Idina Menzel

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“@idinababe: @idinamenzel will you sell these? Please? LOVE! ” she sells them! amanda@halo-heart


At a Glance

Birthname: Idina Kim Mentzel
Nationality: American
Born: May 30 1971


Biography

For Idina Menzel, attaining a new level of artistic freedom required a little help from a two-year-old. The beloved Broadway star, best known for her work in Rent, her Tony Award-winning performance as Elphaba, the green-faced Wicked Witch of the West, in Wicked and her recurring role in the hit TV series Glee, has spent much of the past two years crisscrossing the country, headlining sold out shows. Each concert would find Menzel elegantly gowned, with towering heels to match. “Then one day I got smart,” she confides with a smile. “I’d been carrying my son around all day, and the next ... Read more

For Idina Menzel, attaining a new level of artistic freedom required a little help from a two-year-old. The beloved Broadway star, best known for her work in Rent, her Tony Award-winning performance as Elphaba, the green-faced Wicked Witch of the West, in Wicked and her recurring role in the hit TV series Glee, has spent much of the past two years crisscrossing the country, headlining sold out shows. Each concert would find Menzel elegantly gowned, with towering heels to match. “Then one day I got smart,” she confides with a smile. “I’d been carrying my son around all day, and the next morning I could barely move. So, I thought, ‘well, if I’m going to perform tonight, I’ll have to be barefoot,’ and it turned out to be the best show I’d done, because I felt so free. When you’re singing songs like ‘Defying Gravity’ you can get swept away, but my bare feet make me feel more grounded.” From that night forward, Menzel has remained adamantly shoeless onstage. Which explains the title, Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony, of her forthcoming PBS special and the accompanying album and DVD, due March 6 from Concord Records.

The special, and the album, were captured last November in Toronto, the second-to-last stop on Menzel’s 2011 itinerary. The location was Koerner Hall, a beautifully modernist, acoustically blessed space literally carved out of the city’s historic Royal Conservatory of Music headquarters. Menzel performs with a 52-piece Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of guest conductor Marvin Hamlisch (or as Menzel prefers to call him, the legendary Marvin Hamlisch) and her equally accomplished music director and pianist, Rob Mounsey (who has worked with everyone from Paul Simon and Steely Dan to Madonna, Usher and Rihanna).

Hamlisch has conducted for Menzel several times over the past two years, beginning with their first symphony concert, in Washington, D.C. at Wolf Trap in July 2010. “Marvin makes me feel good,” she explains. “He brings his musical genius to an orchestra, and they always play beautifully when he’s up there. And he really listens to me when I’m singing. I feel like we’re really with each other in every breath. Because of his legacy, I’m proud when I’m on stage with him. It gives me extra confidence, which makes me take more risks and have more fun. He’s also hysterically funny, and we both have a love of spontaneity. A lot of the material in the show was born out of various spontaneous moments that have happened with Marvin.”

Though Menzel’s symphony concerts have attracted sellout crowds and earned consistent critical praise, she was hesitant about the idea at first. “I’ve toured a lot in my life with different bands and different styles of music, but I stayed away from orchestras and symphonies for a long time, because I like to have a real intimacy with the audience, and I was afraid these big orchestras would usurp my ability to do that. But then I discovered that there’s a way to work with 80 musicians and make it feel like we’ve all known each other for years. I’m still able to explore my edgier side with songs like ‘Roxanne,’ but do it with an orchestra, which is really thrilling.”

Prior to launching her tour, Menzel spent time in an L.A. studio with Mounsey, planning out her playlist. “There were songs I knew I’d have to do and there were some I was eager to tackle just for myself. Then there were others that were integral to my earlier life that I was eager to reinterpret as an adult and see how my style has evolved. That’s great fun for me. Back before I got Rent [in 1994], when I was pounding the pavement trying to get an audition or a record deal, people were always asking, ‘Who are you?’ or ‘Who do you want to be?’ ‘Are you like so-and-so, or so-and-so?’ Being versatile can be a curse, because people don’t know how to categorize you. But when I hit 40 and had a baby, I realized it was time for me to say, ‘I’m not just one kind of singer.’ I’m not just big and witchy. Sometimes I’m smaller and sweeter. I sing in many different colors and, hopefully, they add up to a great performance that, after you leave the theater, makes you feel like I’ve really shared something of myself.”

