United Kingdom Idina Menzel UK Tour 2012: Idina Menzel and orchestra (musical director: Rob Mounsey), Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London 9.10.2012 (JPr)
The last time the Tony Award winning ‘Broadway powerhouse’ appeared in London it was at the Royal Albert Hall but her return in 2012 finds her performing a week’s residency at the rather more intimate Apollo Theatre in the heart of London’s West End. On TV she is best known for the role of Shelby Corcoran in the all-singing-and-dancing – and generally teen-angst fuelled – hit TV series Glee, but is familiar to London theatregoers because of her performances in Wicked as the much-maligned witch Elphaba and resulting in the song, Defying Gravity (here performed at the end of her concert) becoming her signature song.
Indeed Idina Menzel came skipping onto the stage after singing unseen the opening lines from Somewhere Over The Rainbow (from the original 1939 The Wizard of Oz) to segue into The Wizard and I from ‘its untold story’, the 2003 Wicked. She told the audience ‘It is a dream for me to be here on my own and not in green make-up’ and how – in a theatre with a long history of staging plays – that this was the ‘first musical act in here for years and years.’ Although she seemed to have had too many Red Bulls backstage because it took a while for some rambling anecdotes to find their punch lines, she was never less than a totally honest and very engaging presence on stage. However her whole ‘act’ – she did about 100 minutes without an interval – had the feel of a dinner cabaret evening. Can I add here that I have seen most of the leading singers of my generation from Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra to Diana Ross and Barbra Streisand live and while her voice is the equal of those, the performance overall did not feel a similar type of ‘superstar’ event? As she admits she is a wedding singer from humble origins with ‘a truck driver’s mouth’ and there was evidence of the latter during another slightly incoherent tale of why she now sings barefoot on stage – incidentally this made her lengthy elegant evening gown something she seemed constantly trying to avoid tripping over.
Mentioning Streisand, I remember reading recently what Menzel had to say about singing what was her next barnstorming song – Don’t Rain On My Parade – in front of her in 2008: ‘I was very nervous because I am her biggest fan and I wanted her to dote on me, but after the show I was lucky enough to be seated at her table and she ignored me. She later attributed the lack of recognition to the fact that she hadn’t been wearing her glasses so she couldn’t see anything. I really wasn’t sure that she liked me because she acted like I was going to bite, but then I got this nice thank-you card so maybe she did like me.’
Barbra Streisand is definitely a Diva and Idina Menzel clearly isn’t … and perhaps that is a good thing. Some of her best moments – apart from the great singing – was her interaction with the audience. Feigning surprise with a cry of ‘There’s a straight man in the front row’, she latched on to him and he became her stooge for the rest of the show. Later stepping down in the front of the stage she duetted with three very talented volunteers from the audience in the famous duet Take Me Or Leave Me from Rent that went down well with the very many Glee fans in the audience.
In a recent interview she said ‘I probably talk too much’ and to be truthful, yes she did. However there was much fun to be had with Menzel’s many risqué asides to her musicians and especially her riffing on modern pop songs such as Katy Perry’s Firework and imagining them as a song she might have sung at a wedding. To be hypercritical she might have allowed the lyrics from her selection from the American Songbook both ancient and modern to just tell more of their own tale. Among the more recent ‘standards’ she sang were Joni Mitchell’s reflective Both Sides, Now, The Police’s Roxanne (involved in a dramatic mashup with Cole Porter’s Love For Sale), U2’s plaintive I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and her final encore, the spiritual Somewhere (from West Side Story), all spanned the final decades of the twentieth century. Her first encore Learn To Live Without by Next To Normal brought us right up-to-date. She was supported throughout by an accomplished orchestra of 5 musicians from the USA and 21 from the UK, directed from his piano by Rob Mounsey.
Undoubtedly Idina Menzel does love to talk; in the end she proved wonderful company to be with and deserved the standing ovation she got. Despite protesting that she is probably thinking things other than the words she is singing it is clear that almost everything she performed had its individual significance for her. She acts every song, feels every expressed emotion and this is etched on her face though it never compromised her powerful voice. This is how she strongly connected with her audience and won over the most jaded of reviewers. This was never better experienced than in her heartfelt tribute to the great modern-day composer, Marvin Hamlisch; he was with her on her last visit to Britain but died recently and Idina Menzel said he ‘made me feel special’ and was ‘a father figure to me’. His At The Ballet from The Chorus Line was all the more poignant as it was revealed to be Hamlisch’s favourite composition and was sung by Menzel at his funeral. The bittersweet What I Did For Love – that was famously once performed by the two of them at the White House – concluded with the end of the stool she was on spotlit, because that is where he would have sat playing the piano.
This probably was the most memorable moment in a fun evening and whether Wicked or Glee fans or simply lovers of a good tune well sung, this will be for you and do catch Idina Menzel on tour if you can.
Idina Menzel is at the Apollo Theatre, London until 14 October, at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on 16 October and the Palace Theatre, Manchester on 17 October. For full contact details visit www.idinauk.com. For details of future tours visit www.idinamenzel.com.
In March she released ‘Live: Barefoot at the Symphony’ and this is available on CD and DVD.