Idina Menzel to perform at Grand Sierra in Reno
Idina Menzel’s musical career has been graced by big Broadway belters from her starring roles in “Rent” and “Wicked,” an ubiquitous hit from a Disney film, and danceable pop-rock hybrids like the tunes featured on her newest album.
But hard rock? Well, as it turns out, Menzel shows those chops off as well during her latest tour, when she and her band tear into the Led Zeppelin classic “Black Dog” as part of a new ending for her song, “Cake.”
“Oh yeah, I’m a huge Zeppelin fan,” Menzel said from an August tour stop in Indianapolis. “Before my ‘Rent’ days, I was a total rocker. That’s why ‘Rent’ was such a great first job for me – it was a rock musical. I definitely have that side of myself.”
Menzel will show her rockin’ side, and other facets of her musical life, as part of a show on Aug. 25 at Grand Sierra Resort's Grand Theatre.
“I never wanted to alienate my audience and do just one aspect of the music I like,” she said of her live set. “We do songs from the (Broadway) shows I was in, music from my brand new album and a bunch of covers that I’ve always liked and wanted to do.
“I just try to make it fresh for myself but I don’t go crazy with changing things up too much. I know that’s how I feel when I go to someone else’s show: I want to hear the songs as I liked them.”
More than paying the rent
Born and raised in the New York City area, Menzel’s first big break was in the musical “Rent” in 1996. This was after graduating with a drama degree from New York University and work since she was a teenager singing at weddings and bar mitzvahs around New York City.
“I had to learn a lot of different music when I was a wedding singer,” Menzel said. “Jazz, Motown, the pop of the time like Whitney (Houston) or Madonna ... bossa novas (laughs), classic rock, really everything. I think that I just soaked up all of this different kind of music, and then the theater stuff was totally organic. My family would bring me into Manhattan to see the shows. It was all just flowing in me.”
Menzel’s first foray on the Broadway stage, “Rent” started as an off-Broadway rock musical before it shifted to a larger theater as it became a sensation. From there, Menzel divided her time between Broadway roles and her own pop-rock albums. On Broadway, she is also known for performances in “Wicked” as part of the original cast (from 2003 to 2005) and “If/Then” as part of both the original and first national touring cast (from 2014 to 2016). She won the Best Actress Tony award for “Wicked” in 2004.
She’s released five albums of her own works, starting with “Still I Can’t Be Still” in 1998. Her fourth album, “Holiday Wishes,” ended up being a top 10 hit in 2014, while her latest record, “Idina,” was released in 2016 and made the top 30 on the album charts. Her presence on the cast albums for “Rent” in 1996 and “If/When” in 2014 also helped those albums reach the top 20.
Not letting it go
Her most phenomenal success, though, is tied to her voice acting role as Elsa in the 2013 Disney movie, “Frozen.” An instant family classic, the animated film featured Menzel singing the song “Let it Go,” and it sold more than 3.5 million copies and hit the top 5 on the Billboard pop charts. “Let it Go” was also a winner for Best Original Song at the Oscars in 2014.
Menzel said there’s a fun moment in her current show when she performs “Let it Go,” as children are invited onstage to sing along.
“That’s one of the parts of the show that I look forward to,” she said. “It really is a spontaneous moment, and it’s a chance to really honor the ‘Frozen’ part of my life.”
“Some people probably think, ‘She must be sick of that song,’ because maybe they are, or everyone they know is sick of it. But, it’s what I really wanted my whole life: a real hit song. I’m so proud of it and excited to still sing it. And, it has a strong message for kids and for women in general, and I’m really proud that I get to tell that story. It just reminds me of how lucky I am.”
In fact, when you look at several of Menzel’s signature songs, as well as the covers she chooses to do and her own writing, there is a strong female-empowerment message throughout her career. While she acknowledges that, she also added that it’s not something she set out to do.
“Sometimes I’ve even resisted it, because I can feel angry about the way the world is when I’m writing it in a song,” she said. “But, the people I collaborate with have found beautiful ways to having that message come out the other side and have it be a positive reflection. So, I would say I’m a little bit of a reluctant ambassador.
“Really, the songs just keep finding me, and I do wonder if really I’m just finding those songs and not realizing it. It’s the chicken or the egg. When there’s been such a pattern of characters and work that speaks to young women and empowerment ... well, it must be something that attracts these songs to me but to be honest I haven’t figured out what exactly it is.”
Menzel went on to say that those kinds of messages also are great reinforcement for herself as she continues her own journey in the arts.
“It’s something I need to hear, too. I don’t feel like I’m preaching or saying, ‘Oh, I’m glad I can speak out like this.’ I can be really insecure and neurotic, too, and it’s through these positives, of being thought of as a role model or to be put in that kind of platform, has been a really grateful thing for me," she said. "To work with these characters has really taught me about myself and through this platform I get to talk about this experience with other women.”