Tony Award-winning actress and singer Idina Menzel performed at a sold-out concert for 1,600 attendees—a special benefit for Kansas City Young Audiences (KCYA), a school that emphasizes the vital role of arts education. Menzel won her Tony by playing Elphaba in the Broadway musical, Wicked (2003). She also appeared on Broadway in Rent (1993), and is currently acting on Glee. In October she entertained at L.A.’s Greek Theatre for the first time, where she sang a variety of showtunes. Tonight, in Helzberg Hall Menzel sang a range of numbers—everything from “The Life of the Party”, from The Wild Party, to “Tomorrow”, from Annie, to “Defying Gravity”, from Wicked. Menzel gave a lively, passionate vocal performance, and she was far beyond good.
She arrived on stage fashionably late due to “technical” issues involving her elegant, emerald dress. On first showtune “The Life of the Party” she easily showcased her extraordinary singing ability, but the audience was still consumed with a nervous enthusiasm. Menzel, accompanied by the Kansas City Symphony, got more creative as she sang a medley that featured Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” (from The New Yorkers) alongside The Police’s classic song, “Roxanne”; both songs focus on streetwalkers, and Menzel did her best to illustrate this unforgiving reality through her accomplished, emotive singing. It helped that the acoustics in the newly opened Kauffman Center were quite exceptional too.
Menzel was both cheerful and conversational throughout the night. In fact, she was quite the comedienne. During “The Life of the Party”, she spoke out to the—at this point—relatively repressed audience in an attempt to wake them; she mentioned her university days and her days as a singer at various bar mitzvahs in New York; she told the director of the Kansas City Symphony that he was “hot”; she noted that the venue’s exit lights must have been colored green due to her presence, a hilarious Wicked inside joke. But the reigning joke of the night was that the stage’s floor was clean and smooth, perhaps funny because of its relative insignificance. More seriously, she noted that arts education was instrumental to her success.
Interestingly, prior to singing several songs, she related an anecdote or two for context. For “No Day But Today”, from Rent, Menzel mentioned that succeeding the tragic, untimely death of her friend, Jonathan Larson, she had learned to live in the moment, and to value each moment. “No Day But Today” had to be one of several highpoints; in the midst of the song, Menzel inspired the audience to sing the chorus along with her.
The show was well-rehearsed and well-orchestrated: during her cover of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” she pretended to forget some of the lyrics, and the audience went along with the bit. Menzel alluded to her role on Glee and claimed that a song about “baked goods” wasn’t so mother-daughter. More comical was her italicization of the phrase, “with my love-glue-gunning”. A whimsical, quirky version of “Poker Face” it was. But Menzel’s best songs were “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (from Funny Girl) and her signature song “Defying Gravity”. She performed “Don’t Rain on My Parade” in tribute to Barbra Streisand at the Kennedy Center Honors. (Story: Menzel noted that Streisand, in effect, blew her off at the event, and Menzel subsequently ordered Tequila shots). Menzel’s rendition of that classic song this evening was unequivocally puissant, and it evinced her wide vocal range. “Defying Gravity” was equally moving, and the audience, indeed grateful, cheered.