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Singer Idina Menzel performs Aug. 8 at the Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theater, San Diego. Photo by Robin Wong
Singer Idina Menzel performs Aug. 8 at the Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theater, San Diego. Photo by Robin Wong
Arts Community

Menzel is still riding the wave of success

A new generation of fans got to know Idina Menzel through her work on the blockbuster movie “Frozen” and the song “Let It Go,” which became a huge crossover hit.

But as much as she appreciates what that song in particular did for her career, Menzel also values what the message of the song (about the character embracing her ability to create and control ice and snow) taught her.

“It’s wonderful to have a song that’s obviously heightened my profile and helps people get to know me better professionally on a deeper level and gives me more opportunities and all that,” Menzel said in a recent teleconference interview with reporters. “The beautiful thing about it is that it’s, as much as it speaks to young people, it also speaks to me as a woman and as a reminder for myself, about the things that I think are important and things I need to learn, for instance, the idea of really not hiding those things that make us really powerful. Those things that might set us apart or make us a little different are those things that really make us extraordinary and set us apart in the world. I think that’s something we grapple with, especially strong, fierce women. We can somehow suppress that or take a step back because we’re afraid of seeming threatening or being disliked, being different.”

Menzel is quite familiar with that feeling of playing a role or being part of a project that resonates strongly with audiences.

Long before she sang “Let It Go” and voiced the character Queen Elsa in “Frozen,” Menzel had originated roles in a pair of Broadway’s most popular recent productions.

She came into prominence playing the role of Maureen Johnson in the Broadway musical, “Rent,” earning a Tony nomination in 1996 and in 2003 reached a new level on Broadway playing Elphaba in “Wicked” in 2003. That role won her the 2004 Tony award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.

In between acting roles, Menzel began to build her singing career. She released three solo albums — “Still I Can’t Be Still,” on Hollywood Records in 1998, “Here,” on the indie label Zel Records in 2004 and “I Stand,” in 2008 on Warner Bros./Reprise Records.

Despite the notoriety for her roles in “Rent” and “Wicked,” Menzel only saw her profile really begin to rise when she landed a recurring role on the hit television series “Glee,” appearing in 12 episodes from 2010 and 2013.

She returned to Broadway in 2013, starring as Elizabeth in “If/Then,” which earned her second Tony nomination for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.  She lost out to Jessie Mueller, who played the lead role in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”

But in terms of popularity and visibility, all of that was a prelude to her role as Queen Elsa in the blockbuster movie “Frozen.” The film won the 2014 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and “Let It Go” took the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Mendel performed the song at the Oscars in 2014.

Sales of “Let It Go” have topped 5 million in the United States alone, and the song topped off its run this past February by winning the Grammy for Best Song Written for Visual Media.

Menzel is still riding the wave of success that came with “Frozen,” and launched a worldwide concert tour in May that continues this summer with shows across the United States into September. Even though she is now playing large outdoor amphitheaters and arenas, Menzel said he is trying to give the feeling of a performance in a smaller venue on the tour.

“The thing that I’m most proud of in the past with all of my touring is my ability to give a very intimate performance, and for people to feel they really get to know me when they leave the venue,” she said.

“So it’s very important to me that even though I’m perhaps on a different level and my profile has gotten bigger because of things like ‘Frozen,’ I’m still able to connect with every single person in that audience. That’s challenging to do the bigger the venues get, but I think it’s possible. I think as I continue to try to just be really honest and authentic and allow for spontaneity and stay in the moment, I can still achieve that.”

Fans, of course, can expect Menzel to perform songs from “Frozen” and her Broadway roles, but she said she might pull out a few surprises in her shows.

“I make sure to include those songs that I think people would really want to hear, and then I challenge myself,” she said. “I pick other songs I always wanted to sing or do a new interpretation of. I might even try a different original song here and there in different cities.

“I’ve been working on a new album, so I might run that by an audience here or there. But most of the songs (are) from shows I’ve been in and other music that I want to explore.”