Seeing an artist live is generally an exhilarating experience. In the grand pantheon of the musical-theater world, there are The Divas: Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, Chita Rivera, and the late Elaine Stritch and Ethel Merman, just to name a few. Headliners. If the show doesn’t draw the crowd, the leading lady will.
In the late 1990s, a young woman named Idina Menzel, then in her mid-20s, made an auspicious Broadway debut in a show that changed the face of modern musical theater: Jonathan Larson’s rock opera, Rent. She would go on to rise into the ranks of the great musical-theater actresses of our generation, originating the role of Elphaba the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West in the blockbuster Wicked, for which she also won a Tony Award®. Most recently, she created the role of the newly divorced urban planner Elizabeth in Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt’s If/Then.
Those of us who follow the business have been familiar with Ms. Menzel for some time. America and, perhaps, the world finally caught up in 2013, with a little film called Frozen, and a big number called “Let It Go.” It catapulted her into a household name and that earworm of a song proved to be the anthem of the year.
Concerts such as the Idina Menzel World Tour, presented on July 22nd by Live Nation Entertainment®, prove a wonderful opportunity to get to know performers — to see a different, more personal side of them. Her show on Wednesday at Red Hat Amphitheater, in downtown Raleigh, shined a light on Ms. Menzel’s vocal prowess, but also on her significant eccentricities.
After watching a rather self-indulgent video opening, in which the audience was informed of Ms. Menzel’s long-time desire to perform and her love of singing, we were treated to a rather lackluster and meandering rendition of “Defying Gravity.” Moseying about the stage, she hit all the notes; but her articulation proved troublesome as she vocally slid her way through the number, a trend that continued throughout the night.
The interesting thing about the concert was that Ms. Menzel seemed to lack the commanding grip that I expected her to have over the crowd; she lackadaisically wandered about the stage, engaging in sometimes awkward audience interaction, and at one time commented she was feeling “a little loopy.” It showed. It took until about the concert’s halfway mark, when she gave an electrifying, dizzying performance of “Still I Can’t Be Still” from her first album of the same name, for her to come alive and settle into the show.
Backed by a house band that was fleshed out by local strings and horns musicians, Ms. Menzel sang some other highlight numbers. First came “Always Starting Over” from her most recent Broadway venture, If/Then. She followed it with a tribute to Ethel Merman, in which she wailed a mash-up of “No Business Like Show Business,” “Anything Goes,” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”. Next came a reinvention of the Rent mantra, “No Day But Today” and an a cappella version of “Changed for Good” from Wicked.
And if you’re wondering, yes, she did perform “Let It Go.” Yes, there was a sing-along portion. And, yes, she did call a gaggle of young girls up to sing the song with her.
But what she didn’t do, admirably, was pander to that age bracket throughout the night. Not 10 minutes into the show, she called out a man and his wife, joking that he was the only straight man in the audience, and that he probably had “no idea who the f**k I am?” I appreciate her willingness to remain her authentic, albeit peculiar, self. And I suppose, at the end of it all, isn’t that all we can really ask of a performer? Give us your true you. It’s what we came to see.
SECOND OPINION: July 17th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Ed Condran: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/music-news-reviews/article27307735.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the July 7th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/07/broadway-star-idina-menzel-will-twinkle-on-july-22nd-in-raleighs-red-hat-amphitheater/.)
IDINA MENZEL WORLD TOUR (Live Nation Entertainment, July 22 at Red Hat Amphitheater in Raleigh).
SHOW: http://www.redhatamphitheater.com/event/idina-menzel-5844, https://www.facebook.com/events/1601651683389542/, and http://www.livenation.com/events/416894-jul-22-2015-idina-menzel-world-tour.
THE TOUR: http://idinamenzel.com/worldtour/, http://www.livenation.com/artists/137797/idina-menzel-world-tour, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idina_Menzel:_World_Tour.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://idinamenzel.com/media/ and https://www.youtube.com/user/Idinamenzel.
PRESENTER: http://www.livenationentertainment.com/, https://www.facebook.com/LiveNation, https://twitter.com/livenation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_Nation_Entertainment, and https://www.youtube.com/user/livenation.
VENUE: http://www.redhatamphitheater.com/, https://www.facebook.com/RedHatAmphitheater, https://twitter.com/RedHatAmp, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Hat_Amphitheater.
Idina Menzel (actress and singer): http://idinamenzel.com/ (official website), http://www.livenation.com/artists/43423/idina-menzel (Live Nation page), http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=52769 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0579953/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/IdinaMenzel (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/idinamenzel and https://twitter.com/idinaontour (Twitter pages), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idina_Menzel (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/user/Idinamenzel (YouTube channel).
[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jesse R. Gephart is a Raleigh, NC-based actor, director, and reviewer. A Gainesville, FL native, he earned a degree in Theatre Performance in 2005 from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. On Feb. 20-22 and Feb. 27-March 1, 2015, he directed and starred in Mortall Coile Theatre Company’s presentation of British playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell’s first play, The Pride (2008), which won the 2009 Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre. Then, on May 1-3, 7-10, 14-17, and 21-14, he directed Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch in RLT‘s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre. To read more of Jesse Gephart’s reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/jesse-r-gephart/.)