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Idina Menzel: Singer, Songwriter, Actress & Supermum

26 April 2013 Rachel Ridge

Broadway superstar, singer-songwriter and part of the cast of Glee, Idina Menzel has so many strings her bow it’s hard to keep up, quite frankly! Fresh from her one off concert 'Idina Menzel and Friends' at the Hackney Empire and set to perform this much loved live show at the Olivier awards this Sunday, London Calling caught up with her to find out what it’s like being the superwoman of musical theatre!

London Calling: You performed your show ‘Idina Menzel and Friends’ at the Hackney Empire on Wednesday, that will play tonight on Friday Night is Music Night on Radio 2, how did it go?

Idina Menzel: It went really well, what a fantastic audience! It was a really special evening and I felt really lucky to have Elaine Paige come and sing with me, as well as Glynn from Once who is a friend of mine. So it was just a good time. You can expect some of the songs from the shows I’ve been in – a little bit of Wicked, a little bit of Rent, even something from Glee, other things like a rock tune here and there and a couple of surprises I don’t want to give away!

LC: So you're including quite a few songs from your musical theatre roles; is it important for you to add an element of storytelling to the evening?

IM: Yeah definitely, I can’t help but do my storytelling. I have a big mouth and I’m always commentating, it definitely chronicles your life when you get to do music from your career. You can talk about what you’ve learned from those experiences and those shows - whether you met your husband in rehearsal and how that show changed your life or what lesson it taught you in your life, so that’s why I love doing these concerts.

LC: Are you looking forward to performing at the Olivier awards this Sunday? Will it be a similar set up to the Hackney Empire show?

IM: Yes! I’m looking forward to it. I’m just so grateful to be invited to be a part of it. I’m excited to be singing that evening and just be in the presence of these incredible actors.

LC: You lived here for a while when you were performing in Wicked at the West End. Are you enjoying being back in London?

IM: Oh yeah, every time I get to come back is a thrill for me. It was a very special time in my life when I lived here. Of course I have my little three-year-old son with me and my mother, so it’s not the same. But still it’s nice to show my son the city!

LC: You’ve gained a huge following throughout your career, becoming the leading musical star of the day. How does that feel?

IM: Oh my god to hear you say that is very flattering, thank you! I’m just happy and very proud of that and I don’t take that lightly. I feel a huge responsibility to young audiences that the shows have connected with. I’m most glad about the fact I’ve worked on original pieces; you get to work so closely with the writers on these projects so early on in the process, so it was a lot of fun for me.

LC: Did you always know you wanted to be in musicals and how did you get in to it?

IM: I did as a kid and then I sort of went away from it for a little while and wanted to be a rock star and record my own music. I then got my first job with Rent which was a little bit of both, so I’ve been straddling that line for quite some time. It’s the first time now in my life where I feel like it all makes sense and I can do a little of the different styles, as well as do the musical theatre. Audiences and society seem to be accepting more of an eclectic person these days and appreciating someone that is versatile, whereas in the past it seemed that might have confused someone. Now it seems people are more appreciative of that.

LC: You’ve played quite offbeat characters such as Elphaba in Wicked and Maureen in Rent. Would you say you are drawn to exploring quirkier roles?

IM: Yeah I think so, I’m not drawn, I think they find me really. I auditioned for both of those roles, so it’s not like they were just offered to me, but I think there’s something idiosyncratic like a style that finds it way to be cast in these roles. It’s the lesson I’ve had to learn in my own life, that these same characters learned, that what makes you unique is special and should be celebrated. So there’s a real cohesion there with my life and what I’m playing on the stage.

LC: Could you see yourself taking on another big musical like Rent or Wicked in the future?

IM: Oh yeah, I’m working on another one. It’s been two years in the works now and we’re hoping that a year from now it will come to Broadway. It’s called If Then and it’s different from Wicked and Rent but it’s really beautiful. It’s created by two writers who write a show called Next to Normal; it hasn’t come here yet but it won the Pulitzer Prize in the States. It’s a really special show; it’s about a woman my age sort of starting her life over and moving back to New York City and getting a second chance. I’m very excited for people to see it.

LC: You appeared in the new series of Glee again, how was it being back there?

IM: My character plays Rachel’s mum, I reunite with her and have a great song. We do an Emile Sande song. It’s always fun to go back there and see my friends; it’s a very fun set.

LC: How was the transition from the stage to TV for your role in Glee?

IM: It’s lovely to have a nice balance in your life, working on the stage eight shows a week is very rewarding but it’s also a grind, so it was nice to be able to go to television and get into a different rhythm. But I love live performance more than anything and I’m actually looking forward to getting back on stage as soon as possible.

LC: You also write your own music, who would you say are your biggest influences when writing?

IM: Gosh, it changes you know. It’s interesting because I like Joni Mitchell and Annie Lennox, people like that are my song writing influences. Then there’s the singers like Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan who have always been my vocal influences.

LC: Your next film project will be Disney animated feature Frozen, opposite Kristen Bell. How is that going?

IM: Yeah, that’s been a lot of fun. It’s always been a dream of mine to be an animated character! This especially is a real traditional Disney film with two sisters who are princesses who sing, it has great songs. I really enjoy going in the studio and working with the directors on it. Also, getting a window into the genius of the animators and getting to see their process is fascinating.

LC: What is your favorite project you’ve been involved in so far?

IM: Probably just being a mum, being home to take my son to school and pick him up and the days when I can do both is pretty special. Singing and making up silly songs with him is the most fun.

LC: And finally, what’s your favourite musical of all time?

IM: Probably West Side Story!

 

Idina Menzel’s ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ will be broadcast on BBC Radio2 on Friday 26 April. Her late-night performance at G-A-Y nightclub is on Sunday April 27 and she will perform at the 2013 Olivier Awards with MasterCard ceremony at the Royal Opera House on Sunday 28 April; highlights from the event will be broadcast on ITV.

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