Tony winner Idina Menzel, Cleveland Orchestra to put on show blending genres
Most orchestras don’t have the distinction of rocking out to Lady Gaga tunes. But that’s exactly what the Cleveland Orchestra will do Saturday when Broadway powerhouse Idina Menzel makes her debut at Blossom.
Broadway star Idina Menzel will appear with the Cleveland Orchestra at the Blossom Festival opening and benefit for Center for Future Audiences on July 2.
The gala benefit concert will launch the orchestra’s Center for Future Audiences, which aims to bring more people — especially youth — to its music. Menzel’s star power crosses pop culture genres, from her iconic roles as Elphaba in Wicked and Maureen in Rent to her diva appearances as vocal coach Shelby Corcoran on the hit Fox show Glee.
Gleeks will be happy to hear that Menzel will sing two songs from Glee — Gaga’s Poker Face and Funny Girl. Her program will run the spectrum of her career, with some of her favorite Broadway tunes, including songs from roles she originated, pop songs and tunes from her third solo album, I Stand.
In a recent phone interview from Los Angeles, the raven-haired power balladeer talked about her efforts to balance her busy career with family life, including actor husband Taye Diggs and their son Walker, who will turn 2 in September. The little tyke had just run through the room with a big mylar ladybug balloon, and Menzel got him situated with his nanny outside.
“I’m going to go in the other room and talk to my friend on the phone and then we can play,” she told Walker.
The family had recently returned from a vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and Menzel had to hit the ground running as she jumps back into her orchestral tour. It’s a heavy summer schedule with performances most weekends, including a show in Cincinnati this weekend and then the one at Blossom.
“I don’t feel well-rested,” Menzel confided. “I had a great vacation and then you come walk in the door and all the same feelings come over you. . . . Being able to hold onto that calm is literally impossible.”
Menzel has been doing orchestral appearances throughout the country intermittently in the last year, which allows her to stay home all week with her son, tuck him in on Friday nights, jump on a redeye and arrive at her destination about 7 a.m. Saturday. She sleeps until about 1 p.m., showers, attends rehearsal and sound check, eats dinner, performs, has “a great adrenaline rush with the audience” and then catches an early flight back to L.A. the next morning.
“I really only miss one full day of his life. That’s how I look at it,” said Menzel, 40, who brings Walker with her only if her gig runs longer than two nights.
Menzel’s losing sleep, but she makes her new schedule work.
“The priorities change, and thankfully I feel like I’m singing just as well, if not better,” she said. “If you don’t have the choice and this is the only way I can do what I love and be a good mom, then I have to show up and have less hours of sleep, and I can’t overthink it.”
Menzel said her skillful arranger is able to make her concert selections from different genres work well together in telling a similar story, thanks to the cohesion of the instrumentation. She said performing with a full orchestra is a departure from her days on tour with a rock band.
“It feels thrilling and rich — the sound — like it does on a Broadway stage,” Menzel said.
Menzel, who won a Tony Award in 2004 for her role as Elphaba in Wicked, focuses on mentoring youth in the arts, including on the reality show competition The Glee Project on Oxygen and with the nonprofit A BroaderWay Foundation, which she and Diggs created last year.
She served as a guest mentor on the Oxygen show June 19, where she told contestants that she wasn’t a good dancer so she’s in awe of performers who can sing and dance.
“If I’m in a show and they want me to move and do stuff, it takes me forever to learn to do the simplest things,” Menzel said. She took dance until age 12 but decided instead to commit seriously to studying voice.
“Maybe my boobs got too big or something” for dance, she said.
Here’s her advice for young folks striving to become triple threats: “Take the things that you love and pursue them and just let them wash over you, and surround yourself with people that guide you, and enjoy the process.”
She added, “The truth is you gotta go with your passion because that’s what’s going to be most attractive to the world.”
Menzel’s foundation, which supports young people in the arts, is kicking off a 10-day camp in the Berkshires in August for 30 seventh-grade girls from inner-city New York. The camp is run by Menzel and a team of Broadway artists, including creative director Jeanine Tesori, who wrote the music for Shrek and Thoroughly Modern Millie. Menzel and her team will take the girls’ original poetry, songs and dances and incorporate it into an original piece that the youngsters will perform.
The goal of Camp BroaderWay is to provide a wonderful experience, build self-esteem and leadership, and help develop the youngsters’ work ethic in show biz.
Menzel wasn’t in a show choir in high school but she appreciates how Glee increases awareness of the importance of the arts in schools.
“The other thing is that it somewhat sexies up the band and the choir kids, who get a bad rap. . . . It really celebrates the kids that are unique, and this way they’re not hiding the tremendous gifts that they have.”
Menzel, a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, made her professional debut in the Off-Broadway production of Rent, where she met husband Diggs.
Do Menzel and Diggs envision performing onstage together again? Menzel said the schedule would be hard to work out but doing another Broadway show together would be a dream come true.
“We met onstage and every time we’ve returned we’ve had such a wonderful time. We get along really well. We don’t fight too much or anything,” she said.
Check out a video with Menzel and Diggs on her website, http://www.idinamenzel.com, and you’ll see how playful the couple can be.
Menzel was a good sport when asked to share a personal tidbit about her outrageously handsome and talented husband, who currently stars on TV’s Private Practice.
“He’s got these really screwy pinky toes,” she divulged. Little Walker has inherited the same crooked toes.
“It must be genetic; I don’t know,” Menzel said, laughing.