Tony winner Idina Menzel will release her latest album idina: live October 12. (Click here to pre-order.) A mix of of songs she originated like “Let It Go” from Frozen and “I’m Not That Girl” from Wicked as well as her renditions of tunes she loves like “Don’t Rain On My Parade” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Menzel gave Playbill a sneak peek of her version of Rent’s “Seasons of Love.”
That piqued our curiosity about Menzel’s long history with the Jonathan Larson musical, the roles she’s played over her career, and her life as a recording artist. Here, she answers questions about it all.
With four Broadway musicals, six solo albums, movies, etc. you have a lot of material to choose from. How did you go about narrowing down the tunes for the live album?
Idina Menzel: It’s a fun challenge when trying to adapt some of these massive theatre and film songs for the concert stage. Other than “Let It Go,” most songs you associate with me aren’t your typical radio songs, but they are my “hits.” I can stick a mic out and the audience sings every word, which is the greatest feeling.
Depending on the band I have out with me, I will sometimes change the arrangements to focus around the most memorable hooks of the songs—the parts the crowd can sing together. In an arena, there’s nothing like it. We remember where we were when that song first came into our lives, and where we’ve come since then. I like to tell a story through my setlist. I like to go down memory lane, but also shake things up a bit to keep things fresh. There is a balance to that: I want to stay creatively inspired and challenged, and also stay true to the song and give the audience what they expect. I mean, sometimes you just want to hear the original, right? Trying to understand my audience that way is important to me.
“Seasons of Love.” What do you remember of hearing and rehearsing that song for the first time? What was the feeling in the room?
This was the very first thing we learned together as a cast. All of us sitting around behind our music stands figuring out our parts. I remember being so moved. There was something electric in that room. It was the perfect song to bring us all together, to form a family.
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Rent was, of course, your breakout—as it was for the rest of the cast. Can you share a memory that vividly sticks with you—from a rehearsal, a performance, an after-hours hang with your castmates?
There are so many memories: the day the producers came into the New York Theatre Workshop and announced we were moving to Broadway. Standing at the piano beside Jonathan Larson singing “Take Me or Leave Me.” Anthony Rapp rapturously running around the room doing “La Vie Boheme.” That horrible day we lost Jonathan.
Since playing Maureen, you’ve gone on to play so many different types of women. When you step back and take stock, what do you think of the women you’ve gotten to play? What has each brought out in you—not necessarily as an actor, but as a person?
Maureen showed me I could be funny. She reaffirmed the belief I had in myself that I had what it took to make it in this business. Elphaba put me in touch with my power as a woman, and taught me how to be unafraid of that power. I learned that what made me different is what made me special, and to not apologize for that. Elsa was similar to Elphie: a reminder years later that you can’t be afraid of your power. To hide your strengths is doing a disservice to the world. In other words, own it! Elizabeth [in If/Then] was about new beginnings. I was going through my divorce while I was in that show. Singing “Always Starting Over” on stage each night—how was I going to start my life again?
We’ve seen you morph in and out of roles, evolve, become a mom, but the music is always there. Is there a song that sums up who you are?
I can’t choose one. We evolve and change and grow, and sometimes one song will resonate with me. And sometimes it’s another.