Idina Menzel’s free spirit erupts during Clowes Hall concert
With credits like the hit TV show “Glee,” and Broadway hits such as “Wicked” and “Rent,” Idina Menzel is practically the musical queen of popular culture. But aside from that distinction, she is one of the most talented and engaging entertainers around, as demonstrated at her rollicking concert Sunday at Clowes Memorial Hall on the campus of Butler University in Indianapolis.
Menzel reached superstardom with her Tony Award-winning performance as Elphaba, the misunderstood green girl in “Wicked,” and in her Tony-nominated role as Maureen in “Rent.” She further widened her fan base by reprising her role this season as Rachel’s biological mother, Shelby Corcoran, on FOX’s television series, “Glee.”
Playing to a sold-out audience, it was clear that many present were die-hard fans who loved it when the free-wheeling performer with the potent voice told them how “rowdy” they were — egging them on further with bawdy jokes and unfiltered language that might have been offensive to an older, more conservative crowd, but not this one consisting of her main demographic: young people.
Appearing in Indianapolis as part of a North American tour, Menzel was accompanied by her own band of five musicians and an orchestra made up of 20 local musicians. Much of her 90-minute program, without intermission, consisted of Broadway tunes and classic pop.
Much of the program was also the same — including patter and jokes — as that performed during her concert with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra at Hilbert Circle Theatre on March 3, 2011, and on her current CD, “Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony.” Further reinforcing her unconventional brand, Menzel was shoeless in this concert as well.
Silhouetted behind a lighted scrim and looking like “The Wizard of Oz’s” little Dorothy in profile, Menzel opened her concert with “Over the Rainbow.” After which, she appeared and strode center stage to sing “The Wizard and I” from “Wicked.” It was followed by a mash-up of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale “and Sting’s “Roxanne.”
Favorite moments included her rendition of Bono’s “All I Want Is You” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” made famous by her idol, Barbra Streisand, in “Funny Girl.”
A concert highlight took place when, to the delight of the feverishly excited crowd, Menzel went out into the audience to select individuals from amongst numerous upraised hands to join her on stage to sing the chorus to “Take Me or Leave Me,” from “Rent.” They included two young ladies named Sandy and Mary, who more than held their own, and a young man named David, who sang like a pro — after which he received a standing ovation.
So talented and at ease were these “randomly” selected performers, one could not help but speculate as to whether they were “plants” or not. Nevertheless, it was an interlude that will long be remembered for its supposed spontaneity.
Menzel’s superb talent as an actress shone through in the delivery of her scripted material, but her touching sincerity and ability to deeply connect with the audience was also evident when she spoke about her experience playing Maureen in “Rent,” and the untimely death of its creator, Jonathan Larson. Relating how the experience taught her and the cast about living in the moment, she sang “No Day But Today.”
Further displaying her ability to emotionally reach deep, Menzel dispensed with her mic near the conclusion of her set to sing a moving a cappella version of “For Good” from “Wicked.”
Leaving the stage to a sustained standing ovation, she returned to sing “Defying Gravity” (“Wicked”), a resounding anthem she originated and will no doubt forever be associated with.