Idina Menzel: From Bar Mitzvah Singer To Star

By Marvin Glassman

Published August 28, 2015, issue of August 27, 2015.
Idina Menzel
Idina Menzel

When she was a teen singing at bar mitzvahs and weddings, Idina Menzel only dreamed of starring in concert like her idol, Barbra Streisand.

More than 25 years later, the singer has arrived as a bona fide concert star, performing locally in concert on Friday, August 28, in Boston at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion and on Saturday, August 29, in Lenox at the Tanglewood Music Festival, as part of her national and worldwide tour through September.

After receiving critical acclaim from audiences and critics alike since she made her debut on Broadway starring as Maureen in “Rent” in 1996, Menzel, 44, has had a meteoric rise as an artist in a few short years, as Streisand did in the late 60s. In 2004, she won a Tony Award for best actress of the year for her role as Elphaba, the green-skinned witch in “Wicked.”

Many of Menzel’s Jewish fans feel that she is the next big Jewish icon in music, much like Bette Midler and Streisand, with a long career in music ahead of her.

“Idina really connects to her audience. Her stage presence is inviting and warm. While many vocalists are difficult to understand, Idina’s voice is as clear as a bell and a pleasure to listen to,” said Dr. Linda Kaplan of Hollywood, FL, who was a professional singer prior to her career in medicine. “Idina has also grown and matured as a singer over the three years I have seen her live in concert. Her voice is rounder and fuller now.”

“It is an honor to be compared to Barbra Streisand. I have always looked up to her. In fact, I love singing ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ and did so at the Kennedy Centers Honors tribute to her, as I often tell in concert,” said Menzel in a phone interview.

At her Boston and Lenox concerts, Menzel will sing her hit songs “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked,” “No Day But Today” from “Rent” and “Let It Go” from the movie “Frozen.” She will also include a four-song tribute to Ethel Merman.

Menzel was born in Queens and raised in Long Island. Her parents divorced when she was 15; to help support her mother, Menzel worked as a bar mitzvah and wedding singer before getting her big break in “Rent.” Along the way to Broadway fame, Menzel’s big, belting voice also was heard on records; she had a hit song in “Gorgeous” from her 2008 CD.

Last year, Menzel recorded a Christmas CD, and made it clear in her interview that recording Christmas music had nothing at all to do with having affinity with Christianity.

“I am Jewish. I am recording Christmas music that was made by Jewish composers because they write beautiful songs. If Barbra Streisand can make a Christmas album, I can,” she said. Menzel married African-American actor Taye Diggs in 2003 and divorced him in 2014. She has a son, Walker, who is five.

“I am a Jewish woman,” said Menzel. “I feel strong connections to my culture and heritage, although I don’t define myself as religious. Now that I am a mom, I am struggling with how Jewish I want to be. Walker in time will choose what he will be in the future.”

Like Streisand, Menzel worked with Marvin Hamlisch, who was the musical director of Menzel’s concerts until he passed away in 2012. At his funeral, Menzel sang Hamlisch’s favorite song that he wrote — “At The Ballet” from his Broadway musical “A Chorus Line.”

“Marvin was a friend, mentor and a second father to me and I still miss him to this day. To have shared the stage with such a legend will forever be a highlight of my life,” said Menzel.

For tickets to the 8 p.m. Boston concert on August 28 at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, 290 Northern Avenue in Boston, call 617-728-1600 or go to bluehillsbankpavilion.net. For tickets to the 7 p.m. Lenox concert on August 29 at Tanglewood Music Center, 297 West Street in Lenox, call 617-266-1200 or go to bso.org.



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