Anyway, I saw Idina Menzel live in Raleigh on Thursday night and thought I'd post about it. For those who don't know that name, Idina originated the Broadway roles of Maureen in RENT and (of course) Elphaba in Wicked; she also makes an occasional appearance on Glee these days. At the moment, she's touring, hitting up mostly small venues with city orchestras and the like, and she puts on an incredible show, equal parts hilarity, intimacy, and and talent powerhouse. I scored a front-row center ticket through Ticketmaster months ago, and despite the fact that I had a surgery practicum the next morning, I couldn't NOT go... :)
Anyway, Idina is incredibly entertaining to watch in a venue like this, mostly because she's so quirky. For example, she sauntered out on stage in an elegant floor-length purple gown -- barefoot. She belted out 'Life of the Party' like the superstar she is -- and then became mildly obsessed with the various unidentifiable plastic artifacts lying around on the stage, picking bits and pieces up off the ground and saying things like, "I'll just do a little housecleaning while I'm up here," and "Wait, is this stuff coming from me? Is it, like, falling out of my dress or something?" She knocked one of her earrings off at one point, looked down at those of us in the front row, and said, "I'd give this to you, but my husband gave it to me, and they're real diamonds." Not sure why that was so funny in the moment, but it was.
She sang a pretty eclectic mix of stuff -- various Broadway things, of course, mixed in with some of her own songs (namely 'Gorgeous'... "This is for all my gay friends out there. But you straight people can have it, too." LOL!) as well as quite a bit of oldie/jazz-type stuff ('Funny Girl', 'Roxanne', 'Love For Sale', 'Don't Rain On My Parade'). There were a few I'd never heard of ('Look to the Rainbow', 'Asleep on the Wind', 'I Feel So Smoochie'), but most were familiar to me. She even sang a couple of the songs that she and her husband 'wrote' for their 18-month-old son, Walker... so stinkin' cute. She said, "His name is Walker Nathaniel Diggs, and we feel like, with a name like that, he could be a Supreme Court justice. Or a famous jazz musician." Her pianist (who was evidently an old friend of hers) said, "Or both!" at the same time that I said the same thing from the front row; he and I then had a 'moment' where we locked eyes, nodded heads, and gestured at each other. Kinda fun. :)
This dynamic continued throughout the whole show -- Idina would have a ridiculous conversation with us about something completely random (wedding singing, Long Island, etc.), then turn around and belt out a perfect song or two, then go back to chatting. At one point, she picked up one of the random plastic tubes she'd found on the ground and said, "Do you guys ever play that game with your friends, you know, like, 'What could this be?'" [studies it thoughtfully] "Hmm. A urine sample..." [extends it from her nose] "...Cyrano de Bergerac..." While she was going on like this, the musicians, who were apparently operating under an entirely different set of cues, started to play the intro to the next song. She stopped them, laughing, and said, "I wanted to talk to them" (gesturing toward the audience) "about games and stuff, and you guys want to play this serious song. Which I guess is my bad," she continued to us, "because I always tell them to go right into that song..." At another point, she didn't know what song was coming up next, and said, "I really really hope it is what I think it is," then looked at the 'cheat sheet' taped to the floor and said, "Oh, no, it's not at all what I think it is!" Her stream-of-consciousness chatter just made me giggle.
She also had a funny story about singing a Barbra Streisand song at the Kennedy Center Honors, and how she'd poured so much effort and preparation into it, and then Barbra had completely ignored her when they were seated at the same table afterward. "So then my husband and I decided to start taking tequila shots, because it just seemed like the thing to do...!" :) Anyway, apparently Barbra did eventually ask, "Did you sing for me tonight? I wasn't wearing my glasses," and when Idina said yes, Barbra paused, then said, "Oh. ...You were good," and walked away. Idina's commentary to us was, "So I didn't know how to take that. Is that a good review? Is that a bad review? ...So then my husband and I proceeded to fight about it for the next two hours, and he said I was too pessimistic, always seeing the glass as half empty... and by that point, all the glasses were empty...!" :)
Side note: of all people, Beyonce had also performed a Streisand song that night, 'The Way We Were', which is one of the songs that Idina used to frequently perform as a wedding singer, and she indignantly said to us, "That was MY song!" She paused for a moment, then, as an afterthought, added, "...Bitch." LOL!
She also sang 'Tomorrow' as her second curtain call, "dedicated to my mother!" she said wryly, because apparently her mother wouldn't ever let her audition for Annie, "because she wanted me to have a normal childhood." :)
Oh, and one other fun thing. She spent a lot of time talking about a military guy she'd been seated next to on the flight to Raleigh, and he had told her about 'Challenge Coins'. I'd never heard of this before, but apparently it's a military thing, where certain units/brigades get coins minted that they're supposed to carry on them at all times. In theory, you can walk up to anybody in the military and say, "I challenge you!", and if they can't produce their Challenge Coin, then they have to buy a round of drinks for everybody. (But if they DO have their coin, then YOU have to buy the drinks!) Anyway, this guy had evidently given her his coin, and she pulled it out of the front of her dress to show everyone ("I put it there, because I knew I wouldn't lose it!"), and was in the middle of her meandering story about the coins when a distinguished-looking gentleman stood up from about the tenth row back, walked up to the stage, handed her something, and said, "There's another coin for you."
