Idina Menzel’s Talents Defy Gravity For Raleigh Audience
After releasing her fifth solo studio album idina. last fall, fans knew – or hoped, at any rate – it was just a matter of time before the tour announcement would be made. When it was then announced that Raleigh was receiving a date toward the middle of the ensuing world tour, area fans then began hoping the singer would make it this far.
In recent years, female powerhouse vocalists have had to cancel and reschedule tour dates left and right due to various illnesses or injuries. It has become tradition at this point for Adele to miss handfuls of shows at a time due to vocal cord issues, while back in January the alt-rock band Grouplove completely cancelled their 2017 touring schedule due to vocalist Hannah Hooper’s struggles with the stress that singing nightly was putting on her vocal cords. With a tour that began in Japan in March, before returning to the US in late April, Menzel will have traveled through the midway point of the summer portion of her tour when she finally takes Raleigh’s Red Hat Amphitheater stage tonight at 8:00pm, just in time for her vocals to cut through the humid environs that we all know and love.
Of course, I’m sure North Carolina humidity is the least of the issues Menzel has had to deal with in a career that spans stage, film, television and music. Her voice can be heard as Elsa in Disney’s box office smash FROZEN, in which she sings the film’s Oscar-winning song “Let It Go”. After Idina’s performance of the multi-platinum song at the 86th annual Academy Awards, she made history as the first person with both a Billboard Top 10 hit and a Tony Award for acting. Most recently seen starring in Lifetime’s remake of Beaches, portraying the role of ‘CC,’ she ably inhabited a role made iconic by Bette Midler for a new generation. From her first Tony nomination as Maureen in the Pulitzer Prize winner Rent, to her award-winning performance as Elphaba in Wicked, Menzel has become a name that moves tickets all along Broadway. Her most recent Broadway role as ‘Elizabeth’ in the original production IF/THEN earned her critical acclaim and her third Tony nomination, again showcasing her talents for a generation looking toward the stage for inspiration, and proving that she hadn’t grown rusty after a few years working more mainstream avenues of entertainment.
We had a chance to talk to Idina during a day off from the tour. We touch on the vocal cord injuries that haunt singers of her range; traveling the South; her multigenerational audience; and the fear of an audience no-show.
Isaac Weeks: The world tour has been going since March. Have you run into any surprises this time out?
Idina Menzel: No, I’m pretty used to everything these days. I’ve been on the road for basically my whole life at this point, so there’s really not much that could happen that would really surprise me on tour.
IW: While there are definitely Broadway fans throughout the South, I was wondering if there were instances where you have found the crowds here are different than in other parts of the country? Maybe certain things that you know will just work better in other places than here?
IM: What I’ve struggled more with is just in trying to connect with the entire demographic that show up to my concerts. With all of the different age groups, it becomes more of an effort to maintain my integrity, staying true to myself and still putting on a good show for both the kids and adults sitting in the audience. That is where I’m learning it’s more of a challenge.
IW: Back in January you starred in Lifetime’s remake of the Bette Midler 80s vehicle Beaches. Have you found that you gained new fans from appearing in it; maybe a demographic that weren’t familiar with your live-action performances?
IM: I hope so. You never really know what is adding to what, but I would really hope so. I think there is a strong women connection in anything I do; whether its Wicked or Beaches, there is always a connection, and an exploration of a female relationship. I can’t really be sure that I’ve gained new fans from it, or if I just strengthened the ones I already had by doing a piece on best friends. It’s hard to really know.
IW: A few days before your Raleigh stop, you will open the Southern leg of the summer portion of your world tour in Baltimore. Are there any particular stops along the Southern loop of the tour that you are looking forward to? Anything you can’t wait to jump off the bus and do while you are in a particular town?
IM: This may not be the answer you are looking for, but you actually managed to catch me on a day off, on a beautiful day at a beautiful pool in Baltimore. I’m swimming with my son, and my nephew is on the tour with us, and all of the band is here relaxing. We’re at the Harbor, looking at beautiful boats, and this is probably the most relaxing day offstage we’ve had in a while.
IW: You tend to work three or four days in a row before scheduling a day off. How do you pace yourself, as someone known as such a strong vocalist, to manage avoiding injuries and needing to reschedule tour dates?
IM: I have a strict discipline. I have a strict teacher that I have been with for over twenty years, who I will vocalize with over the phone and will fly in here or there to stay on me technically, and make sure I’m not pushing and risking injuring myself. My theatre training comes into play also: doing eight shows a week, and learning how to pace myself, and build my endurance. I don’t just throw myself into a two hour show where I am singing nonstop from not singing at all; I work myself up to it before I start my tour. I start singing at home, and in the studio, and build up my voice the same way I would if I were a marathon runner. I treat it like I’m an athlete, really. There are those days that really test you and your body just can’t do anymore, but knock on wood, everything is okay. There’s only so many things you can do when your instrument is inside your body, but I think its been many years of learning how to be technically sound, and not push even when you are performing in front of a huge audience. There are a lot more shows to go.
IW: I wanted to congratulate you on the success of your last Broadway performance in If/Then. With all of the success that you have gained across basically all aspects of entertainment – Broadway, film, television, music – has there been that instance of fear at the beginning of one of those endeavors where you can’t help but think, ‘Oh no, what if this is the one no one shows up for?’
IM: All the time. It’s an occupational hazard, just the fear and worry about that kind of stuff. I know you’re not supposed to concentrate on that kind of stuff, but sometimes you just can’t help it. I try to just focus on the fact that I always wanted that kind of career where, if the movies or plays started to slow down, I could always get onstage as a singer and still make a paycheck. I’ve built that to where I don’t need a huge event anymore; I know an audience will show up to see me because of the things I’ve done in the past, and I’ve worked very hard to get that stability. There’s an ebb and a flow, where some tours are bigger and some tours are more intimate, but it feels good to kno that I can get out there and do my thing. I get to do what I love to do the most: perform live.