Idina Menzel Talks “Barefoot at the Symphony”, Upcoming Tour, and More
“It’s probably the most enjoyable album I’ve ever made because I didn’t have to think about it too much,” Idina Menzel says of her latest release Barefoot at the Symphony. “I just had to get up and perform. In the past, I’d be in the studio racking my brain for a year and a half to put my soul out there. Of course when I wasn’t thinking so much, it came out the best [Laughs].”
Menzel’s inimitable and invigorating voice carries the live concert to the heavens with unparalleled power. Her presence and charisma remain a focal point as well. Not only can she nail the drama and vitality of the numbers, but she does it with panache. Every facet of the Tony® Award-winning Broadway luminary and Glee star is showcased live on stage at The Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall in Toronto during this show. It’s aired on PBS, but you’ve got to get the CD and DVD for the multiple listens and viewings it deserves.
With a summer tour on the horizon, audiences will also have the chance to experience Menzel up close and personal. She’s one of the 21st century’s most incredible performers, and Barefoot at the Symphony illuminates that fact.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Idina Menzel talks Barefoot at the Symphony, her upcoming tour, and so much more.
Do you feel like Barefoot at the Symphony is the best representation of every facet of you?
For years, I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to represent every facet of myself. Now, I tried not to think about it as much and just do music I love. I’ve been asked to do all of these concerts with symphonies. I didn’t want to feel confined to my idea of what a symphony concert would be though. I wanted to be challenged by the symphony, and I wanted to challenge them to open their minds a little bit and try a different repertoire. I think my biggest fear was standing in front of a symphony and losing the intimacy which I find very important to have with my audience. I was really concerned about that. There’s a nice juxtaposition we found working on it for a year and a half. I feel like you can be in the theater and have the drama and majestic quality of a huge orchestra and still bring it down to just a voice and a piano. I can talk to the audience, tell them about my life, and equate those stories to the songs.
So you went into this knowing that you wanted to preserve that intimacy?
Yeah, I’m used to working with my own bands. If something comes up spontaneously, I can stop them in the middle and have fun with it. Everyone would say, “You can’t do that with 60 or 80 musicians and a conductor.” [Laughs] You start something and it goes. I was in really high heels and gorgeous gowns trying to play the role. It was coincidental but serendipitous that I couldn’t get in the heels one day. I’d been carrying my son on too many planes and carrying too many car seats, and my back went out. I just had to get up there barefoot with the symphony. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to stand. I said to myself, “Okay, I’m going to have the best show I’ve ever had.” I felt the most comfortable in myself physically and vocally. I was moving better so it made sense to me. I didn’t have to compromise the part of myself that felt true just because I was standing in front of this very classy orchestra. I just had to watch my language a little bit [Laughs].
Has “Defying Gravity” always been a special song for you?
I consider that song a gift in my life. It changed my life. The character changed my life as well as the way it affected and resonated with other people. As long as I can sometimes creatively get inside of the song and change little nuances, it stays alive for me. I can stand up and sing that song. Some nights, I can revert back to being a girl in green makeup singing it or I’ll remember how it felt to be hoisted up into the air. I might just be enjoying the melody that evening and find a new take on it or I’ll be singing it to some 12-year-old girl who’s out there. I find different reasons to sing it. I feel so lucky to have a song like that in my career.
How did “Poker Face” come about?
I wanted to do songs that people would be excited to hear. I knew I had a story to tell with “Poker Face”. I started feeling indebted to the symphony as well as the audience to explain why I was asking these Julliard-trained musicians to play this Lady Gaga song. It took on a life of its own.
Was “Where or When” a magical moment?
It is! Taye and I met in Rent 15 years ago. We were singing together on stage back then. We don’t get to do it that often but we have done it in our careers. Our relationship always thrives on it. We really enjoy being on stage together and performing. This is a time in our life where we’ve had a baby. Once we’re up on stage, it’s really special for us.
Will the ethos of Barefoot at the Symphony carry over to your upcoming summer tour?
That’s a good question. I’m playing with that as we speak. I think this definitely will have several musicians. It may not be all of these symphonies, but there will be a lot of musicians. There will be very lush arrangements. I’m going to change up a ton of stuff. This whole PBS special cycle has been very rewarding for me. I’ve always yearned to have one of these shows on PBS. Now that I’m in it, it’s such a great way to get your music out there. I’m going to bring my son on the road with me in June. I’m hoping it’s going to be amazing. I was on this TV show with Sharon Osbourne called The Talk. I pulled her aside, and I asked, “How did you guys do the road?” She was like, “Oh my kids just grew up on the road from the day they were born.” I thought if I bring my son on the road for just June, it can’t be that hard [Laughs].
What else inspires you outside of music?
I love reading. I feel to be a great artist you need to experience the rest of the world. You can’t just train all hours of the day doing your own thing. You’re not going to be a very interesting performer that way. Being a mom enriches your life in a way nothing else could. I just decided I wanted to start a vegetable garden with my son. I have no idea how to garden. I decided it would be a cool project to do with him so he can really understand how things grow from the earth. We bought the nursery plants and we’re going to decorate them. Gardening is my brand new hobby.