She played Maureen in Rent, Elphaba in Wicked, and Nancy in Disney’s Enchanted. She shined as Shelby Corcoran on TV’s Glee and captivated as icy Elsa in Frozen.
But last night (July 12) at Jacobs Pavilion in Cleveland Idina Menzel was simply Idina (in keeping with the name of her eponymous new album), the charming chanteuse from New York who travels around singing the sensational show tunes she made famous on Broadway and in Hollywood.
Fans at the outdoor venue loved it: The drama, theatricality, and grace—and that dynamic range Idina explores when portraying her witches, queens, and every Tony Award-winning character in between.
The riverside celebration began at sunset (around 8:30pm) with Menzel striding into view with her musicians and launching into throbbing new cut “Queen of Swords” and refined Ross Golan (Maroon 5, Ariana Grande)-written elegy “Small World.” Looking glam / fab in black pants, pumps, and glitter top with a black, star-bedazzled waistcoat, Idina thumped a pair of floor toms to the big, busy beats.
Melodic (but multisyllabic) “Seasons of Love” was the first of several familiar Menzel pieces from plays (in this case, Rent) and moving pictures.
“Whoo!” gushed Idina. “That song has too many numbers!”
Funny Girl selection “Don’t Rain On My Parade” saw Menzel strut and vamp Streisand-style with a top hat—and plenty of attitude. “Everybody Knows” disguised haunting melodies in its urgent, irresistible rhythms.
New original track “Cake” segued surprisingly into Idina’s electrifying Hey, hey mama cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.” The Stephen Schwartz-penned “I’m Not That Girl” gave onlookers their first taste of Wicked fare, while “Wind Beneath My Wings” found Menzel respectfully mimicking—and expounding upon—the Bette Midler tearjerker from Beaches. Then Idina and company embraced the theatrical once more with “Defying Gravity,” whereon Menzel held silken sheets aloft to billow in a picturesque breeze generated by stage fans.
An effective pair of cover songs came next: Idina and band injected gospel organ oomph into 1970 Simon & Garfunkel smash “Bridge Over Troubled Water” but added extra R&B flash to 1971 Aretha Franklin rump-shaker “Rock Steady.”
The latter half of the concert saw Idina easing back into role model mode. A mother herself, Menzel appears to take quite naturally to her high-profile gig as inspirational big sister to millions of tween and teenage girls around the globe. Sure, the entertainer dropped a couple f-bombs here and there—but she exuded seriousness and sincerity at all the right moments, preaching messages of tolerance and self-worth to her the faithful.
Indeed, some of those pint-sized true-believers even made it onto the stage with their idol: Idina welcomed a couple wide-eyed, banner-toting toddlers up for hugs and quick chats.
“For me? Oh! Do I keep it, or do I sign it and give it back?” queried the star, who lovingly autographed and returned the poster-boards.
Later, Menzel invited a whole gaggle of girls to join her ‘round a strategically-placed staircase for a snow-minded singalong (that’d be the unforgettable Frozen centerpiece “Let It Go”).
Touching carpe diem ballad “No Day But Today” was sent out to Rent creator Jonathan Larson, who passed away shortly after that play’s debut. Other highlights included Menzel’s a cappella of Wicked entry “For Good” and her mashup of The Beatles’ poetic “Dear Prudence” with “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”
It was about as “Christmas in July” as one could get on a humid, upper-80s evening.
There were synthesizers that sound like string quartets and symphonies. There was crackling electric guitar, a feisty fiddle, dazzling drums and percussion…even a funky bass solo. Slathered with Menzel’s mezzo soprano and stage moxie, the cinematic midsummer set was quite simply the stuff fairy godmothers are made of.