Menzel ignites the evening with the rousing “Life of the Party,” written by Andrew Lippa for his 2000 off-Broadway musical The Wild Party, which costarred Menzel and her husband, Taye Diggs. “Musically, it has just the right energy for an opening number,” says Menzel, “and I loved playing that character. A lot of people who have heard it on the cast album come up to me and say it’s one of my best recordings. But it’s a little hypocritical. I am not the life of the party. My husband is the life of the party. I’d rather be home watching a movie.”

It was Menzel who came up with the clever idea of combining Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” with Sting’s “Roxanne.” “I’ve always loved ‘Love for Sale,” she says. “It’s one of the songs from my past. I often sang it in college. But a lot of people don’t realize what ‘Love for Sale’ is really about. The same with ‘Roxanne.’ Among ourselves, Rob and I refer to it as the ‘prostitute medley.’”

A lifelong Barbra Streisand fan, Menzel recalls that, “The first album I ever owned was the soundtrack for A Star Is Born. I used to sit in my room and play her albums over and over, and aspire to hit those notes and hold them as long as she held them.” When Menzel was invited by Ryan Murphy to join the cast of Glee, one of the first songs she performed on the show was “Funny Girl,” written for the screen version of the Broadway hit, starring Streisand. “So,” she says, “I figured that was my permission slip to do the song in concert, because audiences would be expecting songs from Glee.” Menzel combines it with “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” which she performed for Streisand in 2008 at the Kennedy Center Honors gala. At the post-gala dinner, she found herself seated at Streisand’s table. “She looked at me and asked, ‘did you sing for me tonight? I wasn’t wearing my glasses.’ I said that that was me singing “Don’t Rain On My Parade” and she said, ‘you were good.’ I couldn’t tell what that meant. But everybody who knows her, including Marvin, tells me that her saying that is the equivalent of someone else saying, ‘you were absolutely amazing!’”

Between Broadway numbers, Menzel slips in Jimmy Webb’s “Asleep On the Wind” (recorded by Webb in 1974 for his album Land’s End). “Rob introduced me to this song,” she says, “it was his brilliant idea to include it. When he first played it for me, I said ‘What?!?’ but then he showed me how I could sing it, which is absolutely nothing like Webb’s version. It’s a beautiful, beautiful song.”

From Rent, the landmark musical that not only provided Menzel with her big professional break but also introduced her to Diggs, she chooses “No Day But Today.” Of the selection, she says, “It was always my favorite moment in the show. It comes up twice, in the first act and then again in the finale. In the first act, I didn’t sing it. Both Taye and I were offstage, and I always wished I could be up there doing it. I’ve tried various Rent songs in concert, and this is the one that sticks for me. It fits the story of what happened to Jonathan [Larson, Rent’s creator and composer, who died the night before the show’s first performance], and for me it’s sort of a mantra, a bit of meditation on stage.”

Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” may seem an odd fit for Menzel, but she performed it with Lea Michele on Glee and charged Mounsey with the challenge of coming up with a big, orchestral arrangement for it. Prior to Menzel being cast as the birth mother of Michele’s character on Glee, much had been made of their remarkable physical resemblance. “When I was on Broadway with Wicked,” Menzel recalls, “she was in Spring Awakening, and people kept saying to me, ‘little Idina is playing down the street,’ which made me feel really old! I met her not long after that, and we did a summer workshop together at Vassar with [Spring Awakening composer] Duncan Sheik.”

After “Poker Face,” a special guest, husband Taye Diggs, arrives on stage and joins Menzel in a playful rendition of Rodgers and Hart’s “Where or When.” Making the surprise appearance was, she says, “entirely his idea. We sometimes argue about keys and what groove we want to be in, but once we’re actually on stage together it’s the real deal and we have great fun.”

Menzel’s association with Chess dates to 2008, when she teamed with Josh Groban and Adam Pascal for an in-concert performance of the Tim Rice musical at London’s Royal Albert Hall. For her own show, Menzel selected “Heaven Help My Heart” because “I always appreciated that it’s the smallest moment of storytelling in the show, and everything gets very quiet. It’s not about hitting big notes, but about getting in touch with the intense emotion of the song.”

It is followed by an equally gentle rendition of Wicked’s “For Good,” sung a cappella. “Throughout the tour,” says Menzel, “we’ve been playing in so many acoustically amazing halls, that I realized I could sing it without a mic. It’s so enjoyable to put everything else away, including the mic, and be able to hear just pure voice.”