Well, he got the longest applause of the night, and Idina was visibly moved. "That was such a nice thing to do. ...I'm trying to hold my shit together here!" She was dabbing at her eyes, looking around the stage, trying to figure out where to put the coins. Someone gestured to the front of her dress again, and she exclaimed, "No, I can't put them down there with my sweaty boobs!" which made everyone crack up. Eventually, she laid them on a table next to the pianist, but pointed a finger at someone offstage and said, "Do NOT let me forget!" (If you watch the 'Poker Face' video below, where she loses the earring, she makes a reference to lying the earrings on the table with the coins.) Anyway, it made me laugh.
Other high points:
1) The second song she sang was 'I'm Not That Girl' from Wicked. 'Nough said. That song doesn't make as much sense out of context (and nobody beats Teal Wicks for that particular song in my book, anyway, not even Idina), but it was neat to see her perform it, knowing the history behind it.
2) I have somehow managed to survive 27 years of life without ever seeing RENT, and I think that situation needs to change, pronto. As I said, Idina was the original Maureen, and in a nod to the show, she sang 'No Day But Today'. If you haven't heard it, it's a slow song, about the importance of living in the present. At the end, she had us all sing with her. So amazing, and definitely one of my favorite moments of the whole show. Here's the video.
3) Sort of the antithesis of that: she actually also sang the Glee version of 'Poker Face', and had us all giggling uncontrollably for much of it, mostly because she kept stopping the orchestra in mid-song for no particularly good reason. Totally gets my point across about her quirkiness. First it was because of the ridiculous lyrics ("'Bluffin' with my muffin'... Why are we talking about baked goods?"), then to explain a gesture she had made, then because she lost her place ("Wait, what is it again?") and so forth. Utterly hilarious, and the musicians were all laughing right along with the audience. At one point, I leaned over to the girl next to me and said, "I bet this is the first time the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra has ever performed Lady Gaga!"... and approximately five seconds later, Idina stopped the orchestra in mid-song for the fourth time, faced them, and said, "I'd just like to take this opportunity to say thank you for indulging me with this song -- because I know you all went to Julliard and this is not the kind of music you thought you would be playing!" Maybe you had to be there, but it was ridiculously funny.
4) 'For Good'. Oh. My. Goodness. This was absolutely THE highlight of the entire concert. For those who don't know, it's the final 'big' song from Wicked, very sentimental, where you've seen the 'good witch' and 'bad witch' go through their full character arcs and now they're singing about how much they've learned from one another. Anyway, Idina sang the first line, then seemed to be thinking about something... and stopped. She put the mike down. Silenced the orchestra. Pulled her earpieces out. Stepped to the edge of the stage in her bare feet. And sang. Completely a cappella.
You could have heard a pin drop.
My hand flew up involuntarily to cover my mouth, and I heard the girl next to me sniffling. That was, hands-down, the most intimate, 'real' thing I have ever experienced at a show. Here's a video, from a different angle than the others I've posted -- you can really get an idea of how her voice filled up the house, even without a mic -- but it still doesn't even begin to capture the magic; I think it's one of those things where you really did have to 'be there'. Anyway, she got a standing ovation, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Amazing.
5) ...And, of course, her first curtain call was 'Defying Gravity'! She launched into it, and the spotlight changed to green as a nod to Wicked :) ...which was funny enough on its own, but then Idina changed the lyrics of the first few lines and started singing, "...and they've got the green spotlight, but without the green makeup on, it just makes you look -- sickly..." Hilarious. Here's the video; this one is from the same angle as above, and the person filming actually caught the ad-libbing about the green spotlight, so it's pretty funny.
Anyway, I waited at the stagedoor afterwards and got a brief encounter; the groupies around me were too awestruck to say anything once she finally reached our part of the line, and for all their former bravado, they just held out their Sharpies and programs without a word. I'd been planning to tease her about a comment she'd made about the Kennedy Center folks being worried about her falling into the 'hole' through which Beyonce was going to rise up (one of Idina's dubious 'claims to fame' is that she fell through a trapdoor and cracked a rib during one of her final performances of Wicked), but the joke didn't feel right; there were about 200 people there and she seemed pretty frazzled, with bodyguards flanking her on either side. So instead, I took advantage of the relative silence and said, "Thank you for such an incredible show. It's so rare to leave feeling as though you really got to know the person, not just the performer."
That got through, I could tell by the way she had to search for words for a second. She said "Aw, thank you!" then pulled her eyes up off the marker in her hand, searched for the face that matched the voice, and when her eyes found mine, she smiled and said, "...You know, I feel the same way."
I asked her if she'd mind if I got a picture with her, and she said, "Ooh, they're gonna get so mad at me...!", meaning the bodyguards. But she did it anyway. :)
Anyway, that was about it... but if any of you guys get the chance to see her live, you should definitely go. Whatever your musical taste, and whatever your knowledge (or lack thereof) of who in the world Idina Menzel is, you will not be sorry.