A Conversation with Idina Menzel
Idina Menzel. Photo Credit: Robin Wong.
The Broadway songstress makes an appearance at Richmond CenterStage next Friday, June 29. GAYRVA.COM caught up with this Wicked starlet to get the dish on her new album Barefoot At The Symphony and more.
GAYRVA: Between Wicked, Rent, Glee, and all the support you’ve given to the community over the years, you’re sort of seen as a gay icon. How do you feel about that?
Idina Menzel: It’s something I relish. I feel incredibly honored, privileged to have that kind of label. I have so many gay friends and I respect the gay community so much because of how much they’ve struggled, and all the calm they’ve still maintained is incredible; the joy they approach life in general, that’s very inspiring to me.
Do you think the gay community has helped you in your career?
Totally. I think I would be nothing without the gay community. I think the gays actually taught me a lot ever since I was in Rent. I’ve carried so much through my relationships with my audiences and through boys and girls writing letters, connecting with the characters from Rent. I learned what empathy is and I understand a little bit more. I mean I’ll never walk through someone’s footsteps but at least I understand a little bit more what people are struggling with and if I can help that through the music, then it’s my honor.
Speaking of your beautiful music, Barefoot At The Symphony. What inspired this tour and this album?
Barefoot At The Symphony is actually a culmination of a year and a half of touring before that. It was me being asked several times to sing with symphonies all over the country, and I shied away from it from a while because I was afraid that I would lose the intimacy that I have with the audience; that the orchestra would sort of overwhelm me and I would lose who I was. Eventually I was convinced into doing one or two and I just had the time of my life. I thought the musicianship was amazing. It was thrilling to stand in front of an orchestra and the theatricality of it all felt so reminiscent to being on a broadway stage. I didn’t lose the personal connection that I have with the audience, I found a way to balance it all. The album is just a live album of one of the last shows of that material. This tour has some of what the symphony had, but also a lot of the new material.
I noticed you covered a lot of your classic songs like “Defying Gravity,” “For Good,” and you did a cover of “Tomorrow” from “Annie,” among others. Is there a difference between you doing your original material and covering something you are known for, and that someone else has written?
Not as much as you’d think. For me the common denominator is being honest, which means making yourself vulnerable, and making yourself transparent. Whether you’re in a character dressed in green make-up, or dressed as yourself singing your own music, the thing that people respond to is your soul, and if you’re being honest and authentic with that, that’s how you have that real connection, and that doesn’t have anything to do with whether my name is Idina or Elphaba.
Speaking of Elphaba, I used to listen to the Wicked Original Cast Album every day of high school, and I’m sure you’ve heard this millions of times, but I really do have to thank you so much because “Defying Gravity” really did give me a lot of strength when I went through the normal growing pains and with coming out. I’m sure that’s been a common theme with that song. I’m always curious with artists who are known for such iconic songs like you are, do you ever get tired of singing that song; is it ever a chore knowing that people are probably going to want to hear this from you for the rest of your career?
No, I don’t get tired of it, and I know people are going to be like “oh, she’s full of shit.” Especially on the road, it’s such a gift. I know that it’s a gift to have a song like that in the light. Not only so much the success of the song, but it offers so much every night. I either deliver that song and reminisce about being up in the air and being on Broadway; the past and those experiences if my mind is in that direction, or it can go in the direction of a twelve year old little girl or boy sitting in front of me who I know is listening to this music and being inspired by this music, or I can approach it just like any musician or singer and find new melodies in such a well written song.
I find something new every time I do it, whether you can recognize the new things or not. Being a creature of the theatre that’s what I like to do and it makes every night of the week feel new.
I would be remiss if I didn’t ask about your very sexy husband Taye Diggs. How’s your son Walker, how’s he doing with Private Practice, and is it difficult leaving them when you’re on the road?
Well I have my son with me, we’re on a tour bus, and Taye was with us for the first quarter and he takes little vacations from Private Practice when he has some free time. We don’t stay apart for very long; it’s our number one rule, stay in the same city as much as possible, especially now that we have a child.
As long as we’re communicating and we tell each other where we’re going, but usually we’re together. Family comes first, and career second, that’s the way it has to be in order for us to be successful. I have my boys always supporting me and I do feel very lucky.
I’m sure they feel very lucky to have you too. I’m a huge, huge, humongous Lady Gaga fan. Your Glee cover of “Poker Face” has become part of the pop cultural landscape. I know you talk on the album about how you got the part, and when you heard you were going to cover it, and you inferred that maybe it was a little awkward to be singing with your supposed daughter (Lea Michelle) about “muffins.” When you sing it now what do you think of?
The same thing (laughs). I just have fun with it. I’m a huge fan of Lady Gaga’s too, and it’s become more of a comic number for me. I don’t have Lea on the road with me to sing it so I turn it into it’s own little monologue. I just enjoy singing it, especially with a full on orchestra.
You’ve done movies, TV, music, and you’re a wonderful mother. Professionally and personally, what is your ultimate goal? What do you picture for yourself as your ultimate success?
That’s a hard question.
All degrees of it for sure, but right now I feel pretty damn successful, because I have a beautiful son, and I’m finding a way to juggle career and personal life. I’m going all over the country and the world, and playing places that I never thought I would be able to fill the seats. The autonomy of doing that in this music business is extremely empowering. No matter what happens, I can go out and sing for a living. Whether it’s on Broadway, or where I am tonight in Milwaukee, or eventually Madison Square Garden, it all feels incredibly rewarding that I’ve gotten people to by a ticket and come stay with me, in addition to having a beautiful son, and a successful marriage.
One last question, and this is a little self-indulgent. The duo with you and Kristen Chenoweth from Wicked is one of the most iconic that has ever been chronicled on stage. I was wondering you guys ever keep in contact, or if you’re not on the road whether she comes over for a glass of wine, or was that just a professional relationship?
It depends on many things, it depends on how busy we are. We have have a super respect and love for each other, we see each other here and there but we’re so different and so busy at the same time. I would love to spend more time with her doing our thing. We did so much together. I love and respect her so much, I wish I saw her more. It’s really hard. It’s hard to see my best friends from childhood!
Idina Menzel appears live in concert on Friday, June 29 at Richmond CenterStage, 600 E. Grace St. For tickets and more information, visit BroadwayInRichmond.com.
Justin Lowenhagen is a local news anchor, reporter, and actor. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in Dec. 2011 with a B.S. in Broadcast Journalism.
“Songwriting and recording are such an outlet for me to get honest with myself through music.”August 5, 2016
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