Idina Menzel will perform July 8 at Ravinia Festival, and her PBS concert… (Handout )
When you hear the name Idina Menzel, you might think of Shelby Corcoran in "Glee," or Elphaba the witch in "Wicked," or Maureen in "Rent."
Menzel has memorably played all three of those women. But in her upcoming PBS concert special and at the Ravinia Festival this summer, Menzel will show fans who she really is—glorious voice, bare feet and all.
On July 8, Menzel will make her Ravinia debut, performing in concert with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by Marvin Hamlisch, the festival announced Friday. Fans can get a taste of what might happen this summer on Monday, when "Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony" debuts at 9 p.m. on WTTW.
"It's the culmination of a year and a half of touring with orchestras, symphonies all over the country—the world," she told me during a phone conversation Thursday from L.A. “PBS wanted to support us and document the show, which is such an honor.
“I always wanted to have one of those concerts on PBS … And we're going to release a live DVD and CD that goes along with it. So it’s an exciting time for me, I’ve never made a live album before.”
It’s turning out to be a year of firsts for Menzel, which is kind of surprising considering the powerhouse performer has been wowing audiences on stage, screen and in recordings since her Broadway debut in "Rent" in 1996. Menzel also will spend more time in Chicago this year—another first—when she visits the WTTW studios Monday during the telecast and pledge drive. (Hint for fans: She just might offer tickets to the Ravinia show, and copies of her live DVD and CD, for your pledges.)
Filmed at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall in Toronto, “Barefoot at the Symphony” has Menzel performing Broadway classics, her own songs and new spins on contemporary tunes. Saying she wants to keep “some element of surprise,” Menzel wouldn’t list any specific songs that she performs in the special (and most likely will at Ravinia), but she did confirm she does perform songs from “Rent” and “Wicked.”
That means we’ll hear Elphaba’s signature “Wicked” song, “Defying Gravity.” I asked if she ever gets tired of performing the song that she first sang for the role that won her a Tony Award.
“Honestly I do not,” she said. “It’s such an honor to have a song like that; it’s such an iconic song that people are waiting to hear. In your lifetime if you have one song like that, you’re just so lucky.”
(I couldn’t nail her down on her concert songlist, but I did get her to list a few of her favorite songs that she’s performed on “Glee” and other performers she and husband Taye Diggs enjoy. You can check out the playlist I made at Spotify by clicking "Idina Menzel Playlist by Show Patrol")
Now, about the “barefoot” in “Barefoot at the Symphony:” It may sound like a gimmick, but that’s exactly how Menzel prefers to perform. She had been singing in three-inch heels during her tour, but carrying her son around in the heels messed up her back, she said. So one night she decided to go barefoot.
“That just changed me,” she said. “From then on I just felt like I was just so much freer. I felt like I was funnier. You can feel so stiff up there when you have a conductor and you’re in these fancy halls—and that’s not me.”
Menzel talked more about her musical theater experiences, her concert tour and what’s coming up for Shelby on “Glee.”
I want to get the gushing out the way first. You’re responsible for two of my favorite New York theater experiences. I saw you in “Rent” and “Wicked” on Broadway. So thanks.
Oh, wow, thank you. Thanks, that’s so great.
And the night I saw you in “Wicked,” Britney Spears was in the audience.
Yes, and she got up before you were finished singing before the intermission.
And she left? She didn’t leave the show because she didn’t like it—
No, she left because she didn’t want to get mobbed.
Oh, right, right. Now it’s coming back to me a little bit. Oh, my God, that’s funny.
Was “Rent” a big life-changing experience for you?
Yeah, I met my husband and it was my first professional job.
Oh, I didn’t know it was your first job.
Yeah, it was. And it taught me everything about how to really discipline yourself [while] doing eight shows a week and all that kind of stuff. And also, the biggest lesson was to really appreciate every moment and not take things for granted and all that kind of stuff. Having been working with Jonathan Larson and in rehearsal and then losing him. You’re familiar with that story?