Idina Menzel at Wolf Trap: No shoes, but what a voice

July 26, 2012

People of the world who were married just over 20 years ago, check your wedding tapes.

Slightly younger people of the world who had their bar or bat mitzvahs in the 1990s, unearth that VHS from the archives.

Find someone, anyone, who still has a VCR. This may take a while.

When the band comes on screen, hit pause. Take a good look at the singer.

Does she have a Long Island accent? Big hair? Really big hair? ’80s big hair?


Idina Menzel. (Robin Wong)

If so, it is quite possible you got the best bang for your band-buying buck: Idina Menzel serenaded your party guests.

“When I was in ‘Wicked,’ somebody brought me a videotape of their wedding,” said Menzel, 41, who got her start as a teenager on the party performing circuit. She’s impressed they knew it was her. “I’d be pretty unrecognizable,” she added, in a voice that no longer betrays her New York roots.

Back then, she would listen to the greats — Ella Fitzgerald comes most readily to mind — on her way to these gigs, “just to absorb them in a way. I knew I would never sound like them. You can emulate the great people because you’re you, and it’s never going to sound like that. [But] it gives you a new place to go in your vocabulary.”

Today’s theater lovers likely listen just as closely to soundtracks featuring Menzel’s insta-iconic pipes. Surely you’d know her if you heard her belting in her breakout Broadway role as Maureen in “Rent” (“MOO with me! Come on, sir! Moo, moooooo, MOOOO!”) or her voice climbing octaves like Spiderman scaling skyscrapers in her green-faced turn as Elphaba in “Wicked,” or if you caught her on “Glee” playing the birth mother of Rachel Berry (Menzel doppelganger Lea Michele) and dueting with Michele on Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” Soon she’ll be heard as the voice of the titular character in Disney’s upcoming animated feature, “The Snow Queen,” based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name.

“An Evening with Idina Menzel” will bring the star to Wolf Trap for just one night. Menzel will be performing with the National Symphony Orchestra, and she will be glammed out for the occasion from head to ankle.

Just no shoes.

“Honestly, I always like to perform barefoot, and I was choosing not to [on tour last year] because I was with all these symphonies, because I thought I had to dress up more,” said Menzel. “And one day I had no choice. I was traveling with my little boy,” her 2-year old son. “My back hurt from carrying the stroller and the car seat, and I thought: there was no way I could perform in heels. So I threw them off and performed barefoot, and it was the best show I ever had.”

Like many a woman who swaps stilettos for flip-flops, “I just realized it was so silly.”

Before you ask: yes, she’ll sing “Defying Gravity,” her character’s Act One-closing anthem from “Wicked.” “[It’s] something people want to hear as dramatically and passionately as they can,” she said. “I think that people want to be taken back to that moment when my character was levitated above the stage.”

In addition to running through her standards, “I like to be nostalgic and go back to songs that meant something to me in my childhood, and rearrange them. I feel like you can really see your growth as a person, as an artist and as a vocalist, if you pick a song like ‘Tomorrow.’” She’ll also perform two original numbers, a combination of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Wicked’s “The Wizard and I,” and a Joni Mitchell song.

And then when it is over, she will go home — either to New York or Studio City, Calif., where she and her family reside — to her son and husband, actor Taye Diggs, star of “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff “Private Practice” (Diggs — sad spoiler alert — will not be making a cameo in Menzel’s show) and do. . .nothing? “I’m definitely a pretty reclusive person,” said Menzel. “I just like to be home when I can be home.”

There has to be something. “I do like to watch ‘The Bachelorette,’ ” she admits. “That’s my guilty pleasure.”

Idina Menzel

Aug. 3, Filene Center at Wolf Trap, 1551 Trap Road, Vienna, www.wolftrap.org, 703-255-1900

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