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Friday, July 07, 2017

Songstress Idina Menzel Set to Charm Charm City

Written by  Frankie Kujawa
Menzel Menzel

Idina Menzel’s voice will defy both gravity and sound this month at the Model Performing Arts Center at The Lyric. To the delight of Baltimore audiences, the actress, singer, and songwriter will perform a tapestry of her most recognizable hits – as well as a few surprises – on Tuesday, July 18th at 8 p.m. The songstress recently sat down with Baltimore OUTloud to discuss her upcoming performance, her future projects, and her relationship with the LGBT community.

“I think what I always try to accomplish, no matter how big the venue, is to give as intimate and authentic a performance as I can and really try and stay in the moment,” Menzel says. “I want it to be fun and spontaneous. The set list is pretty eclectic. There are songs audiences would assume I’d perform and some surprises and covers from all different genres. There are songs from my latest album and songs I’ve always wanted to sing.”

Menzel works hard to break the continuity. “There’s a sense of playfulness in my show. I don’t like going to shows that are always the same. So I reflect and ask myself ‘How would I feel if I saw the same show the artist did the night before – word by word and note by note? I tried to always do something different.”

What runs through Menzel’s mind right before she takes the stage? “It really varies depending on the day. The most common things are ‘How does my voice feel?’ or ‘Am I going to get through the show and feel really strong and have a good time or am I going to feel tired because I was up with my son the night before?’ I always want to enjoy the show, but sometimes I wrestle with that and I have that inner dialogue all the time.”

Menzel added that each performance takes on a life of its own. “I always have to make sure what city I am in,” Menzel laughed, with a nod to her whirlwind tour schedule. “If I have a particular connection to that specific city – like if I have family there or if I had a show there once that has a story with it – I want to tell the audience something to connect with them.”

As the conversation turned towards her most iconic roles such as Elphaba in Wicked, Maureen in Rent, and the Disney Princess Elsa in Frozen, Menzel described how it felt to be considered a role model to young women. “It’s intimidating and thrilling. And, on certain days, it’s sometimes scary.” Menzel doesn’t take the weight of being a role model lightly. “The responsibility I take very seriously. You know, it’s hard sometimes because so many of these roles have resonated with these young audiences and, even though I am a mature woman, I still wrestle some of the same issues that these characters wrestle.”

Menzel continued, “It’s about being unique and what makes you feel beautiful and celebrating that. The role model thing feels inauthentic to me because I feel like I’m there with my audience and I’m learning just as the audience is learning. The characters I portray serve as reminders for me that you have to get your act together and the idea that you can’t stand up in front of these young girls and preach self-esteem if you can’t get out of bed yourself. I want to be the kind of mother and woman I want my son to grow up seeing so he can attract those women in his life.”

Along with being a female role model, Menzel has always had a loyal and long-term relationship with the LGBT community. That relationship is very significant to her. “To be honest with you, it means everything. My career started with Rent in the original cast on Broadway. Having played a gay character and then watching the fans – so many young fans – struggle with their acceptance and coming out impacted me. Fans finally felt they had a place and were given permission to be themselves. Having that [musical] be the very start of my professional career, no pun intended, set the stage to how I wanted to live my life. I feel like so many of my gay friends, and the gay community, have taught me what it really means to be myself and really find my own voice and so that’s just helped me in so many other aspects of my career.”

Menzel continued on to explain that her vast array of characters have left much to the interpretation of her fans. “There’s been this really beautiful dance, if you will, or exchange between ‘the Elphabas’ and ‘the Elsas’ and what they represent to people. Furthermore, what the characters have taught me about my life and how they’ve resonated with the gay community. I don’t know where one begins and one ends. I just feel always grateful that I found so much enthusiasm and support in the good times and bad from the community.”

Reflecting on all of her iconic roles, Menzel took pause in choosing which role she was most satisfied performing. “Out of everything, I would say I really loved Elizabeth from the show If / Then that I did a few years ago. I had to play two versions of her and that was really challenging and fun. I loved the show.”

Continuing on, Menzel chuckled. “Then, there’s a role that no one saw that I’m really proud of. It was a movie called Ask the Dusk with Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek. I had about 15 minutes worth of screen time. The character’s name was Vera and she was this mess of a character. I think that’s why I like her so much because she’s different from all these other roles that inspire women. She was just a mess and a drunk. She was a very wounded character.”

Menzel added that there are still a plethora of performers that she still is hungry to work with in the industry. “There are so many! The list is endless. There are the obvious ones like Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, and Robert De Niro. Billy Crudup.” Menzel paused and laughed, “I’m afraid to tell you who because I have to wonder if it is it because their talented or cute – probably a little of both.”

Menzel’s candor and humor was evident as the actress joked about what was in store for the near future. “After I do these 40 to 50 cities?” Menzel laughed. “I’m going to go home and get my son ready to go into 2nd grade!” The singer, who is engaged to actor Aaron Lohr, added. “Then probably get married at some point in the near future. I think what’s next will involve a lot of personal down and family time.” But make no mistake; the performer has no intentions of slowing down. “And then, after refueling, I’m kind of open to see what’s going on. I have some irons in the fire that need massaging and need development. Then there’s a play that I’m going to do in New York called Skintight written by Joshua Harmon.”

Menzel quickly remembered, “Oh, and I always forget to share that I have a book coming out that my sister authored, but we did together. It’s about our lives as sisters and growing up together and her trying to find her way in the shadow of a larger-than-life obnoxious older sister.” Menzel laughed and added, “No, it’s a really beautiful book and it’s called Voice Lessons. So we’ll be out talking about that in the fall.”

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