BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Idina Menzel has spent so much of her career playing other people that it’s always gratifying to experience her sharp wit and locomotive-lunged real self in person.
The fans who packed the Fox Theatre on Saturday night received many shades of Menzel – the polished pop singer, the powerhouse Broadway star, the bracingly funny New Yorker, the kind-hearted kid fan.
They even experienced Menzel, the person. A (very funny) running joke throughout the show with a couple of girls in the front row who kept fleeing their seats for drink runs took a sour turn about 90 minutes into the two-hour concert when a nearby patron said something to Menzel, then seated at the edge of the stage, that clearly rattled her.
“What did you say to me?” she asked, pausing as if deciding whether or not to repeat whatever was said to the audience. She didn’t. But she drew a breath and acknowledged that the comment hurt her feelings, “because I’m a human being.”
She momentarily lost her train of thought, but quickly gathered her professionalism to tell a sweet story about “Rent” creator Jonathan Larson before a gorgeous version of “No Day But Today,” prefaced with the reminder, “to stay in the moment and not take each other for granted.”
Menzel, 46, seemed to relish gabbing with the audience, sometimes detouring mid-song to chat as she did during a potent take on “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (with the first of many impossibly long-held notes of the night) and a few moments into her own “Cake,” ingeniously paired with a sultry snippet of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.”
In a recent interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the always-candid Menzel talked about her desire to add some female energy to her band. She found it in singer Vanessa Bryan – who commanded a cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” while Menzel happily ceded the spotlight – as well as violinist MazzMuse and cellist Marika Hughes.
Throughout the show, it appeared that the ladies and other five members of her band regard Menzel as a charming wild card; not really sure when she might spark a conversation with an audience member or extend a song a few more bars.
But these pros know how to roll, and Menzel has crafted a set list that hits every key point and tempo of her career, from her own ferocious “I Do” to a stirring gospel-ized read of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
As mega-powerful as her vocals are, her voice is almost better appreciated when she reins it in and infuses it with melancholy (“I’m Not That Girl”), introspection (a shimmery cover of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence”) and tenderness (one of “Wicked’s” best songs, “For Good,” which prompted chills when she performed it sans microphone).
But Menzel has established a reputation as a primo belter, and she knows that an audience wants to be electrified by her prowess.
She didn’t disappoint, as a cranked-up wind machine added dramatic flair to her gently pulsing version of “Wind Beneath My Wings,” which segued seamlessly to the suddenly green-hued stage for “Defying Gravity.” Yes, she hit the money note and received a deserved ovation for her effort.
Her other gotta-hear-it-live song, “Let It Go,” from Disney’s “Frozen” built into an audience clap-along until Menzel halted the tune to invite any kids in the audience to join her onstage to sing the ubiquitous chorus (self-deprecating as always, Menzel joked with a crowd member that she understands that plenty of people are sick of the song. “My own son hates it!” she added with a laugh).
It was a sweet way to involve her littlest fans, even though – depending upon your tolerance for singing kids – it lasted a few beats too long.
After her young chorus departed, Menzel hopped back to center stage to unleash that mighty voice on the song’s forceful chorus one more time – an expert blending of Menzel the Disney princess and the girl from Long Island.