Idina Menzel Belts Stage and Songbook Hits, Accepts Fake Tony at Radio City Music Hall: Concert Review
Amid self-deprecating one-liners and a wardrobe malfunction, the Broadway/"Frozen" songstress covered U2 and Radiohead and teased a holiday album at a sold-out, one-night-only spectacle.
Idina Menzel made the dreams of show queens of all ages come true on Monday night at Radio City Music Hall — from the mini-Frozen fan and her mom who rocked out with her to "Take Me Or Leave Me," through the hair-whipping man who then took a turn center stage, to the older gentleman, whose lap she borrowed for a moment before pretend-accepting a Tony Award (she held a beer bottle). Menzel proved that she’s still just the classy broad from Long Island, who can still geek out about once singing at a wedding Julia Roberts attended.
Although Menzel now rubs elbows in similar circles to Roberts, thanks to a Billboard top-ten single from the Disney hit animated film and John Travolta’s fortunate Oscars faux-pas (and years of hard work, theatrical triumphs, and recording industry rejection along the way), Menzel has not lost her low-rent—no pun intended—aesthetic. The only difference between then and now is all the seats are filled, and she wears a few more "sparkly" dresses, though still with bare feet, her signature concert style.
"You’re sick of me aren’t you!" Menzel quipped, remarking on her incredible year after opening with the crowd-pleaser "Defying Gravity" from Wicked, for which Menzel won the Tony. "I’m sick of me." The sold-out, one-night-only concert seemed an effort to maintain clout in the music industry while she continues her eight-show-a-week gig in the new Broadway musical If/Then, from which she sang "Always Starting Over" and "Learn to Live Without." (The If/Then original cast recording recently debuted on the Billboard 200 at No. 19, the highest a Broadway cast album has ranked since Rent, which also starred Menzel, peaked at No. 19 in 1996.) "What else would I do on my day off?" Menzel joked. However, while the seats were dotted with young faces, Menzel made no apologies for her foul mouth—"Don’t count my curses!" she shouted after the first F-bomb.
"Are there lots of little girls here?" Menzel asked to huge applause. "Alright, well I’m just going to say this. I’m 43. I know I have some songs that are good for little kids, but just hold their ears so I can just do my thing."
Her "thing" included a set list populated by her concert standards such as Cole Porter’s "Love For Sale" and "Roxanne" (which are on her live album Barefoot at the Symphony) to her album singles "Brave" and "Still Can’t Be Still" to Rent and Wicked staples "No Day But Today" and a moving, unamplified "For Good" to new additions like U2's "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For" and Radiohead’s "Creep," which she called her "anti-empowerment song."
"I’m very grateful to have some really amazing songs that are very empowering. They help me through times in my life. I know how important they are for other people … I can’t get out of bed on certain days so it’s kind of hard to always be singing very uplifting songs like 'Defying Gravity.' I can’t always let it go," she said, rolling her eyes at herself. "Really? Pharrell’s going to sing ‘Happy’ every day of his life? He’s going to kill himself." (Menzel completed her pre-encore set with the song that follows her everywhere, "Let It Go." For her encore, she sang a sweet arrangement of "I’ll Be Seeing You" and "Every Time We Say Goodbye.")
She also opened up about reading unpleasant things about her, like being called "screechy," and though her high belt has received some criticism, she emphasized her desire to be "loud and proud" and to "sing from the heart," like Aretha Franklin and Ethel Merman. "She was the first belter, Ethel Merman. So this is for you Ethel,” she said before launching into a Merman-medley of "There’s No Business Like Show Business," "Anything Goes," and "Everything’s Coming Up Roses."
Menzel revealed that she’s recording a Christmas album, and she shared an original tune, "December Prayer." "I know I’m Jewish, but a lot of famous Jewish people have written Christmas songs so I’m going to try to have a lot of their songs on the album." she said. "I’m glad I’m not singing about Jesus," she added to awkward laughter. There were a few uncertain receptions throughout the night, though Menzel made no apologies about her style, as she happily moved microphone stands that were "upstaging her," chewed lozenges (and tossed some into the crowd) between songs, fidgeted with her earpiece, and continually checked herself out in the monitors on either side of the stage. "These things are not good for a vain person!" she said. "You watch yourself all night."
But in one of the moments when she wasn’t eyeing the giant screens, Menzel may or may not have had a nip-slip, which she re-visited throughout the second half of the concert (see video below). After an onstage costume change (behind a partition) and an "intermission," where she sat on a white couch and pretended to call her four-year-old son, Walker ("You having a good time with daddy?" Menzel said, referring to her ex-husband Taye Diggs. "Tell him Mommy’s doing a show at Radio City."), an audience member called attention to something that was happening around her leather bra. What seemed to be an extraneous microphone cord coming out of the outfit from a few rows back, Menzel assumed was a wardrobe malfunction and proceeded to reference it for the remainder of the show. "Oh that’s going to be all over television," she said, checking herself in the monitors again, then adding, “Well f--- it, they’re real."
She knows from experience that sometimes accidents and mistakes can be the best thing to happen to a career.