June 7, 2015
I first heard of Idina Menzel as the green witch Elphaba on the Broadway hit musical "Wicked," a role which would win her a Tony for Best Actress in 2004. Later I would later learn that she was the original Maureen on the Broadway hit musical "Rent" back in 1996.
More recently, Menzel got more mainstream recognition playing Shelby, the mother of Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) on the hit TV show "Glee." She became more well-known when she sang the ubiquitous "Let It Go" from the Disney hit film "Frozen." Hers was one of the few original Disney soundtrack songs that hit the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, even doing better than the pop version by Demi Lovato. After John Travolta's infamous mistake on Oscar Night calling her a "Adele Dazeem", people now know exactly who Idina Menzel is.
When Ms. Menzel's concert was first announced earlier this year, the theater world in Manila became abuzz with excitement indeed. For one rare chance, a legitimate Broadway star is coming to Manila for a concert! Theater friends on FB were excitedly posting updates about the concert, especially those with inside connections, especially on the day of the concert itself. The anticipation for this star cannot be denied.
The audience in the MOA Arena cheered when the musicians came on stage to occupy their seats at around 8:15 pm. Ms. Menzel had her own musicians with her live band. However, she also had some members of the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra to further accompany her on strings.
The concert started around 8:30 pm. When she appeared on stage wearing an emerald dress, she immediately sang the first line of "Defying Gravity"! This iconic Broadway song which Menzel herself originated, never sounded better. It was delivered with confidence that only the original owner of the song could possess. Then she segued to her version of "Don't Rain on My Parade". This was really a masterful version of this Broadway classic from "Funny Girl". It was amazing how she began the show with two showstoppers!
Menzel then sang two songs from her third studio album, namely "Brave" and the title song "I Stand". Admittedly the audience seemed to be more excited when she would sing her Broadway songs. The audience lustily cheered and even sang along when she sang another song from "Wicked" -- "The Wizard and I". (VIDEO)
For the subsequent number, she sang a gorgeous version of "River" originally sung by Joni Mitchell. She followed that up with a sultry version of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" (from the 1930 musical "The New Yorkers"), which was wonderfully mashed up with the sexy Police song "Roxanne". (VIDEO)
She proved she can be as brassy as Broadway grand dame Ethel Merman by singing a medley of the latter's signature songs: "There's No Business Like Show Business" / "Anything Goes" / "Everything's Coming Up Roses". Menzel also sang the title song from her debut album from 1998, "Still I Can't Be Still."
For me the next number showcased Menzel at her most emotional and vulnerable. She was barefoot and sitting, writhing and even lying on the floor while singing Radiohead's haunting ballad "Creep". Here, she unexpectedly dropped the first of a handful of "F-bombs" in lyrics in other songs that followed. This painfully raw performance is what I would consider the most unexpected highlight of the night.
For the next song, Menzel went down to the audience area to look for some people to sing her character Maureen's song from "Rent", the bouncy and sassy "Take Me or Leave Me." The first one she chose in the VIP area was familiar. It was Timmy Pavino, whom we recognized as one of the contestants in the second season of "The Voice Philippines." There were two girls who volunteered from the Lower Box on both sides, Andrea and Carla. To their credit they also sounded very good indeed. I am sure Menzel was impressed.
She followed that up with another song from "Rent" that meant a lot to her, "No Day But Today" dedicating the song to the writer of "Rent", Jonathan Larson, who died before their Broadway opening, never living to see his show's immense success. The next song is from Menzel's latest Broadway project "If/Then" -- the powerful "Always Starting Over". These were two very emotional songs delivered with so much passion.
For the third time in a concert, I saw an artist sing one song a cappella without a microphone, and just let his pure voice fill the concert hall. For Idina last night, she sang "For Good" from "Wicked". While the idea was sweet, I thought the song may have been too soft on its own for this feat to work well. From where we were seated higher up in the arena, we could barely hear her during the initial verses. It was only toward the end of the song when we really heard her voice.
For her final song in the main set, what else could it be but "Let It Go" from "Frozen"? To make this song more special, Ms. Menzel suddenly started to sing Filipino lyrics for one of the choruses! We could barely make out what she said. So she repeated it and asked the audience to help her sing the Tagalog words: "Bumitaw, bumitaw, di ko na matatago. Bumitaw, bumitaw, isarado ang pinto... Lamig ay di ko alintana!" She was simply so dear in this song as she ended it by going down to the audience to shake their hands, even carrying a cute little girl wearing an Elsa costume along the way, before leaving the stage.
The audience did not let her go yet, asking her to sing an Encore or two. She returned and sang two more songs. The first is an original song she wrote about her son Walker whom she brought along the tour with her, a sweet tune entitled "Child". For her second and finale song of the whole night, she went back to her own childhood to sing her first favorite song, "Tomorrow" (from "Annie").
Idina Menzel was such a delightful performer. Her show tunes belting was very impressive to hear live as we expecting. But her friendly and even quirky nature definitely endeared her to the audience. She had some recurring jokes in her spiels: like how the three empty seats in the front row bothered her (so asked her PA to pick three lucky viewers to fill those seats), and how her legs were aching because of a past injury (maybe why she decided to take off her high heels midway in the show and complete the concert in her bare feet?).
The poster may have suggested a stuffy formal affair, but it turned out to be a funny, relaxed show where not only Ms. Menzel's powerful voice, but also her warm personality, will be fondly remembered by all who were there.