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Brief Encounter with... Idina Menzel

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Idina Menzel originated the role of Elphaba in Wicked in both New York & London, winning the Tony & Whatsonstage.com Awards for Best Actress in a Musical. She also originated the role of Maureen in Rent, and has released solo albums, as well as starring in Glee.

Menzel is in concert at the Apollo Theatre, London from 8 to 12 October 2012, the Usher Hall in Edinburgh on 16 October and the Palace Theatre, Manchester on 17 October. Her new album Live: Barefoot at the Symphony is available now and the DVD is out 8 October www.idinauk.com.

Tell us about your new tour
It's an extension of Barefoot at the Symphony but in order to keep things fresh I probably replaced 40 percent of it. I'm doing Joni Mitchell and Peter Gabriel and a few surprises, plus a few more theatre songs that I've always wanted to sing. It's pretty eclectic. I kept what keeps me interested, just songs that I have always wanted to perform - I gave myself a licence to do that.

Every night I have a different favourite song. I've been doing this Joni Mitchell arrangement of "Both Sides Now". It's really beautiful, completely based around the piano. And there are a few original songs that I'm doing that I'm enjoying a lot.

I don't feel comfortable just singing songs without associating them with an anecdote about my life or about where they came from. I have a lot of fun with it, and the more I do it the more comfortable I am doing my own shows. I think it's important to be intimate with the audience, and let an audience get to know who you are. The shows that I've loved seeing in the past are shows that I've left feeling the artists shared a part of their soul with the audience and so it's a scary thing to do but it's thrilling for me.

The audience feels that there is a lot of spontaneity, and they feel like they are seeing something which nobody else has seen. And in essence they are, because every show is different.

Are you enjoying being back in London, and do you find the audiences here different?
This time's different: I brought my son with me who is three years old so it's a different experience. I have to find kid-friendly places and I can't just go out and party and hang out with my London friends. I have to be responsible. But I can't wait to show him around. I just feel comfortable here – maybe it's because I'm a New Yorker and it seems like a smooth transition.

When I was living here for five months when I opened Wicked people told me to be prepared that the audience would feel different, and I think they were implying that they would be more reserved but I felt quite the opposite. I felt that the British audiences were extremely welcoming and enthusiastic and warm, and when I do my own shows here it's even more so.

I remain open for new things to come in, and what I like to call happy mistakes. I'm not afraid of any of that because then it goes on a tangent that's fun and different and interesting. I want people to feel that each show is special in itself.

You sing a mixture of covers and original material in your show
I like the mixture. I like doing all sides of it – I like singing songs from the shows I've been in which are associated with the characters I've played. I like being myself, singing material other people have written and I like writing music. As long as it feels like it's something I could say or feel in my heart then it doesn't matter who wrote it.

When I'm writing, Joni Mitchell is a great influence, as a lyricist especially. Annie Lennox has been a big influence for me. I listen to all kinds of music when I'm writing songs.

Are they any roles you'd like to play?
I don't really have an example because I think the ones that I want to play are the ones that haven't been written yet, where I can originate a role. That process has worked for me with Rent and Wicked, being involved for years before. Originating a role allows me to get so close to the character that you can't tell where one ends and one begins.

I'm in the early stages with a few projects, where the writers are doing their thing. It's a little early to say but there are things that I'm looking forward to exploring with them.

Would you ever return to Wicked?
I doubt it. You never know, but because I did it in New York and then took a little time off and then came here, I feel like I had two wonderful experiences and really saw that through. You move on to different phases of your life. I feel like I could learn more by doing something different, I could apply what I've learned in life to something else.

Being able to come here to London and rediscover the role was a gift. I got to do it and I felt more confident here because I had already proven myself in New York. It was wonderful to work and have that confidence whereas a lot of times I don't , I'm worried I'm going to get fired. But I've done that, I've gone through all of the cycles with Wicked, I don't think there's more really for me to do there.

You released albums of original work. Do you plan on writing another album?
I'm not sure, I'm going to get into the studio in a couple of months and see what starts to come out. I'm not stuck on having to do my own music; I just want to do beautiful music. It might be just an extension of what I've been doing on tour with just a studio album instead of a live album.

I don't write all by myself anyway, I like to collaborate with people that really know what they're doing. I work pretty consistently with Walter Afanasieff, he's a great American producer and songwriter so he's someone that I see a lot, and collaborate with him.

I haven't been giving that as much thought lately, it's been more about really cultivating the show and a great evening as opposed to me being in my writers head. I have to be in different states of mind.

What would you like to be most remember for?
Honestly, it would be being a great mom and wife and a good person. In terms of roles I've played, let's just say I'm proud of most of the things I've done. There are a few that nobody knows about or very few have seen. There was a role I played in a movie called Ask the Dust. I really loved the character and I was pretty fond of my performance which is hard for me to say, but nobody ever saw that movie.

-Idina Menzel was talking to Rosie Bannister.


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