Menzel saves “Defying Gravity,” her mega-hit from Wicked, for her closing number. It has become so closely associated with her, just as “Over the Rainbow” became inseparable from Judy Garland, that it would be understandable if Menzel perceived it as a double-edged sword. But, she insists, “It honestly is not. I never got sick of singing it eight times a week. It changed my life, and means so much to me and to so many other people. It’s amazingly written. It always transports me. Sometimes I’m singing it to the 13-year-old girl in the front row, because I know she needs to hear it, and other times I’m taken back to Wicked, and how incredible it always felt to be lifted up in the air at the end of the second act.”

As an encore, Menzel dedicates “Tomorrow,” from Annie, to her mom. “It’s actually for my mom and my dad,” she says, “because it’s the song I always ran around the house singing, and the one they’d ask me to perform at family gatherings. There’s even a video of me singing it in the backyard in a very bad Long Island accent. I vividly remember fighting with my mom about her not letting me go out for a big casting call for Annie. She said, ‘I’m sorry, but you’re going to have a normal childhood, and I’m not going to start ripping you off the school bus for auditions. It’s a perfect example of taking a simple song that conjures up so many memories, singing it as an adult and hearing new chords and finding entirely new places to go.”

With the PBS special and the album both completed, Menzel plans to go back on tour this summer. She also hopes to return soon to Broadway for “a brand new, original show that I’m not allowed to talk about, but really excites me.” She’ll also continue her exemplary work with A BroaderWay, the foundation she established with Diggs in 2010 to help inner-city girls find outlets for self-expression through arts-related programs. It includes Camp BroaderWay which, launched last summer, took 31 girls to a camp in the Berkshires where they wrote and choreographed their own show, subsequently performing it at Columbia University. But, says Menzel, “my biggest project right now is trying to be a really great mom and learning how to balance family and career. I’m just trying to spend as much time with my family as I can.”

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

For Idina Menzel, attaining a new level of artistic freedom required a little help from a two-year-old. The beloved Broadway star, best known for her work in Rent, her Tony Award-winning performance as Elphaba, the green-faced Wicked Witch of the West, in Wicked and her recurring role in the hit TV series Glee, has spent much of the past two years crisscrossing the country, headlining sold out shows. Each concert would find Menzel elegantly gowned, with towering heels to match. “Then one day I got smart,” she confides with a smile. “I’d been carrying my son around all day, and the next morning I could barely move. So, I thought, ‘well, if I’m going to perform tonight, I’ll have to be barefoot,’ and it turned out to be the best show I’d done, because I felt so free. When you’re singing songs like ‘Defying Gravity’ you can get swept away, but my bare feet make me feel more grounded.” From that night forward, Menzel has remained adamantly shoeless onstage. Which explains the title, Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony, of her forthcoming PBS special and the accompanying album and DVD, due March 6 from Concord Records.

The special, and the album, were captured last November in Toronto, the second-to-last stop on Menzel’s 2011 itinerary. The location was Koerner Hall, a beautifully modernist, acoustically blessed space literally carved out of the city’s historic Royal Conservatory of Music headquarters. Menzel performs with a 52-piece Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of guest conductor Marvin Hamlisch (or as Menzel prefers to call him, the legendary Marvin Hamlisch) and her equally accomplished music director and pianist, Rob Mounsey (who has worked with everyone from Paul Simon and Steely Dan to Madonna, Usher and Rihanna).

Hamlisch has conducted for Menzel several times over the past two years, beginning with their first symphony concert, in Washington, D.C. at Wolf Trap in July 2010. “Marvin makes me feel good,” she explains. “He brings his musical genius to an orchestra, and they always play beautifully when he’s up there. And he really listens to me when I’m singing. I feel like we’re really with each other in every breath. Because of his legacy, I’m proud when I’m on stage with him. It gives me extra confidence, which makes me take more risks and have more fun. He’s also hysterically funny, and we both have a love of spontaneity. A lot of the material in the show was born out of various spontaneous moments that have happened with Marvin.”

