Review: Idina Menzel with the ISO, and more

March 3, 2011
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One of the challenges for Broadway-launched talent transitioning to concert halls is finding one’s own voice. With intimate performances in cabarets and concert halls—and without the crutch of playwright-created characters—these singers have to go beyond just their vocal talents. Personality—created or natural—plays a significant role.

A few weeks ago, I wrote of the way Liza Minelli managed to conquer Hilbert Circle Theatre even with a failing voice. Contrast her with Dionne Warwick, whose personality didn’t carry her through the drop off in her singing quality at the Palladium opening. Or with Bebe Neuwirth, who came across as wanting to be somewhere else—anywhere—when she joined the ISO for a concert a few seasons back.

Idina MenzelCabaret legend Andrea Marcovicci, in her set at the Cabaret at the Columbia club in February, was somewhere in between Warwick and Minelli. A staple at the Algonquin Room in New York, Marcovicci didn’t come to the stage with as much audience goodwill as Minelli does, but she quickly managed to convert the crowd through humor, fun back stories for her songs, a dash of personal insight and, above all, a clear love of the Great American Songbook tunes she sang. Remarkable, truly, that she was able to pull this off with a voice that consistently went places it shouldn’t.

In what has been a remarkable season to see and hear female vocalists in town, Idina Menzel joined the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for an intermission-free program last night. When you’re best known for playing other people—in Idina Menzel’s case, a green witch with acceptance issues—I wondered how clearly a real person would emerge. Large orchestras can sometimes drain the spontaneity from even the savviest performers.

Menzel made her Broadway name in the original casts of “Rent” and “Wicked” and built her fan base further with a recurring role on “Glee.” While she may not be a household name, within show choir circles, she’s about as big as they come right now. And these fans—many in their teens—packed Hilbert Circle Theatre.

Idina MenzelOpening with a song from the less-familiar off-Broadway show “The Wild Party,” Menzel deftly mixed songs associated with her (“I’m Not That Girl,” “For Good,” and “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked;” “Poker Face,” which she performed on “Glee”) with others, sometimes tender (a sweet “Look to the Rainbow”), sometimes loopy (a take on Louie Prima’s “I Feel So Smoochey,” and sometimes her own (“Gorgeous”).

Good stories led to good songs, with Menzel prefacing “Love for Sale” with the tale of how a music teacher helped her see through the surface to the depth of sadness in Cole Porter’s lyric. A very funny anecdote where she shared a table with Barbra Streisand (and consumed tequila shots after being unsure if the legend insulted or complimented her) moved smoothly into “Funny Girl” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”

She generously invited the glee club that had presented a lobby pre-show to join her on stage for “Seasons of Love”—the spontaneity of the moment clear because only three of the group’s members actually had tickets to the show. After a Spinal Tap-like effort to get to the stage, Menzel didn’t try to upstage them, instead staying off-mic as just one part of a quartet. A lovely encore take on the “Annie” staple “Tomorrow”—sung for her mother, who pushed the song on her—capped things nicely.

There was less interplay with the orchestra than there was with the recent pops program with Ashley Brown (B’way’s “Mary Poppin”), but Menzel seemed to have a genuine, humble appreciation for the musician’s talents and their willingness to play back-up band for her. Throughout, she presented as a woman with a deep appreciation of how talent and good breaks combine to make a star. And that being able to sing songs you love in front of an audience that loves back is a gift.

Personality? Absolutely. Beyond her vocal talents, Menzel came across as the person you’d want to drink with at an otherwise dull party and the coolest new mom at the playgroup mashed together like a good “Glee” medley.

Your thoughts?

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  • Totally agree
    We loved the show last night and couldn't stop debating whether we wanted to be Idina Menzel or be friends with her!
  • Wonderful
    I went in not really knowing what to expect. I bought the tickets more for my wife since she is a Gleek and loved Wicked. I walked out with a smile on my face and know I enjoyed it just as much as, if not more than, she did. What an amazing talent. Hard to say how much of her personality was just for the stage, but she sure made it seem like she's someone you'd want to do a few tequila shots with.
  • A Lovely Evening
    Idina Menzel with the ISO made for a lovely evening. While at time I felt it was rehearsed spontaneity, the mix of story lines and music made for an enjoyable evening. The Glee club members stole a big moment of the show but Idina was gracious and genuine. Only thing missing was I hope to hear Take Me or Leave Me and apparently it was leave me.
  • Such a Talent
    I've been a fan of Idina Menzel since I first saw RENT. Granted, that was just the movie, but it still showcased her talent. I then discovered Wicked. The power of Ms. Menzel's vocals gets me every time. I truly wish I had been able to attend the program.
  • BIG FAN, WHAT A NIGHT
    I couldn't get to sleep for a few hours once I got home because I was so buzzed with excitement from seeing IDINA in my home town. What a talent, she was humble and humorous and of course, that voice sent me to the moon. Loved it and so glad the show was sold out. A++
  • Idina Unscripted
    From the moment she walked out on stage in that purple gown barefoot, she was so genuine and real. Hearing her sing, tell stories and really having a good time with the orchestra and the audience made the evening a whole lot of fun! The ISO was its usual fabulous and complimented her talent to a T. Idina-apolis loves you!
  • Amazing
    What a talent! She should rocket to superstardom!
  • Heaven
    Last night's concert was one hour and 45 minutes of musical theater heaven.
  • love her!!!
    she gave an amazing performance! what a true talent and loveable personality. She fulfilled all of my expectations, so happy I was able to see her :-)
  • Loved It
    I dragged an unsure husband along to this show - one of our few nights out with no kids - and I think it is a testament to how wonderful she was that even he had a great time.

    I agree that sometimes I felt the stories may have been rehearsed, but to me it didn't matter. She told them warmly and in a very fun way that made me believe she really did have a great time sharing the stories with us. It made me enjoy each and every song even more to know the story that went along with it.
    • A great night of entertainment
      My husband, who had no clue who Idina Menzel is, was totally engaged throughout the show. She's truly a performer, who made us laugh at her stories, sing along with her and even shed a tear during her gorgeous a cappella and off-mike rendition of "For Good" -- which still managed to fill the hall. A great night of entertainment indeed.
    • Wow...wish I could have been there!
      Hated missing this concert. Glad everyone who posted here enjoyed this!!!
    • Inspired by Idina
      Lou, I spotted you across the lobby as I was leaving, and I thought to myself that I wouldnâ??t want to be in your shoes trying to capture the nuances of what we experienced last night! Nice job. Amidst waves of awe, joy and poignancy, the audience seemed deeply grateful for not only Idinaâ??s amazing voice but also her playfulness, humor and â??groundedness.â?? Her performance with the few ticket-holding Smiley Glee Club members was sweet and generous. I agree with Shari that the a cappella, off-mike and â??pin dropâ?? performance of â??For Goodâ?? was breathtaking. I found the concert an extraordinarily inspiring experience on many levels.
    • AMAZING
      Idina Menzel's performance with the ISO last night was truly AMAZING! That performance solidified her as a true, Great American vocalist in my book...and I would pay to watch and hear her perform anyday! AMAZING!
    • Speechless
      Being of the younger generation and being able to attend last nights wonderful concert, I left the concert hall speechless...I have been a big fan of Idina Menzel for years!!! Seeing and hearing her live was 100xs better that hearing on a CD,.. her energy, passion, and talent made last night one of the best musical experiences of my life!
    • Stories
      yes, some of them are rehearsed, but she never tells them the same, and at this show, they were VERY different, she added a lot of things to almost all of them, and told some things she never tells. it was a special night.
    • Captivating
      What a night! The ISO was the best big band ever as they complimented this performing jewel. She gave us her heart in her hands and in the tone of her voice. Thank you, Idina, for teaching us how to "defy gravity" through your riveting performance. It felt so good. Days later I am still soaring.
    • My first "Idina experience"
      I couldn't go to the ISO concert but I enjoyed hearing and reading about it afterwards. I'm glad it was such a treat!

      The first time I ever heard of Idina - and "Wicked," really, for that matter - was in that documentary that you recommended here, Lou, several months (years?) ago. I am spacing on the name. It went backstage with four Broadway shows - "Wicked," the Boy George/Rosie O'Donnell show, and two others that also escape my mind right now.

      Anyway, maybe it was all an act, but I really enjoyed the personality that Idina presented during her backstage segments of that documentary. I would like to hear her sing in person some day.

      Hope Baugh
      Indy Theatre Habit

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