Past/Present/Future for … Idina Menzel
American 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’s back in London this week for Chess at the Royal Albert Hall. Her solo pop album I Stand is due for a UK release this autumn.
PAST: “Wicked truly changed my life, it afforded me so many new opportunities. And I fell in love with the character. There were a lot of similarities with Elphaba and how I feel about myself and my own life - learning to come out of myself, learning what makes me different in the world and celebrating that. And then coming to London … I’ve always wanted to do a show in the West End so that was a huge honour for me. It was also a chance to rediscover the character having had more experience. I never got to do that before. The first time around, you’re nervous you’re going to get fired. But once you’ve won the Tony Award, you think, okay maybe they won’t fire me, I can relax a little and just enjoy it. I was able to delve into Elphaba even more and discovered new things.
“I had the most rewarding life experience here in London. I loved my cast. They all really embraced me, took me in and showed me the city inside out. Despite being the only American, I felt really comfortable with everyone, I made friends for life. And I loved the audiences, they were so responsive and encouraging. That’s why winning the Whatsonstage.com Award meant so much and felt like such an accomplishment. Coming from another country, it was particularly exciting to come here and make so many friends and fans. I don’t take that lightly.
“More than awards, though, it’s the success of Wicked all over the world that gives me the most satisfaction. The idea of originating a role in a show that’s recognised internationally, that resonates this beautiful message with people in so many different languages … that’s something I’m very proud to have been a part of.
“I was with the show for three-and-a-half years - doing readings, workshops, rewrites and San Francisco - before we even got to Broadway, where I did it for a year and a half. And later I came to London. Would I ever return to it again? I’d never say never. It’s something very dear to me. But I think twice is enough for now. I want to try some other things. I definitely want to get back to the stage, though, that’s for sure.”
PRESENT: “Chess is about life and manipulation, and the struggle between your mind and your heart. It’s a story about two champion chess players during the Cold War. One is from the Soviet Union and one is from America. It’s a love story, sort of a triangle. Josh Groban plays Anatoly, who’s the Russian, and Adam Pascal is the Bobby Fisher character, who’s named Freddie Trumper. I play a woman named Florence who they both love. I like her because she’s very tough and smart and yet she can be extremely vulnerable.
“Chess is a show I’ve never done, but people have often said the role of Florence is one I could identify with so I was looking forward to getting inside of her, working with Tim Rice and performing at the Royal Albert Hall, which I’ve never even visited before – it’s a little daunting. I’m a huge fan of Josh Groban. I’ve worked with him a couple of times. He’s a sweetheart and incredibly talented, and he’s always growing as an artist.
“It’s great to work with Kerry Ellis again too and to sing ‘I Know Him So Well’ with her. Kerry and I have actually never been on stage at the same time before. When I was in the London production of Wicked, she was my understudy - when I was working, she wasn’t and when she was working, I wasn’t. So we didn’t get to spend as much quality time together as I would have liked. It’s wonderful now to hear her up close. I have tremendous respect for her and her sound. It’s really clear and beautiful, and I love her interpretation and phrasings. It’s exciting to share the stage with her in a different light but also to pay homage to the show that we’ve both come from.”
FUTURE: “I like the way my career is going, it’s more multi-faceted and currently sort of vacillating between recording and film stuff. That allows me to go away and appreciate how much I love theatre and miss it for a minute – then I can come back with a fresh take.
“I just released my own album, called I Stand, in the States. It’s more of a pop album and it’s produced by Glen Ballard, who produced Alanis Morrissette’s first album and Annie Lennox’s last album. He’s someone I’ve always wanted to work with. I wanted to make the transition from the theatre to the pop world without losing my roots. I thought he would be a great guide for me. It will probably come out here in the fall. I co-wrote nine out of the ten songs so it’s very personal to me. I’m going on a tour of the States this summer to about 20 different cities, and I hope to come here in the fall and do the same thing.
“I’m doing a couple of other gigs while I’m here for Chess. I’m performing at G-A-Y one night. I go on at 1.00am and do two songs, a remix of ‘Gorgeous’ from I Stand and ‘Defying Gravity’ from Wicked. And then I’ve got an intimate show at the Ambassadors Theatre so that I can reunite with my London friends and fans but also introduce myself to my record label and other representatives here. I heard that that concert sold out in less than 30 minutes – it’s not the biggest venue in the world but I was so proud!
“I do plan to come back to the stage. I’ve got nothing specific planned, but I’m working on a couple of different things. I know that I want to keep doing original pieces. That’s been my pattern. It’s a process that I find to be most rewarding, working on shows with composers from their embryonic stages is a terrific experience. And if anyone wants to hire me for something over here, I’m always looking for an excuse to come back! I really did fall in love with London.”
- Idina Menzel was talking to Terri Paddock
Chess has two sold-out performances at the Royal Albert Hall tonight and tomorrow night, 12 and 13 May 2008, for which a small number of house seats have just been released to the public. Idina Menzel’s solo concert evening at the West End’s Ambassadors Theatre, also sold out, takes place on 20 May. Her appearance at G-A-Y is on 17 May. I Stand is produced by Warner Bros.