Though Menzel’s symphony concerts have attracted sellout crowds and earned consistent critical praise, she was hesitant about the idea at first. “I’ve toured a lot in my life with different bands and different styles of music, but I stayed away from orchestras and symphonies for a long time, because I like to have a real intimacy with the audience, and I was afraid these big orchestras would usurp my ability to do that. But then I discovered that there’s a way to work with 80 musicians and make it feel like we’ve all known each other for years. I’m still able to explore my edgier side with songs like ‘Roxanne,’ but do it with an orchestra, which is really thrilling.”

Prior to launching her tour, Menzel spent time in an L.A. studio with Mounsey, planning out her playlist. “There were songs I knew I’d have to do and there were some I was eager to tackle just for myself. Then there were others that were integral to my earlier life that I was eager to reinterpret as an adult and see how my style has evolved. That’s great fun for me. Back before I got Rent [in 1994], when I was pounding the pavement trying to get an audition or a record deal, people were always asking, ‘Who are you?’ or ‘Who do you want to be?’ ‘Are you like so-and-so, or so-and-so?’ Being versatile can be a curse, because people don’t know how to categorize you. But when I hit 40 and had a baby, I realized it was time for me to say, ‘I’m not just one kind of singer.’ I’m not just big and witchy. Sometimes I’m smaller and sweeter. I sing in many different colors and, hopefully, they add up to a great performance that, after you leave the theater, makes you feel like I’ve really shared something of myself.”

Menzel ignites the evening with the rousing “Life of the Party,” written by Andrew Lippa for his 2000 off-Broadway musical The Wild Party, which costarred Menzel and her husband, Taye Diggs. “Musically, it has just the right energy for an opening number,” says Menzel, “and I loved playing that character. A lot of people who have heard it on the cast album come up to me and say it’s one of my best recordings. But it’s a little hypocritical. I am not the life of the party. My husband is the life of the party. I’d rather be home watching a movie.”

It was Menzel who came up with the clever idea of combining Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” with Sting’s “Roxanne.” “I’ve always loved ‘Love for Sale,” she says. “It’s one of the songs from my past. I often sang it in college. But a lot of people don’t realize what ‘Love for Sale’ is really about. The same with ‘Roxanne.’ Among ourselves, Rob and I refer to it as the ‘prostitute medley.’”

A lifelong Barbra Streisand fan, Menzel recalls that, “The first album I ever owned was the soundtrack for A Star Is Born. I used to sit in my room and play her albums over and over, and aspire to hit those notes and hold them as long as she held them.” When Menzel was invited by Ryan Murphy to join the cast of Glee, one of the first songs she performed on the show was “Funny Girl,” written for the screen version of the Broadway hit, starring Streisand. “So,” she says, “I figured that was my permission slip to do the song in concert, because audiences would be expecting songs from Glee.” Menzel combines it with “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” which she performed for Streisand in 2008 at the Kennedy Center Honors gala. At the post-gala dinner, she found herself seated at Streisand’s table. “She looked at me and asked, ‘did you sing for me tonight? I wasn’t wearing my glasses.’ I said that that was me singing “Don’t Rain On My Parade” and she said, ‘you were good.’ I couldn’t tell what that meant. But everybody who knows her, including Marvin, tells me that her saying that is the equivalent of someone else saying, ‘you were absolutely amazing!’”

Between Broadway numbers, Menzel slips in Jimmy Webb’s “Asleep On the Wind” (recorded by Webb in 1974 for his album Land’s End). “Rob introduced me to this song,” she says, “it was his brilliant idea to include it. When he first played it for me, I said ‘What?!?’ but then he showed me how I could sing it, which is absolutely nothing like Webb’s version. It’s a beautiful, beautiful song.”

From Rent, the landmark musical that not only provided Menzel with her big professional break but also introduced her to Diggs, she chooses “No Day But Today.” Of the selection, she says, “It was always my favorite moment in the show. It comes up twice, in the first act and then again in the finale. In the first act, I didn’t sing it. Both Taye and I were offstage, and I always wished I could be up there doing it. I’ve tried various Rent songs in concert, and this is the one that sticks for me. It fits the story of what happened to Jonathan [Larson, Rent’s creator and composer, who died the night before the show’s first performance], and for me it’s sort of a mantra, a bit of meditation on stage.”

Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” may seem an odd fit for Menzel, but she performed it with Lea Michele on Glee and charged Mounsey with the challenge of coming up with a big, orchestral arrangement for it. Prior to Menzel being cast as the birth mother of Michele’s character on Glee, much had been made of their remarkable physical resemblance. “When I was on Broadway with Wicked,” Menzel recalls, “she was in Spring Awakening, and people kept saying to me, ‘little Idina is playing down the street,’ which made me feel really old! I met her not long after that, and we did a summer workshop together at Vassar with [Spring Awakening composer] Duncan Sheik.”

