About every 10 years, an Idina Menzel project makes history.
She exploded onto the theater scene in 1994’s Broadway smash hit “Rent” as the vivacious performing artist Maureen. “Rent” went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and remains one of the longest-running Broadway shows in history. In 2003, “Wicked” skyrocked to a theater legend with Menzel winning a Tony for the lead role of Elphaba. It continues to break its own box office records in New York and in satellite productions all over the world. And in 2013 she became the voice of Queen Elsa in Disney’s “Frozen,” the highest-grossing animated film of all time.
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While consistently lending her talent to mega-hits, Menzel has simultaneously decreased the median age of her fan base, attracting scores of teenagers in black witch hats and little girls touting Elsa braids. That said, Menzel gives fair warning: her most recent tour, which will come to Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa 8 p.m. Saturday, May 20, will sometimes cross over into PG-13 territory.
“I’m a woman in her 40s, so in order to remain true to myself and authentic, I can’t completely cater to a young crowd,” Menzel says. “The demographic at my shows are pretty broad, so I usually just kind of give a disclaimer to moms that there might be a few earmuff moments and to just cut me a break and remember that I’m in my 40s. I hope I don’t offend people too much.”
Those “earmuff” moments are born of Menzel’s refreshing candor onstage. The pleasure of seeing her live isn’t in complicated dance numbers, Vegas-style glitz or mosh-pit energy. Menzel instead cultivates an intimate evening. The venue becomes her living room, the audience her confidants — she doesn’t shy away from slipping off her shoes, reporting any and all wardrobe malfunctions to the crowd or dropping a few f-bombs while retelling a funny story. And then there’s that powerhouse voice.
When asked if she ever tires of singing fan-favorite songs like “Defying Gravity” and “Let It Go,” Menzel is full of gratitude.
“I know people think that, but I don’t. I think you develop a muscle when you do theater eight shows a week that helps you find nuance in every single show to keep it new and fresh for yourself. I find that to be a really wonderful challenge — discovering new things all the time,” Menzel explains. “And songs like ‘Defying Gravity’ and ‘Let it Go’ resonate so strongly with young people. I have a responsibility and a pride on stage — how many people get songs like that in their lifetime? It’s a nice reminder on stage to know that things are going well and how lucky I am.”
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In between her 10-year home runs, Menzel has starred in several theater productions like “If/Then” and movies like the Lifetime remake of “Beaches,” was a regular on shows like “Glee” and released a few solo albums. Her most recent, “Idina,” is simultaneously raw and uplifting, written at a tumultuous time in Menzel’s life.
“I always choose songwriters and producers that inspire me and that are more talented than I am. And I get in a room with them, and I regurgitate all of my thoughts and ideas and emotions, and they help turn it into some beautiful songs,” she says of creating her albums. “It’s just the personal stuff that’s different each time and what story you’re telling. This particular time there were some big dueling forces. My professional life was booming and exciting. I was on Broadway, and ‘Frozen’ was a huge success, and I was singing at the Oscars and the Super Bowl. And simultaneously I was going through a divorce and dealing with lawyers and mediation and all that stuff. It was a lot of contradicting forces. It gave me a lot to write about.”
Menzel’s Borgata show will feature new songs from “Idina,” as well as a few from her previous albums, covers and the empowering showstoppers she’s known for — a repertoire that has grown with every strong female character she’s played on stage and screen. As to how she came to be cast in so many inspiring roles, Menzel is baffled, but proud.
“That’s one of those chicken or egg questions that I think (the roles) about all the time. I think they choose me. Certainly ‘Wicked’ wasn’t at the point in my career when I could choose a role like that. I had to audition several times, and work hard to get it. Maybe once people see you in something like that, that’s empowering for women, they think of you for the next similar project that has similar themes ... I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I’m proud of that,” she says, adding with a laugh, “Though, it would be nice to do a romantic comedy with just a cute dude once in a while.”