‘Wicked’ and ‘Glee’ star Menzel brings voice, stories to Modesto
Since she began appearing on the Fox TV show “Glee” a couple of years ago, Broadway star Idina Menzel is noticed by fans more than ever.
“But there’s an enigma about it.” the 40-year-old New Yorker said in a recent phone interview. “When they do approach me, they talk about ‘Wicked’ or ‘Rent.’ There’s more of an awareness of that’s the girl in the green makeup.”
Menzel, who won a Tony Award for playing the future Wicked Witch of the West in the musical “Wicked” and was nominated for a Tony for playing bisexual performance artist Maureen in “Rent,” performs with a small orchestra June 5 at the Gallo Center for the Arts.
The concert is to promote her latest CD and DVD of a PBS special, both titled “Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony.”
The CD and DVD include her cover of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” (featured on “Glee”), “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked,” “No Day But Today” from “Rent” and a medley of Sting’s “Roxanne” and Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale.”
They also include her humorous stories about life in show business. She talks about feeling awkward singing the lyrics from “Poker Face,” which include the line, “I’m just stunning with my love glue gunnin’.”
She discusses performing for her idol Barbra Streisand at a Streisand tribute for Kennedy Center Honors and then having Streisand mostly ignore her afterward. Menzel also talks about feeling strange playing the mother of “Glee” actress Lea Michele, who is only 15 years younger.
Menzel said she wasn’t worried about revealing too much in her stories. “My intention is to be as authentic as possible,” she said. “… I feel that’s what makes a great performer — people feel like they get to know you. You can get inside their soul a little bit.”
She added that Streisand later sent her a hand-written card thanking her for her performance.
Born in Queens, N.Y., Menzel earned a bachelor’s degree in drama at New York University and worked as a wedding singer before she landed a part in the then-new musical “Rent” in 1995. It was her first experience in a Broadway show and it became a huge popular and critical hit, winning the Pulitzer Prize and multiple Tony Awards.
“I went in and auditioned because I needed the work,” Menzel said. “I hardly knew what it was. It wasn’t until rehearsal that I started to realize, ‘This is something special.’ ”
It was through the show that she met Taye Diggs, who played landlord Benjamin Coffin III and later became her husband. The two reprised their roles in the 2005 movie version of “Rent.” They have been married nine years and have a 2½-year-old son, Walker.
Diggs, known for his role as a doctor on the “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff, “Private Practice,” sings “Where or When” with her on her CD and DVD.
Menzel was cast as Elphaba in “Wicked” for the 2003 San Francisco preview and Broadway debut later that year. She thought the show was great right away.
“When exploring the character in the story, when I learned the music on the callback, it moved me so much,” she said. “There was something about me that needed to play that character.”
Menzel said she hopes to continue to play Shelby Corcoran on “Glee” but isn’t sure what will happen with the character.
She also hopes to be back on Broadway soon in a new musical that she can’t yet talk about. In the meantime, she’s concentrating on getting ready for her summer concert tour. She’s a bit nervous about bringing along her son on the tour bus and worries how he’ll do being dragged from city to city.
“I want to make sure he has everything he needs and that it’s a terrific experience for him,” she said.
She has someone to help with child care, and Diggs plans to visit from time to time. He may decide to join her occasionally on stage for a song; she said she’s not sure yet if he’ll come with her to Modesto.
“I’m bringing some music in case,” she said, adding that she loves singing with him. “It’s who we are and what we love. It’s very nostalgic and feels very comfortable with us and pretty romantic.”