After “Poker Face,” a special guest, husband Taye Diggs, arrives on stage and joins Menzel in a playful rendition of Rodgers and Hart’s “Where or When.” Making the surprise appearance was, she says, “entirely his idea. We sometimes argue about keys and what groove we want to be in, but once we’re actually on stage together it’s the real deal and we have great fun.”

Menzel’s association with Chess dates to 2008, when she teamed with Josh Groban and Adam Pascal for an in-concert performance of the Tim Rice musical at London’s Royal Albert Hall. For her own show, Menzel selected “Heaven Help My Heart” because “I always appreciated that it’s the smallest moment of storytelling in the show, and everything gets very quiet. It’s not about hitting big notes, but about getting in touch with the intense emotion of the song.”

It is followed by an equally gentle rendition of Wicked’s “For Good,” sung a cappella. “Throughout the tour,” says Menzel, “we’ve been playing in so many acoustically amazing halls, that I realized I could sing it without a mic. It’s so enjoyable to put everything else away, including the mic, and be able to hear just pure voice.”

Menzel saves “Defying Gravity,” her mega-hit from Wicked, for her closing number. It has become so closely associated with her, just as “Over the Rainbow” became inseparable from Judy Garland, that it would be understandable if Menzel perceived it as a double-edged sword. But, she insists, “It honestly is not. I never got sick of singing it eight times a week. It changed my life, and means so much to me and to so many other people. It’s amazingly written. It always transports me. Sometimes I’m singing it to the 13-year-old girl in the front row, because I know she needs to hear it, and other times I’m taken back to Wicked, and how incredible it always felt to be lifted up in the air at the end of the second act.”

As an encore, Menzel dedicates “Tomorrow,” from Annie, to her mom. “It’s actually for my mom and my dad,” she says, “because it’s the song I always ran around the house singing, and the one they’d ask me to perform at family gatherings. There’s even a video of me singing it in the backyard in a very bad Long Island accent. I vividly remember fighting with my mom about her not letting me go out for a big casting call for Annie. She said, ‘I’m sorry, but you’re going to have a normal childhood, and I’m not going to start ripping you off the school bus for auditions. It’s a perfect example of taking a simple song that conjures up so many memories, singing it as an adult and hearing new chords and finding entirely new places to go.”

With the PBS special and the album both completed, Menzel plans to go back on tour this summer. She also hopes to return soon to Broadway for “a brand new, original show that I’m not allowed to talk about, but really excites me.” She’ll also continue her exemplary work with A BroaderWay, the foundation she established with Diggs in 2010 to help inner-city girls find outlets for self-expression through arts-related programs. It includes Camp BroaderWay which, launched last summer, took 31 girls to a camp in the Berkshires where they wrote and choreographed their own show, subsequently performing it at Columbia University. But, says Menzel, “my biggest project right now is trying to be a really great mom and learning how to balance family and career. I’m just trying to spend as much time with my family as I can.”

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

For Idina Menzel, attaining a new level of artistic freedom required a little help from a two-year-old. The beloved Broadway star, best known for her work in Rent, her Tony Award-winning performance as Elphaba, the green-faced Wicked Witch of the West, in Wicked and her recurring role in the hit TV series Glee, has spent much of the past two years crisscrossing the country, headlining sold out shows. Each concert would find Menzel elegantly gowned, with towering heels to match. “Then one day I got smart,” she confides with a smile. “I’d been carrying my son around all day, and the next morning I could barely move. So, I thought, ‘well, if I’m going to perform tonight, I’ll have to be barefoot,’ and it turned out to be the best show I’d done, because I felt so free. When you’re singing songs like ‘Defying Gravity’ you can get swept away, but my bare feet make me feel more grounded.” From that night forward, Menzel has remained adamantly shoeless onstage. Which explains the title, Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony, of her forthcoming PBS special and the accompanying album and DVD, due March 6 from Concord Records.

