Arts Interview: Idina Menzel
Lavender Magazine caught up with Idina Menzel to talk about her career, family, and helping young girls find their voices. Menzel is best known for her roles as Maureen Johnson in the original Broadway cast and movie of Rent, as the original Elphaba in Wicked, and (much to the delight of Gleeks everywhere) as Shelby Corcoran on the hit tv show Glee. Menzel’s latest albums, Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony, was released this March, and she will be at the Orpheum in Minneapolis on July 7th for a live performance of some of her most memorable songs. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.hennepintheatretrust.org.
Lavender Magazine: Our readers loved you in Rent, Wicked, and Glee. We just love your voice and your personality. We all know about your music, but what I find most inspiring is how you and your husband, Taye, used your talents to found A BroaderWay Foundation. Could you talk a bit about that?
Idina Menzel: A BroaderWay was just a dream of mine from many years ago because I was fortunate enough to go away to summer camp, and it was something that changed my life. It was a place that I felt I really found myself…I loved it more than the school years, so I always dreamt of having a camp. As my career has taken on a certain path, it became clear that it should be specifically for young girls and trying to help them find their voices. So, we bring up about 30 girls from Harlem up to the country in Massachusetts. They sing and dance and play sports and swim. We put on an original concert that’s based on their ideas and bring up Broadway friends who write and choreograph with them, and we have a show at the end.
LM: On your cd, “Barefoot at the Symphony,” you sing a variety of songs and tell stories in between. Before Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” you talk about how it felt to be considered for a motherly role as Shelby Corcoran, the biological mother of Rachel (played by Lea Michele) on Glee. How are you feeling about that now?
IM: It wasn’t getting a “motherly” role that was the problem. I’m a mother of a three-year-old. It was being the mother of a 25 year-old that was the problem. I love playing a mother. I’m a very maternal person, even before I had a baby. It was just the fact that I was being cast—that I must look old enough—to play Lea’s mom.
LM: How has having a family changed your work life?
IM: It’s dramatically changed my work life. It’s given me a new perspective. My expectations of myself are lower because I can only be in so many places at one time. So, when I get on stage, I feel liberated and easier on myself, and therefore, I’m actually better. I take the red eye from a certain city so I can put my son to sleep at night and then get to the airport. So, if I want to spend an extra night with him, I can’t ask that much of myself the night of the show. The gist is that it ends up being a positive thing for me and being much better.
LM: If you had to choose, what would be one highlight of your impressive career?
IM: I’m sure it would be Wicked and playing Elphaba, and being the recipient of so much love and support from the young audiences.
LM: Could you reflect a bit on your experience in Rent?
IM: I sing “No Day But Today” pretty religiously at my concerts as a reminder of that beautiful experience. Because we lost our composer and creator, Jonathan Larson, it was a much different experience obviously than your normal one. We were extremely, passionately committed to everything in the show and making sure that we communicated his show—his story—honestly and powerfully. And therefore, our priorities were much different, being young 20-year-olds, maybe having success, and the show taking off and getting opportunities. It really grounded us where our priorities were.
LM: What should audience members expect from your concert on July 7th?
IM: Expect a lot of spontaneity. They should trust that they will leave the theater feeling like they were let into a window of my soul, really, and that I’m willing to be open and let people know what I’m about. Aside from lots of big singing, more importantly, it’s about connecting to the audience and letting them feel that the show they’re seeing is special and individual.
LM: Finally, is there anything you want to say to your GLBT fans in Minnesota?
IM: It’s Pride month, first of all, so congratulations and I hope everyone’s celebrating. I think it’s an exciting time right now, and there’s lots to celebrate. I recognize that there are still challenges and struggles ahead. I respect everyone, and I’m so honored that I’m embraced in your community. I’ll keep fighting for equality like you are. I think it’s a nice time to express and appreciate some of the advances that are being made.