Idina Menzel – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Reviewer: Clare White

Just last week, Idina Menzel was introduced on ITV’s Loose Women as ‘the star of Disney’s Frozen’. Indeed, as the voice of Princess Elsa in the 2013 animated film, she was propelled to global stardom and became a household name, but Frozen is just the tip of the iceberg – Idina was a stage and screen superstar long before then. She made her Broadway debut in Rent in 1996 and went on to star as Elphaba in the musical Wicked, for which she won a Tony Award for best actress in a musical. She played Shelby Corcoran in television hit Glee, starred in the film Enchanted in 2007 and returned to Broadway in 2014, taking the lead in If/Then.

Menzel’s 2017 world tour celebrates the release of her fifth studio album, self-titled Idina, which explores deeply personal themes, including her painful divorce from Rent co-star Taye Diggs, guilt over the effect of the breakup on her young son and learning to love again.

As the audience take their seats in Symphony Hall, the demographic split of Menzel’s fan base is evident – there are young fans, eager to see a Disney princess in real life, and the musical theatre fans, wanting to witness the original Elphaba belt out Defying Gravity. In an effort to keep everyone happy, the set list is a bit of a mish-mash – featuring songs from Idina and from her stage career, plus the odd popular show tune thrown in. There is no real theme, so it’s a bit confusing, chaotic and charming, all at the same time – a bit like the songstress herself. By her own admission, Menzel is quirky and flawed. ‘I have issues’, she tells the audience, and as a sassy New Yorker, ‘the mouth of a truck driver’. Thankfully for us, she also has the voice of an angel.

Supported by a nine-piece band, she kicks off with Queen of Swords from her latest album, an upbeat girl power track, with Menzel taking lead on the drums, followed by soaring ballad Small World. The set list is peppered with popular covers, including Don’t Rain on My Parade, Bridge over Trouble Water and a deep-bass mash up of her new track Cake with Led Zepplin’s Black Dog.

Putting her heart and soul into every note, her voice is as strong at the top of her range as it is the bottom. Menzel has a powerful, yet vulnerable quality to her voice which commands you sit up a listen.

Unsurprisingly, the audience responds with the most enthusiasm for the musical numbers she is best known for – Seasons of Love from Rent, Do You Wanna Build a Snowman? from Frozen (which was ironic, given it was the hottest day of the year so far) and a stunning a cappella rendition of For Good from Wicked. With no accompaniment or microphone, the striking tone of her voice could be heard clearly and it was a real ‘pin drop’ moment.

If Menzel hadn’t become a singer/songwriter/actress, she might have considered a career in stand-up. Her witty, self-deprecating humour and good-natured banter with the audience makes her show much more than just a singer and her band. She is a captivating performer.

Defying Gravity is an undoubted highlight. As the first musical ‘Wicked’ witch of west, Menzel set the bar on every Elphaba that has followed. She makes hitting that elusive high F Note appear effortless and the audience responds with a standing ovation.

There is a touching moment in the penultimate song when she is joined on stage by children from the audience, to sing the Frozen anthem Let It Go. As the youngsters take their opportunity in the spotlight to release their inner-Elsa, Menzel apologises to their parents. ‘I’m so sorry, you must hate me, having to listen to this song over and over.’ She finishes the evening with her own song I See You, a poignant ballad about inclusion and love, which you get the feeling is what this lady is all about.

Vocally stunning, witty and endearing – Miss Menzel is a class act.

Reviewed on 19 June 2017 and on tour| Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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