The Phoenix Symphony closed its season on Saturday with a concert featuring Idina Menzel. She was outstanding. In a comment to my recent post about the upcoming concert, another blogger(DOMANiDAVE) described her as “a force of nature”. That sums it up.
Continuing her tour’s theme of “Barefoot at the Symphony” she came out beautifully dressed in white and lifted her hem enough to show the audience that she was, in fact, barefoot. A gimmick perhaps, but it served to set the tone for the evening. She was casual, interactive with the audience, and self-deprecatingly funny. She joked that she asked them to put the square, black, pack for her wireless microphone on the outside of her dress rather than hiding it inside because she thought the contrast would be “slimming”. Regardless of its location, she had no problem standing in front of a 90 piece orchestra and making herself heard in every one of the 2300+ seats in the venue.
There was no introduction. The Orchestra started playing and she began singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” off-stage. She entered a few bars into the song. The audience, including the large gay contingent, approved. After some preliminary banter she sang “The Wizard and I” followed quickly by “Don’t Rain On My Parade“. Those of us with the show-tune gene were fully onboard by that point.
There were a number of wonderful moments. She spoke about the death of composer Jonathon Larsen before the opening of RENT; her Broadway début; which led into “No Day But Today“, ending with the audience singing along. Later in the show she sang the first two verses of the Maureen/Joanne duet “Take Me or Leave Me” from the stage before climbing down into the audience and finding volunteers to sing Joanne’s part. She ended the song in the aisle with 3 volunteer ‘Joannes’; a 30-something woman with a terrific voice, a 14 year-old girl who had come with her parents, and a bear-ish man from the front row.
She seemed quite moved while taking about the loss of Marvin Hamlisch with whom she’d begun this tour. She sang “At the Ballet“; a song she said Hamlisch told her was his favorite of his compositions. She followed it with “What I Did For Love”
She joked with the audience about her strong gay following. When a man sitting front row center said he loved her she replied; “Thank you. I love you too. You’re gay, aren’t you?” He paused briefly before admitting he loved her husband too. She asked another man in the front row, of the woman to his left; “I this your lovely wife?” When he replied ‘yes’ she congratulated him. “Straight men hardly ever buy tickets far enough in advance to get in the front row.”
There were a couple of pleasant surprises in the set. She sang a terrific rendition of Joanie Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now“; a song that was a hit for Judy Collins the decade before Menzel was born. She also sang the title track from her 2008 album “I Stand“; a wonderful song and definitely not a show tune.
In the concert’s only awkward moment, early in the set, she went up on the lyrics to The Police’s “Roxanne” which she was singing as a mashup with “Love For Sale“. Her accompanist got her quickly back on track. Later, when one of the volunteer ‘Joannes’ stumbled over the lyrics she said; “Don’t worry about it. I forgot the words to Roxanne.”
She closed the set with two more songs from Wicked; an a capella version of “For Good” followed by “Defying Gravity”
The encore included another surprise. She sang a song from the new musical IF/THEN which opens in November at The National Theater in Washington D.C. before moving to Broadway in 2014. The show is written by Kitt & Yorkey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning team who created “Next To Normal” and will re-unite Menzel with director Michael Greif with whom she worked on RENT. She closed the evening with what she described as “my favorite song”; “Somewhere” from West Side Story.
I went to the concert because I’ve enjoyed the shows for which she’s become famous and I knew I would enjoy hearing her sing familiar songs, live, with the orchestra. I never thought of her outside the context of an “Original Cast Album”. I left the concert a fan.