The high-flying career of 41-year-old Idina Menzel includes her Tony Award-winning performance in Broadway's Wicked, her Tony-nominated performance in Rent,and even a regular slot on the popular TV show, "Glee." She brought her one-woman show – and a six piece rhythm section – to Milwaukee recently, and she brought down the house.
Not bad for a singer/actor who was struggling with her vocal chords throughout the 90-minute performance. She blamed her problems on her son's erratic sleep schedule the previous night. Apparently, uninterrupted sleep is the ticket for a well-rehearsed voice. It seemed as though Menzel's vocal distress did not matter one whit to her devoted fans, many of whom consisted of gay men and teenage girls. They were primed for a performance that would mirror the one on her new CD, "Idina Menzel Live – Barefoot at the Symphony," which was recorded in Toronto.
In Milwaukee, Menzel appeared barefoot. She explained her reasons to the audience: One night, troubled by back pain, she kicked off her high heels during a performance. Remarkably, the improvisational move seemed to improve her vocal performance. To prove her point, she skipped lightly across the stage.
Her Milwaukee appearance came in the middle of a concert tour that includes stops in Detroit, Nashville, St. Louis, Dallas, Las Vegas and Columbus, OH. In Milwaukee, Menzel wore a flowing, white summer dress with a ruched bodice. The dress would have been more flattering if Menzel had shed about 30 pounds. She looked far heavier than in any of the photos that accompanied the concert's press kit. (Perhaps it’s still the baby fat she gained while pregnant with her son, who is almost three. Or has she adopted a typical Wisconsin summer diet?) However, her million-watt smile was in full view for almost the entire performance. She seemed as excited to see her fans as they were to see her.
After wowing the crowd with some of her knockout hits – which included "No Day But Today" from Rent and a ballad from Wicked – as well as some material by contemporary songwriters, she bravely wandered into the audience for Rent's "Take Me or Leave Me." Audience volunteers waved their hands for a chance to do a duet with Menzel. The final volunteer was taken by the hand and brought onstage for a solo. He mentioned earlier that he was a student at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, which Menzel also attended. Encouraged by Menzel, the guy gave a superb performance which was well received by the cheering crowd.
Other highlights included a smooth transition from Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" to Sting's "Roxanne" and an all-stops-out "Don't Rain on My Parade," which she first performed at the Kennedy Center Honors program in Washington DC.
Barbra Streisand was among those being honored that evening. Menzel admitted her nervousness at singing in front of the great Streisand, one of Menzel's inspirations. Later, Streisand complimented her with a brief comment, "you did good."
After thanking the crowd and the orchestra, which included about 20 musicians in addition to her own rhythm section, she returned for her signature tune, Wicked's "Defying Gravity." Naturally, she received a thunderous standing ovation.