On the promotional poster for Broadway superstar Idina Menzel’s latest UK tour, which made a celebrated stop at London’s Royal Albert Hall last night, reads “The Star of Disney’s Frozen, Wicked, Glee and Rent.” I have a feeling that three of those four credits will define Ms. Menzel for the rest of her career, no matter how many albums she releases.
Indeed, although this current tour comes on the heels of the release of her eponymous fifth studio album idina., the majority of her fan base were there to either celebrate her musical theatre résumé (if they belonged to the older contingent in the crowd) or to see the voice behind the icy “Elsa” live and in person. As I entered the Royal Albert Hall last night, one of the first patrons I saw was a little, over-excited girl dressed from head to toe as the leading lady of “Frozen” herself, instantly reminding me of Menzel’s (fairly) new demographic of fan. The beauty of last night’s concert was how inclusive Menzel has become, catering to all her various demographics in a fine, balancing act to please everyone in equal measure.
After a shaky start, with the microphone seemingly switched off for the first verse of the first number “Queen of Swords,” the nerves melted away as Menzel found her groove by the third number – her rendition of Rent’s much-adored anthem “Seasons of Love.” Judging from the audience’s reaction, the number proved that the musical theatre fans in attendance were going to be the most vocal of the evening. She quickly followed the number with “Don’t Rain on my Parade” from 'Funny Girl,' and the first standing ovation of the evening was awarded her halfway through the concert after… what else?... “Defying Gravity” (aided by two wind machines and long pieces of cloth attached to her sleeves to flutter like a cape, whilst she struggled to keep her hair from her face). Other musical standards included a beautiful acoustic version of “I’m Not That Girl” and an a cappella rendition of “For Good” from 'Wicked' and perhaps the most moving number of the night – Rent’s “No Day But Today.”
Her set list was cleverly constructed, inserting the lesser known tracks from her latest album intermittently between the aforementioned hits, as well as popular covers such as Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings,” so the appetite for the familiar never hungered for long. And above all, her powerful – and notoriously nasal – vocals were on point throughout the entire evening, despite only just having recovered from laryngitis.
The greatest aspect of seeing a musical theatre performer in concert is the opportunity to experience them as a human being, and not as an actor playing a role in a show, if that person is prepared not to “put on an act” and isn’t afraid to show who they really are. I am happy to say that in the case of Ms Menzel, after spending a good two hours on stage, you truly feel that she wears her heart on her sleeve… quirky eccentricities and all. She is open about being a neurotic New Yorker and admits she is high-maintenance. She laughs when things aren’t funny or if she is nervous and then self-effacingly points that out to the audience. She spoke candidly and honestly about the devastating impact of her very public divorce (from fellow performer Taye Diggs) on both herself and their child, and her insecurities in her new relationship. She also bares a more sassy side to her personality at times, making comments to and about fans sat near the stage that make you think she must have been a shady, Manhattan Drag Queen in a past life. But she just about gets away with it, without causing offense.
“I’m 46 and I’m a Disney Queen… How do I cope with this?” she ponders, describing the state of her career, and then effortlessly delivers her own version of “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman,” followed by the Oscar-winning track “Let It Go” (that most had been awaiting with baited breath). Touchingly, she gathered small children from the audience onto the stage for an intimate sing-a-long session, which I’m sure they will remember for many years to come, displaying the maternal side of her multifaceted personality.
She likes to remind people who exclaim she is a Disney Princess, that she is actually a Disney Queen and that she also has many “queens” among her followers… Well, there’s no denying she knows her audience, and this audience left the Royal Albert Hall last night defying gravity in their own uplifted way.
Idina Menzel's UK tour continues with the following dates:
Friday 16 June - Portsmouth Guildhall
Sunday 18 June - Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Monday 19 June - Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Tuesday 20 June - Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow