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Speaking With. . . Idina Menzel 07.06.12


Idina Menzel

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Idina Menzel


♦ 5 p.m July 8

♦ Ravinia Festival, Lake-Cook and Green Bay Roads, Highland Park

♦ Tickets, $10-$90

♦ (847) 266-5100;

It wasn’t exactly easy being green for Tony Award-winning actress-singer Idina Menzel, who won the coveted statuette for her portrayal of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West in “Wicked.”

“Wearing the makeup every night wasn’t bad; it was taking it off that was not very appealing,” Menzel said with a chuckle during a recent phone conversation.

But all that seems like a lifetime away for Menzel, who has moved on to other stage, film and television roles (including a stint as Lea Michele’s mom on “Glee.”) On the homefront, Menzel and her husband, actor Taye Diggs, (the two met while co-starring in the original Broadway production of “Rent” in 1996) welcomed their son, Walker Nathaniel, three years ago. The toddler is currently out on the road with mom for her latest concert tour, “Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony,” based on her recent PBS special. (A DVD and CD of the concert event were recently released.)

Menzel brings her tour to Ravinia on July 8, though concertgoers will be treated to some new songs and segments “because I like to change up the show’s set to keep it fresh for the audience and me,” the 41-year-old actress said.

Question: How did the PBS special come about?

Idina Menzel: It was the culmination of touring with orchestras and symphonies all over the country and Europe. It was a whole new partnership for me. I wanted music that spoke to people on a grand scale of an orchestra hall, but that maintained the intimate relationship with the audience and the music that I love.

Q. How did the whole barefoot part of your stage persona evolve and have there been any injuries, cuts, scrapes of note?

IM: My back went out one day from carrying the baby so that night I just went out on the stage barefoot and it stayed that way. I felt so free and so much more like myself. Having an entire symphony behind you, you can get lost in a sense; being barefoot helps me stay grounded. And there haven’t been any foot injuries. It’s not like rock and roll stages where the floor is pretty chopped up. I’m performing on very well-kept stage floors.

Q. What has it been like to work with Marvin Hamlisch, whose music is an integral part of your show?

IM: Before I ever met him, I just respected and revered him and his work. An then to have him up there as the captain of my ship is such an honor. To absorb his knowledge, and wisdom and his wit; he is a very funny person. It’s been transformative for me on so many levels.

Q. What have you learned from him about music in general?

IM: There’s just so much, but I would say that honoring the melody would be up there on the list.

Q. Do you get tired of being asked about “Wicked” from fans and reporters?

IM: [Laughing] “Wicked” changed my life in every way possible, outside of having my child. It was a gift. I was in the play for years before anybody really saw it. To eventually see my investment of time along with the incredible cast and creative team become this huge success was more than I could have ever hoped for. That it resonates so much with young children is even more special. People always ask me if I’m sick of singing “Defying Gravity,” and I joke that I’ll be singing it someday in Vegas, an octave lower, when I’m an old lady who can’t tour anymore.

Q. What attracted you the role of Lea Michele’s mom, on “Glee,” and how uncanny was the physical resemblance between the two of you?

IM: Taye and I were just huge fans of the show. We put it out there and we were very lucky that the show was thinking the same thing. At the time we had just had our baby and our priorities were such that the idea of staying in one place was perfect. I was just happy to have a job and that they didn’t think I was still too fat to be on TV. And it was a compliment that people thought Lea and I looked alike. Although playing her mom when she’s really 25 years old was a real ego check for me.

Q. How do you and Taye balance your careers and family life?

IM: We’ve gone through a lot of learning phases in the 15 years we’ve been together; we’ve been married for 10. Being in the same city is very important. We don’t separate for more than two weeks. Family is first for both of us. Artistically it’s about keeping the other person involved in what you’re doing.

Q. So was it hard or easy to get Taye to join you on stage for the PBS special?

IM: I had to beg him to do that. He doesn’t do [the singing] as much as I do these days. But he was great. We argue a little bit about how we should sing it, what key. Then he starts directing me and I start directing him. Then we get out on stage and have a blast.

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