The special, and the album, were captured last November in Toronto, the second-to-last stop on Menzel’s 2011 itinerary. The location was Koerner Hall, a beautifully modernist, acoustically blessed space literally carved out of the city’s historic Royal Conservatory of Music headquarters. Menzel performs with a 52-piece Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of guest conductor Marvin Hamlisch (or as Menzel prefers to call him, the legendary Marvin Hamlisch) and her equally accomplished music director and pianist, Rob Mounsey (who has worked with everyone from Paul Simon and Steely Dan to Madonna, Usher and Rihanna).

Hamlisch has conducted for Menzel several times over the past two years, beginning with their first symphony concert, in Washington, D.C. at Wolf Trap in July 2010. “Marvin makes me feel good,” she explains. “He brings his musical genius to an orchestra, and they always play beautifully when he’s up there. And he really listens to me when I’m singing. I feel like we’re really with each other in every breath. Because of his legacy, I’m proud when I’m on stage with him. It gives me extra confidence, which makes me take more risks and have more fun. He’s also hysterically funny, and we both have a love of spontaneity. A lot of the material in the show was born out of various spontaneous moments that have happened with Marvin.”

Though Menzel’s symphony concerts have attracted sellout crowds and earned consistent critical praise, she was hesitant about the idea at first. “I’ve toured a lot in my life with different bands and different styles of music, but I stayed away from orchestras and symphonies for a long time, because I like to have a real intimacy with the audience, and I was afraid these big orchestras would usurp my ability to do that. But then I discovered that there’s a way to work with 80 musicians and make it feel like we’ve all known each other for years. I’m still able to explore my edgier side with songs like ‘Roxanne,’ but do it with an orchestra, which is really thrilling.”

Prior to launching her tour, Menzel spent time in an L.A. studio with Mounsey, planning out her playlist. “There were songs I knew I’d have to do and there were some I was eager to tackle just for myself. Then there were others that were integral to my earlier life that I was eager to reinterpret as an adult and see how my style has evolved. That’s great fun for me. Back before I got Rent [in 1994], when I was pounding the pavement trying to get an audition or a record deal, people were always asking, ‘Who are you?’ or ‘Who do you want to be?’ ‘Are you like so-and-so, or so-and-so?’ Being versatile can be a curse, because people don’t know how to categorize you. But when I hit 40 and had a baby, I realized it was time for me to say, ‘I’m not just one kind of singer.’ I’m not just big and witchy. Sometimes I’m smaller and sweeter. I sing in many different colors and, hopefully, they add up to a great performance that, after you leave the theater, makes you feel like I’ve really shared something of myself.”

Menzel ignites the evening with the rousing “Life of the Party,” written by Andrew Lippa for his 2000 off-Broadway musical The Wild Party, which costarred Menzel and her husband, Taye Diggs. “Musically, it has just the right energy for an opening number,” says Menzel, “and I loved playing that character. A lot of people who have heard it on the cast album come up to me and say it’s one of my best recordings. But it’s a little hypocritical. I am not the life of the party. My husband is the life of the party. I’d rather be home watching a movie.”

It was Menzel who came up with the clever idea of combining Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” with Sting’s “Roxanne.” “I’ve always loved ‘Love for Sale,” she says. “It’s one of the songs from my past. I often sang it in college. But a lot of people don’t realize what ‘Love for Sale’ is really about. The same with ‘Roxanne.’ Among ourselves, Rob and I refer to it as the ‘prostitute medley.’”

A lifelong Barbra Streisand fan, Menzel recalls that, “The first album I ever owned was the soundtrack for A Star Is Born. I used to sit in my room and play her albums over and over, and aspire to hit those notes and hold them as long as she held them.” When Menzel was invited by Ryan Murphy to join the cast of Glee, one of the first songs she performed on the show was “Funny Girl,” written for the screen version of the Broadway hit, starring Streisand. “So,” she says, “I figured that was my permission slip to do the song in concert, because audiences would be expecting songs from Glee.” Menzel combines it with “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” which she performed for Streisand in 2008 at the Kennedy Center Honors gala. At the post-gala dinner, she found herself seated at Streisand’s table. “She looked at me and asked, ‘did you sing for me tonight? I wasn’t wearing my glasses.’ I said that that was me singing “Don’t Rain On My Parade” and she said, ‘you were good.’ I couldn’t tell what that meant. But everybody who knows her, including Marvin, tells me that her saying that is the equivalent of someone else saying, ‘you were absolutely amazing!’”

