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Sunday, 20 November 2011 14:14

In Concert with Idina Menzel

Written by  Jo Frankel
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     When Idina Menzel sets out to do a PBS special/one-woman show she brings it all. And by all, I mean a powerhouse belt, endearing personal anecdotes, and a feeling that she can’t quite believe she’s really there. Her concert, backed by the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, at Koerner Hall in Toronto on Friday night was everything it was promised to be.



      Although the performance (the second filmed performance of the concert) began with an audience wrangler setting the audience up for shots of clapping, laughing, and giving a standing ovation on cue, it was more of a preview of what was to come than the irritation it could have been. It put the audience in the right anticipatory mood – one that was further drawn out by the longest intro ever (later explained to be due to a camera error). Idina’s first steps on stage were greeted by wild applause, catcalls, and general excitement. She greeted the audience, including those sitting behind the stage, and introduced Marvin Hamlisch and the orchestra, several times as she kept flubbing lines. That was really the only sign that her performance was being taped. The songs were rehearsed to note-perfection, but she had some difficulties getting the stories and introductions out without getting the giggles or losing track of what she was saying. She took it with good grace, and no little amusement, but some of the younger audience members may have learned a few interesting words to repeat at school on Monday.

       The audience, itself, consisted of quite a varied group; regular theatre attendees mixing with now-30ish Rentheads, younger Glee fans (some as young as 5 or 6) and their parents. Everyone looked to be enjoying themselves and they were very well-behaved. They clapped enthusiastically, laughed appropriately, and were fairly silent during the songs themselves. Quite a contrast to some of Idina’s previous concerts where fans tended to get carried away. This should come out looking and sounding great for PBS.

     Idina’s set list contained mainly theatre songs, most of which she’d sung at some point in her career, as well as a few personal favourites. She started with "Life of the Party", from Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party; a good choice, because, while not terribly well known, it launched an energetic mood which continued through much of the show. There were three songs from Wicked and one from Rent, plus a couple of songs from Funny Girl which accompanied a story about performing for Barbra Streisand at the Kennedy Centre Honours – Streisand being a personal hero of Idina’s, she was thrilled to have the chance to sing for her idol - and she made sure to tell us that she was still a fan, even after meeting the diva. "Don’t Rain on My Parade" was received much better by this audience, who rewarded her with a standing ovation.

      One Lady Gaga song was made ironic by Idina stopping after the first few bars to tell us the story of why she’d included it in her show; her first time on Glee when she performed a big mother-daughter reunion-duet with Lea Michele’s character, the writers chose to do it to "Pokerface". Lyrically, probably not the most appropriate choice. This theme carried through other parts of her show, as she introduced Cole Porter’s "Love for Sale" by saying she’d tried to seduce a former teacher by singing it in class, and was admonished to actually listen to what the lyrics were saying before choosing a performance style. Equally amusing was her rebuke to people who picked"Saving All My Love for You" as the first dance for their weddings, a popular choice back when Idina was a wedding singer in her teens. Listen to the lyrics, songs about infidelity, probably not the best wedding portent.

      A beautiful rendition of "Look to the Rainbow", sung with only the piano accompanying, closed the first act. The song showed off the soft, sweet, quiet aspects of her voice beautifully, exhibiting her versatility as a performer and reminding us that she can do more than belt.

      n the second act she sang one of her own songs, "Gorgeous", the only one of her published songs she did in the performance. There was, however, a whole section of songs she and her husband Taye Diggs, had written to sing to their son Walker, including a rap. When she spoke of her baby her face glowed brighter than ever, and you could clearly see that she loves being a mother.

      The show officially ended with "For Good", again beautifully and sincerely sung to all the people who came to see her. The standard walk off – return wasn’t even completed before she turned around and launched into" Defying Gravity", and then rounded off the performance with "The Way We Were" with Marvin at the piano. The audience stood and clapped until their hands were raw, but the audience wrangler returned and announced that Idina would not be back, so people started trickling out, looking sorry that it was over.

      I’m told that Taye Diggs came out on Thursday evening to sing a duet with Idina, but he did not return on Friday, so possibly that had been unplanned for the broadcast. We’ll see if it makes it into the final cut.

      Whatever else, it was a lovely, energetic evening of song and will probably, once edited, make an excellent television special. I know I’ll be watching for it.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Jo Frankel

Last modified on Wednesday, 23 November 2011 23:46
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