Menzel delivers a Wicked good performance
A review of Idina Menzel at the Berklee Performance Center on November 8
Showcasing both her depth and breath as an artist, Idina Menzel, shifted between Broadway singer, rock star, actress, storyteller, wedding singer and pop diva during a ‘wickedly’ good performance at the Berklee Performance Center on Saturday night. While the lack of a consistent point of view was confusing at times, the multi-talented Tony award winning actress, singer and songwriter pulled it off, thanks to an amazing voice and a supportive audience.
Menzel, who achieved fame as Maureen Johnson in Rent and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West in Wicked, opened the nearly two hour set with the surprisingly energetic song “Don’t Let Me Down” from her recently released debut album I Stand. Menzel then quickly transitioned into a playful, sexy version of “Here”, even asking the audience, “Tell me how much you want to have sex with me” and quickly explaining, “I have been away from my husband [actor Taye Diggs] for a bit and I am feeling a little frisky”. Next up was a cover of Pat Benatar’s smash hit “Heartbreaker”.& Hence the confusion, three songs, three totally different sounds!
Slowing things down a bit, Menzel sat on the edge of the stage and delivered a dramatic performance of “Where Do I Begin”, also from I Stand. Then, with an unexpected, but unique twist, Menzel sang her Bat Mitzvah song “Devorah”, citing that “Prior to my Bat Mitzvah, I had quit going to Hebrew School, so I was a big disappointment to my family, so I am going to do it for you!” She then performed an absolutely beautiful version of the Jewish prayer about the strong yet patient “Mother of Israel”.
Continuing with the walk down memory lane, Menzel shared stories of her days as a wedding singer, saying while she was required to sing any number of ridiculous songs, that her favorite was the romantic ballad, “Embraceable You” which perfectly suits her elegant voice. Menzel then told the story of quitting her job after her boss threw something at her, and how she worried she would never work again, and then came her big break – Rent!
From the first chords of “Rent – Finale B: No Day But Today”, the audience went mad and began to sing, nearly drowning out Menzel, who politely asked, “Do you mind if I sing this one!” Then in a very endearing move, she asked an audience member to sing the final chorus with her, brining the audience member to tears!
Menzel then sang the song “Brave” and “I Feel Everything” from I Stand, which was originally recorded after a fight with her husband and was too guitar heavy for her producers, who softened the track for the album, however the audience was treated to both versions.& (Honestly, the hard rock version is better).
Menzel then stalled while she let her voice recover and chatted with the audience as if we were all old friends. She joked about the things she does for publicity, like riding the M & M float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and that yes, the green M&M will be wearing a witch’s hat. When asked by a fan about her PBS special, she humbly said that she was excited about the program that will air on January 15th, but that she had to admit that being on a float was much cooler!
While the audience clearly had more questions for her, it was back to business for Menzel, who sat on the floor and sang one of her favorite songs, a cover of the Ricky Lee Jones song “Company”. Up next was one of the highlights of the evening, the title track “I Stand” that Menzel, “Wrote before the primaries, but it feels good to sing it now … Barack Obama he is dope!” With its upbeat sound and message of hope, Menzel added a sample of Bob Marley’s “Get Up Stand Up”, which brought the audience to their feet.
Closing out the main set, Menzel performed “Forever”, “For Good” from Wicked, and the ultra pop track “Gorgeous”. Back on stage for a three song encore, Menzel played “No Trace of Us”, another ballad that was written for her by Duncan Sheik, an absolutely amazing cover of Seal’s “A Kiss from a Rose” and an unbelievable, goose bump, standing ovation inspiring version of “Defying Gravity” from Wicked.
Whether it was due to her amazing (no, really amazing!) voice, her surprising versatility, or her charming personality, Menzel did a phenomenal job of introducing the audience to her new material while not alienating her Broadway fan base, resulting in a thoroughly entertained crowd. As the house lights came up and Menzel collected the dozens of gifts left for her and hugged her admirers, one devotee said it best, “We love you Idina, no matter what you do!”
Opening the show in support of Idina Menzel was singer/song-write Chris Mann, who delivered a fantastic performance. Mann, who was recently signed to Sony records, admitted on his blog that, despite being a music major at the prestigious Vanderbilt University, he was a bit intimidated by the Berklee crowd. Although he only played a brief thirty minute set, trust me he has no reason to be intimidated. His lyrics are romantic, his melodies are soulful and his voice is exceptional (think Joshua Radin meets Josh Groban) and he has the charisma to be one of the next great singer/song-writers.& &