Idina Menzel: '˜There were a lot of highs and lows, so it felt very personal'
Few people get as lucky with their first professional theatre job as Idina Menzel.
She had won the part of Maureen Johnson in Rent in 1995, which followed the lives and loves of a group of struggling artists in New York’s East Village. It became an era-defining piece of work that was a huge Broadway smash and gave Idina the perfect springboard for other projects.
And if you have any young children you will more than likely know her voice – Idina was the voice of Elsa in Disney’s box office behemoth, Frozen (pictured far right) and sang its world-conquering theme song, Let It Go. The song went on to win an Oscar.
Alongside her theatrical, film and TV work, Idina has also pursued a singing career as a solo artist. And last year she released her fifth studio album, her most personal collection to date, the self-titled idina..
Speaking to The Guide from her home in LA she says: ‘It is a statement of intent. It’s just my first name and then a period after it – the album was recorded during a very interesting, passionate time in my life, a lot of highs and lows so it felt very personal and intimate.
‘I felt like it was giving people permission to know me on a first name basis. It’s a lower case “i” so that’s more of the humility, I like to say, and the period at the end is a kick in the ass to get my name right!’ she laughs.
The latter point is perhaps a reference to the now infamous incident at the 2014 Oscar awards ceremony where John Travolta introduced her as ‘Adele Dazeem’. Idina took it in good humour, though. The following year she was reunited with Travolta to present the best song Oscar, calling him ‘Glom Gazingo’.
Her debut album, Still I Can’t Be Still was released in 1998 to limited success, but it was when she starred in the original Broadway production of Wicked that interest in her music took off.
‘I’ve been doing the music all along, for me it’s just who I am. I love original music, whether I’ve written it or not, and I’m especially enjoying doing it with the band I’ve got.’
And where she used to be a little precious about her own material as opposed to the songs she’s associated with from the shows she’s been in, she’s reconciled herself to the fact that people want to hear those songs in her live shows too.
‘I think it works well with the other music that people would expect to hear from me from my past, from other shows. I’ve found a really comfortable place embracing all of the many projects I’ve been a part of, and representing the music from those projects, whether it’s from shows or films, or original albums.
‘I used to struggle a little bit more with that, but now with my experience and my age, I realise that it’s all part of the journey I’ve taken and it’s representative of my life and the experiences that I’ve had.’
It was the role of Elphaba in Wicked that first brought her over to the UK when it transferred from Broadway to the West End. She lived here for six months, and fell in love with the UK. ‘I always find a reason to come back because I love being over there, I have a lot of great friends I’ve made over the years, and I love the audiences – there’s an intelligence and sophistication and a real camaraderie.’
When asked if she has any dream roles she’d like to play on stage, Idina replies: ‘Not really, I’ve seen a few in the past that I’ve thought about and then I’ve passed on, and I think that’s for good reason.
‘I think it’s the roles that haven’t been written yet. It’s the ones that my composer friends and writer friends are working at as we speak. When they invite me into their studio and say: “Hey, I’m thinking about this...”
‘Those are the moments I really look forward to.
‘I would never say I wouldn’t do a revival – I’ve just done a remake of the Beaches movie, but I would normally decide not to do something like that.’
The Beaches remake, released on Lifetime in America earlier this year, saw her taking the part of CC – played by Bette Midler in the original.
‘I said no a bunch of times. I grew up loving the movie, and it’s been an inspiration to me. But I realised there’s a whole generation of young people who’ve never seen Beaches, when I thought about it like that, then I thought: “We can try that”.
‘I love projects that are female-centric, there are very few that are about women and aren’t necessarily about romance, which is what I love about Frozen as well, and even Wicked.’
Of course Frozen won Idina a legion of young new fans, and she’s happy to keep singing that song.
‘I have a romance with the song. People may be sick of it in their own homes, but for me it’s a dream come true, really. I’ve always wanted a commercially successful song like that – to have a song like that where I can go to any city in the world, hold a microphone out and the people will sing every word, it’s just a beautiful thing.
‘I enjoy singing it all the time, I enjoy it because it reminds me how lucky I am to be part of something so iconic. I know that might sound like I’m full of it, but it’s true.’
‘When projects connect with young audiences, like Rent, like Frozen, it has this sort of exponential effect. They grow up and they pass it on to their own kids, and it has this constant ripple effect.
‘It keeps me staying relevant!’
Idina Menzel is at Portsmouth Guildhall on Friday, June 16. Doors 7pm. Tickets £39.25 to £94.25. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk