Idina Menzel talks 'Glee,' 'Wicked,' working bar mitzvahs
You might know Tony Award-winner Idina Menzel from her Broadway roles as Maureen in Rent or Elphaba in Wicked, or as Shelby Corcoran in the hit television show Glee. This Saturday, Minnesotans will have the opportunity to see her perform in-person at the Orpheum Theatre.
The veteran singer got her start in the music industry performing at wedding and bar mitzvahs at the young age of 15. She admits that she lied about her age to the band at her audition because she was afraid that they wouldn't hire a teen. She's glad they believed her, because it was a great experience.
"When I first started, I thought it was the coolest," she says. "I felt like such a professional because I was getting paid to sing."
In addition to being a "really great escape" (Menzel's parents were going through a divorce at the time), it was also a way for her to be exposed to a variety of different music, from Motown to pop to jazz.
Photo by Robin Wong
"You have to learn so much music to work a lot," she says. "I didn't know that many songs, so each weekend I was learning new music. It was an incredible education for me to listen and study so many different kinds of music."
From a young age, Menzel knew that she wanted to pursue a career in music. She was determined to go to college to get formal training.
"Weddings are good for repertoire, but I wanted to have a craft and teachers that gave me a foundation," Menzel says.
As a New Yorker, going to New York University was her dream.
"I lived in Long Island, and to me it was a place where everyone acted the same," she says. "I was in a place where there was a lot of money, and the kids were often spoiled and mean. I knew there was a side of me that wanted to get into Manhattan and explore and be myself."
After graduating from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, Menzel's first role was Maureen in the hit Broadway show Rent. She says it was nerve-racking, but she was a bit more carefree in her early years.
"When you're younger, you just kind of go for things," she says. "It's odd; the older I got and the more successful I got, the more fragile I think I became. Back then I just sort of went for things. I was a lot more fearless."
The subject matter was a bit controversial, but Menzel says the off-Broadway production was "totally cool" for the East Village where the show began (it later moved to Broadway), and she knew that there was something special about the play.
"We knew that there was something really beautiful about the sentiment and the themes in the show. The way the music spoke to people was stronger than even words," she says.
In addition to being her first role on Broadway, Rent was where she met her husband, actor and singer Taye Diggs. Surprisingly, Menzel says they didn't hit it off right away.
"I thought [Taye] was really cute and we were friendly, but we didn't really like each other that much at first. We didn't feel like we had anything in common. We walked around on a lunch break once, and didn't have that much to say to each other. We were both kind of putting up a front. As the show went on and kind of broke us all down, we were really able to be ourselves. Then I got to know who he really was and we fell in love."
Menzel was nominated for a Tony for her role in Rent and went on to win a Tony for her performance as Elphaba in Wicked. When she signed on to be a part of Wicked, she says she knew the role would be life-changing, but not in the way that most people would expect.
"I knew that working with Stephen Schwartz and Joe Mantello was going to make me better," she says. "I knew that I loved the project, and everything about the character. She just spoke to me so deeply."
The role gained Menzel national recognition, and she was thrilled to win a Tony Award for her performance.
"It was a great day," she says. "I had worked really hard, and I was up against all those incredible women and I couldn't believe it. It was pretty surreal. It felt really good because I really did work hard and it was nice to be rewarded like that."
Most recently, Menzel has appeared in FOX's Glee as Shelby Corcoran.
"I'm proud to be part of Glee," says Menzel. "I love what it represents. I love the themes that it explores and I love how it's changing the conversation between parents and children. I love being around all those talented and theatrical people."
This Saturday, Menzel will perform at the Orpheum Theatre. Attendees can expect to hear both pop and Broadway numbers, with favorites like Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" from Glee and Sting's "Roxanne."
"The audience can expect that the show will be spontaneous, and that there will be something that happens in that particular concert that hasn't happened before," she says. "I am always trying to keep it fresh. I want every audience to walk out of the theater getting to know me just a little bit and knowing that I shared my heart with them. Aside from hopefully some really good singing, I think it's more import that we've all connected and sort of had this really special experience for an hour and a half together."
IF YOU GO:
8 p.m. Saturday, July 7
910 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
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