If we count her opening excerpt from “Over the Rainbow,” soprano Idina Menzel was a thrill last night at the Auditorium Theatre, performing more than two hours of Broadway songs from hits such as “Wicked,” “Rent,” and “A Chorus Line.”
Menzel has a big, huge voice. If you love high notes...if you love sustained high notes...if you love a diva with her arms flung wide open, head laid back and eyes closed, then Menzel is a soprano for you.
But, with the exception of a few songs, Menzel's concert was too much of a good thing. When Menzel performed two of the best songs of the night, one an original (unnamed) song (lyrics anchored to “It is I”) and “Learn to Live Without,” she sang from a different place – emotionally and physically. In these songs, Menzel was tender, vulnerable, and genuine. She spoke a few words, then she breathed out a few more. Her vibrato was dialed far down so that she sang a clear and clean melody, and her voice reflected textures of singing from chest to head.
By comparison, when she sang, “What I Did for Love” (“A Chorus Line”) each separate word of the repetitive “…had to do…” was hit hard and swelled louder, interrupting a simple melody bearing a sad lyric. And when she sang “At the Ballet” (“A Chorus Line”), Menzel was strong and loud throughout, as opposed to building the tension to the point where the character’s obviously broken heart cannot convince herself that the fantasy of the ballet can compensate for the rest of her life.
In a solo show, the singer performing Broadway must rapidly shift from one character to another. If Menzel is going to use props – use them, don’t discuss them. If Menzel is going to wear a long gown and go barefoot – have it hemmed for barefoot height to eliminate all the struggles with fabric getting in the way. And, if Menzel is going to wear a strapless gown – get it fitted so that energy is not wasted on gown yanking that could go into pulling upon the heart strings of the audience.
The reason any of this is even brought up: Menzel talked about all of this while on stage. For the first few songs, more time was spent talking than singing. Menzel’s self-described “raunchiness” that she “needed to get out” before her Monday concert at Carnegie Hall was hilarious, but when the seemingly unscripted humor of the performer picks apart the self, I have to wonder if she was truly uncomfortable on stage or had too many distractions interrupting her concentration? There were missed notes and candid facial expressions that reinforced my question.
When Menzel stripped away the band and the microphone and sang one song a cappella, “Changed for Good” (“Wicked”), she earned the long, standing ovation. For that one song, not only was Menzel grounded physically, but she was listening to herself sing in the specific space of the Auditorium Theatre. If only Menzel could have brought that same approach to the whole night.