One could bemoan the state of society when labels are exchanged for enjoying well written tunes sung to fantastically high standards, or one can simply resign oneself to the humble belief that good music should transcend boundaries, not create them. It is with this point in mind that I went to see Idina Menzel – star of stage and screen from musicals including Rent, Chess, and, perhaps most famously, Wicked; as well as the popular American show Glee – at the Palace Theatre in Manchester on October 17th.
After much heckling from a restless and packed audience of older women and their dragged-along husbands, and young men in couples (as well as me and my friend and, I’m sure, other people not fulfilling a stereotype; though they were hard to see), Menzel’s symphony orchestra – complete with harp and double bass – settled in as the lights went down and began a stirring rendition of ‘Over the Rainbow’, which Menzel sang off stage before running to the centre from the wings to blast a faultless ‘Wizard and I’ from Wicked.
She then promptly apologised for her lateness and the state of her hair, both of which were the cause of a melted curling iron; and she immediately endeared herself to an audience of receptive and adoring fanatics. Throughout the evening she revealed increasingly more of her life and vivacious personality, as she talked at length about her experiences as a wedding singer before she made it, and how close she is with her small family, and her upset at the passing away of the legendary composer of A Chorus Line Marvin Hamlisch; but more than that, she sang lyrics that meant something to her, or that circulated events that marked her life.
Alongside the obvious ‘Defying Gravity’ and ‘Take Me or Leave Me’ (for which she accrued four members of the audience to sing the alternate verse of Rent character Joanne), Menzel included a song by Joni Mitchell, which she loved because it was about clouds and love, and many original pieces never before recorded which she simply thought up. All of this was brought to a magnificent head by her a cappella – and clearly unprompted – arrangement of ‘For Good’ for her Mancunian fans who quite clearly welcomed her to their city for the first time, but hopefully not the last.
Putting aside any connotations of enjoying a good show tune, Idina Menzel’s voice has not changed since her Tony winning performance in what has now become her signature musical; nor has her commitment to high notes, peculiar arrangements, and curious amalgamations of two songs one would think belonged entirely separate. The audience were clearly quite glad about her permanence; and it is gleefully hoped that, the next time she comes to the UK, she still won’t have changed.