Between Broadway numbers, Menzel slips in Jimmy Webb’s “Asleep On the Wind” (recorded by Webb in 1974 for his album Land’s End). “Rob introduced me to this song,” she says, “it was his brilliant idea to include it. When he first played it for me, I said ‘What?!?’ but then he showed me how I could sing it, which is absolutely nothing like Webb’s version. It’s a beautiful, beautiful song.”

From Rent, the landmark musical that not only provided Menzel with her big professional break but also introduced her to Diggs, she chooses “No Day But Today.” Of the selection, she says, “It was always my favorite moment in the show. It comes up twice, in the first act and then again in the finale. In the first act, I didn’t sing it. Both Taye and I were offstage, and I always wished I could be up there doing it. I’ve tried various Rent songs in concert, and this is the one that sticks for me. It fits the story of what happened to Jonathan [Larson, Rent’s creator and composer, who died the night before the show’s first performance], and for me it’s sort of a mantra, a bit of meditation on stage.”

Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” may seem an odd fit for Menzel, but she performed it with Lea Michele on Glee and charged Mounsey with the challenge of coming up with a big, orchestral arrangement for it. Prior to Menzel being cast as the birth mother of Michele’s character on Glee, much had been made of their remarkable physical resemblance. “When I was on Broadway with Wicked,” Menzel recalls, “she was in Spring Awakening, and people kept saying to me, ‘little Idina is playing down the street,’ which made me feel really old! I met her not long after that, and we did a summer workshop together at Vassar with [Spring Awakening composer] Duncan Sheik.”

After “Poker Face,” a special guest, husband Taye Diggs, arrives on stage and joins Menzel in a playful rendition of Rodgers and Hart’s “Where or When.” Making the surprise appearance was, she says, “entirely his idea. We sometimes argue about keys and what groove we want to be in, but once we’re actually on stage together it’s the real deal and we have great fun.”

Menzel’s association with Chess dates to 2008, when she teamed with Josh Groban and Adam Pascal for an in-concert performance of the Tim Rice musical at London’s Royal Albert Hall. For her own show, Menzel selected “Heaven Help My Heart” because “I always appreciated that it’s the smallest moment of storytelling in the show, and everything gets very quiet. It’s not about hitting big notes, but about getting in touch with the intense emotion of the song.”

It is followed by an equally gentle rendition of Wicked’s “For Good,” sung a cappella. “Throughout the tour,” says Menzel, “we’ve been playing in so many acoustically amazing halls, that I realized I could sing it without a mic. It’s so enjoyable to put everything else away, including the mic, and be able to hear just pure voice.”

Menzel saves “Defying Gravity,” her mega-hit from Wicked, for her closing number. It has become so closely associated with her, just as “Over the Rainbow” became inseparable from Judy Garland, that it would be understandable if Menzel perceived it as a double-edged sword. But, she insists, “It honestly is not. I never got sick of singing it eight times a week. It changed my life, and means so much to me and to so many other people. It’s amazingly written. It always transports me. Sometimes I’m singing it to the 13-year-old girl in the front row, because I know she needs to hear it, and other times I’m taken back to Wicked, and how incredible it always felt to be lifted up in the air at the end of the second act.”

As an encore, Menzel dedicates “Tomorrow,” from Annie, to her mom. “It’s actually for my mom and my dad,” she says, “because it’s the song I always ran around the house singing, and the one they’d ask me to perform at family gatherings. There’s even a video of me singing it in the backyard in a very bad Long Island accent. I vividly remember fighting with my mom about her not letting me go out for a big casting call for Annie. She said, ‘I’m sorry, but you’re going to have a normal childhood, and I’m not going to start ripping you off the school bus for auditions. It’s a perfect example of taking a simple song that conjures up so many memories, singing it as an adult and hearing new chords and finding entirely new places to go.”

With the PBS special and the album both completed, Menzel plans to go back on tour this summer. She also hopes to return soon to Broadway for “a brand new, original show that I’m not allowed to talk about, but really excites me.” She’ll also continue her exemplary work with A BroaderWay, the foundation she established with Diggs in 2010 to help inner-city girls find outlets for self-expression through arts-related programs. It includes Camp BroaderWay which, launched last summer, took 31 girls to a camp in the Berkshires where they wrote and choreographed their own show, subsequently performing it at Columbia University. But, says Menzel, “my biggest project right now is trying to be a really great mom and learning how to balance family and career. I’m just trying to spend as much time with my family as I can.”

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