to do for me.
Q: You also have “Frozen 2” coming up. Have you started that yet?
A: No, I haven’t. I’ll start that when the tour is over in a couple weeks. And then I’ll start getting in the studio. Honestly, they haven’t even sent me a script. They’re keeping everything really close to the vest.
It’s that kind of thing, you get in, you do a little work, they start storyboarding and getting the images up. Then they’ll come in a couple weeks later, they’ll do some more, change it around, add a song. It’s a very incremental process, which I love. So I’m looking forward getting back in there with that “Frozen” family and just doing our thing.
Q: Is your son excited about that?
A: Ummm (laughs) he doesn’t care.
Q: He doesn’t care?
A: No, he doesn’t give a s—t. (laughs) Although I will say, I brought him on tour with me this summer and this age for him has been much better than in the past. He’s really gotten a lot more out of touring with Mommy. I think he realizes that I’m actually kind of cool. He walks me to the stage every night and gives me a hug and a kiss and wishes me good luck.
He comes to soundcheck and dribbles and practices his ball handling to the beat. And he’s best friends with the band. It just seems like this age has given him more of an appreciation for what’s going on and how cool it is to ride in a tour bus with Mommy for the summer. But, as far as “Frozen,” I don’t know if I’ve won him over yet on that one. (Laughs.)
Q: What would you say the best part of touring is for you at this point?
A: The jamming with my band. The being so connected and having done so many shows that we have that freedom to just kind of relax and just have fun and listen to each other and go new places and be spontaneous. It’s where I come from, really.
Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been in bands, whether it be wedding bands or rock bands, but people don’t always realize that about me because they always think of the theater thing first. But my favorite part of performing is the give and take, the connection with people that I’m on stage with, the improvisational aspect of it, because that’s what keeps you fresh.
That’s why I can do eight shows a week or 50 shows a summer and not get tired of it, because it’s all about being in the moment and listening for a nuance, a new lick that the guitar player is playing, a new chord on the piano that my keyboard player might decide to throw in that inspires me to sing something a little bit differently. It’s the bond that I have with my friends.
And because I’m so comfortable with them, that allows to be really comfortable with the audience and make a lot of jokes and hang out and just make it feel really intimate and new in every city.