Theater Review - 'Frozen' star Idina Menzel is a diva on the rise

Tony Award-winning actress is making a name for herself on stage and in film

Idina Menzel has been one of the theater community's favorite modern divas since she was part of the original Broadway cast of Rent, but her role as the voice of Elsa in the Disney film Frozen catapulted her into a new level of fame. Fresh off of a starring role in If/Then on Broadway, and still riding high from successful performances at the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl, Menzel brings her international summer tour to Atlanta's Chastain Park Amphitheatre. Menzel is remarkably relaxed and determined for someone riding such a tidal wave of momentum.

In addition to the smash hit "Let It Go" from Frozen, fans can expect to hear hits like "Defying Gravity" and "The Wizard and I" from Menzel's time as Elphaba in Wicked. Though maybe not as well-known, Menzel views these songs as equally important to her fans. "Although 'Letting Go' is my only quote-unquote hit radio song in my career, I consider songs like 'Defying Gravity' and songs from Rent to be my other hit songs because my barometer for that is that if I can put the microphone out and the audience can sing every word, then that's my hit song," she says.

In creating the setlist, Menzel tried to mix a combination of these familiar tunes and some songs that she has always wanted to sing. She is also working on a new album and may include songs from that as well. Her recent concerts abroad have included covers of songs by the Police, Radiohead, and Joni Mitchell, as well as Broadway classics like "Don't Rain on My Parade" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses."

Menzel doesn't seem too concerned that the Broadway songs will take on a different life performed out of the context of the actual shows. "I don't feel that way, I really feel that there's a common denominator and that's me," she says. "Whether I'm in green makeup as a witch or I'm just standing there in my jeans and my bare feet singing my songs, as an artist I still have to take risks and make myself vulnerable in front of a live audience. I feel that way whether I have the green makeup or I don't."

With regard to the popularity of "Let It Go," Menzel admits to being surprised. "I knew it was a beautiful song, but I had no idea it would become what it has become," she says adding that for her, the meaning of the song is an empowering one, particularly for "strong, fierce women." "The things that make us a little different are the things that make us extraordinary and set us apart in the world."

No matter what, fans can rely on the fact that Menzel will be singing live, without the benefit of auto-tuning, even if that means her audience is occasionally privy to some "beautiful imperfections."

"If I have to endure criticism because I miss a high note on a below-zero day in the middle of winter, then, as much as that hurts my feelings, that's what I have to do, because I'm not going to stop singing and I'm certainly not going to lip–synch," she says "I'm a human being, my instrument is in my body."

While she admits to being vulnerable at times to the wounds of social media, ultimately the benefits of connecting with her audience and the joys of performing live outweigh any of the pettiness that comes with the package for artists today. Of course, there's also the Frozen sequel and discussion of a Broadway adaptation, not to mention Menzel's personal life is full as she has a young son with ex-husband, actor Taye Diggs, so there's little time worry about armchair critics.

After her solo tour, Menzel will join part of the national tour of If/Then. She hopes to keep developing new works on Broadway throughout her career, as she loves finding her own way while originating characters without the pressure of stepping into the shoes of showbiz icons like Barbra Streisand, who have left strong imprints on famous roles. However, when asked if she had any advice for those following in her own impressive wake as Elphaba, Maureen, or Elizabeth, she was charmingly surprised to be considered in the same category of intimidating originators as the women she admires herself.

"I think there's room for everyone to bring their own take on a character ... I should tell myself that when I'm asked to play all these iconic roles, but I just choose to want to do something new," she says.

Whatever path Menzel chooses to take, she can be sure that her fans will eagerly follow her, as the opportunity to hear her unique voice live is not to be missed.

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