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Idina Menzel sizzles and surprises in Charlotte show during heat wave

So here’s the type of consummate pro Broadway star Idina Menzel is.

It’s the middle of her concert, on a sweltering mid-summer night at the Charlotte Metro Credit Union Ampitheatre on Friday. She’s sitting on the front of the stage setting up the stirring anthem “No Day But Today” from Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” that starred Menzel. Larson died unexpectedly the day of its first preview.

The song, she said, reminds her to embrace the moment, of what’s important in life. “Like a nice breeze. I’m in Charlotte, sittin’ with my peeps, singing songs.”
Idina Menzel reminded the crowd to hydrate, adding, “It’s hot out here…We all look pretty hot.”
Next thing you know a child approaches the stage with something for her. Not missing a beat, Menzel continues, “Having (someone) show up giving me weird stickers of Elsa,” her character from the movie “Frozen.”

Then another kid got her to sign a shoe and a third child handed up a book about Menzel’s Broadway smash “Wicked” to autograph. She obliged them all before finally returning to the soulful song.

And that’s the type of show you got. Lots of energy, lots of asides about her life, lots of her songs that are, well, popular.

Menzel began the evening strutting on stage and wielding a pair of mallets she pounded on the drums as she and her band launched into “Queen of Swords,” one of several tunes from her self-titled new album. She also drank plenty of water during the evening, urged the crowd to hydrate and early on, discarded the black jacket she had been wearing at the start.

Menzel offered up plenty of signature showtunes, including “Seasons of Love” from “Rent” (”You know the song?” she playfully asked the cheering audience) and “I’m Not That Girl” a “Wicked” number.

Having recently co-starred in the TV remake of “Beaches,” she naturally sang “Wind Beneath My Wings,” then segued into the soaring “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked.” The final notes felt just a hair off, but still rousing.

Idina Menzel sang several songs from “Wicked.” She said her all-green makeup as Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, “was pretty but you know it’s a pain in the butt.”

A welcome surprise was “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” where Menzel made a custom fit of Barbra Streisand’s “Funny Girl” show-stopper.

Throughout the two-hour-plus show, Menzel interjected asides between or even during songs. She’s like your over-sharing but friendly co-worker, if that person is a crazy talented stage icon who frequently can belt ‘em to the back row.

Before being side-tracked by the Elsa sticker for “No Day But Today,” Menzel noted, “In case you brought the only straight man to the audience, and he has no idea who the hell I am, you can give him a little nudge and tell him this is a song from ‘Rent.’ 

Her chatter also accounted for several random things I learned about Menzel:

▪  Her all-green makeup in “Wicked,” where she played Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, left yellow streaks in parts of her raven hair for awhile.

▪  The ever-engaging singer recently got engaged, to actor Aaron Lohr.

▪  When not in “mommy mode” (she has a son with former husband Taye Diggs) she likes putting on tight jeans, wearing a pony tail and kicking back on her tour bus with “my PB and J, my crackers and my ‘Game of Thrones.’ It’s really exciting.”

▪  The weirdest thing she ever autographed: a bowling ball.

During the show, Menzel tossed in covers from such performers as The Beatles (“Dear Prudence,” which she paired with “Do You Want to Build A Snowman” from “Frozen”), Simon and Garfunkle’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” a little Aretha Franklin (“Rock Steady”) and perhaps most randomly, Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.”

Then there’s a little song from “Frozen” called “Let it Go.” As she does throughout her tour, Menzel invited young kids to join her on stage and sing it with her. They were eager participants, and well-behaved.

Menzel delivered plenty of hugs, including to a girl dressed as her character, Elsa.

For the first of two encores, this time accompanied just by pianist Clifford Carter, she turned to the Cole Porter standard, “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.”

The finale, “I See You,” came from her new album. It refers to a South African greeting where someone says, “I see you.” The other person pauses, takes stock and responds, “I am here.”

Menzel thanked the audience for accepting her and allowing her to work through her issues in her music and on stage. “So I just wanted to say thank you for that. And I see you. And I am always here.”

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