Wickedly good: Idina Menzel brings Broadway’s big hits to Benedum
With the microphone clutched firmly behind her back and the theater so silent a pin drop could be heard, Idina Menzel belted out the lyrics to “For Good” from “Wicked” high into the rafters as fans watched in awe.
Theater-goers have known for years what a talented gem the Broadway star is. The rest of the world caught on to Menzel’s talent two years ago when Disney catapulted her into household name territory thanks to a little film titled “Frozen,” in which she plays ice queen Elsa.
Those two worlds came together Tuesday night when Menzel brought songs from her past Broadway shows and covers by artists who inspire her in a two-hour flawless concert at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh. Long-time admirers were met with little girls dressed in sparkles waiting to hear – and sing along with – “Let It Go.”
Menzel and her 14-person backing band provided an eclectic set list; truly, there was something for everyone. She started with “Defying Gravity,” then sang “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “Brave.” Two other popular songs from “Wicked” made it into the show as well, the aforementioned “For Good” and “The Wizard and I.” It took a minute to adjust to the fact that Menzel was defying gravity as herself and not as green-faced witch Elphaba.
Song selections went from upbeat (“There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Anything Goes”) to soft and wallowy (Joni Mitchell’s “The River,” Radiohead’s “Creep”). Her banter followed that formula as well, joking about how she may eventually become a Las Vegas act (“And not the Celine Dion Las Vegas but in a side lounge somewhere”). She switched gears, offering deeper and pensive observations, like sometimes it’s hard to get up in the morning and sometimes you want to stay in bed curled under the covers. Sometimes you can’t “let it go.” “Sometimes you want to sing something else,” Menzel said.
That something else was the perfect transition into “Creep.”
Dressed in a black cocktail dress with a detachable black and gold overlay skirt, which she eventually shed, along with her false eyelashes and high heels, Menzel isn’t a buttoned-up Broadway diva like many would expect. She’s got sass, personality and seems incredibly down to earth. She let all of that show when she came into the audience, slipping her feet in Ninja Turtle slippers because she kicked and spilled someone’s drink the last time she was barefoot, for an audience-fueled version of “Take Me or Leave Me” from “Rent.” Two men and two women took turns singing Menzel’s part of the duet. Usually audience participation to this degree takes a left turn downhill pretty quickly, but here it worked. It was sweet to see how much these fans idolize Menzel and the musicals she was a part of.
Menzel mentioned how her life went off the charts after “Frozen” was released, joking that she turned into a “blonde bombshell” and citing the following fame and celebrities mispronouncing her name (and by celebrities she meant John Travolta at the Academy Awards during her introduction).
“It was only the Oscars. No big deal,” she quipped.
Menzel naturally closed her regular set with “Let It Go,” inviting the children in the audience to meet her at the side of the stage to sing along with her. It was a cute moment that probably made the kids so happy. And as the little ones returned to their seats – with a plea from Menzel for the parents to help their kids instead of taking their photos – Menzel wailed out the final chorus before having the audience sing the “the cold never bothered me anyway” lyric a few times over.
The theater went dark for just a few seconds and re-lit when Menzel came back on stage for a one-song encore, saying she would close the show with a song she used to sing when she was little, “Tomorrow” from “Annie.”
Careful not to over sing, Menzel perfectly unleashed her booming, beautiful voice on every song. This caliber of talent is extremely rare and just doesn’t exist much in concert anymore.