Under the warm evening sky, Idina Menzel glided onto the stage and opened with the jazzy "Life Of The Party," a fitting selection because for the next hour and a half, she most certainly was.
"I got a new dress for you!" she announced, showing off her flowing fuchsia evening gown. "It's a nice night. I thought it would be cold and my nipples would show."
Menzel, a Broadway powerhouse who entered the pop culture sphere as "Rachel's mom on Glee," dazzled last night at her Greek Theatre debut. Backed by the Pasadena Symphony, she performed a mix of musical theater gems, Streisand showstoppers, newly arranged pop tunes and giddy fan favorites, interluded with personal tales and charming interactions with legendary composer/conductor Marvin Hamlisch. She was funny, sassy, vulgar and simply magnetic.
"This next song is from a show called Wicked," she said, teasingly. The audience of theater-lovers squealed. "Oh my God! You saw it? I was the green one."
She launched into the heartbreaking "I'm Not That Girl," reprised from her run as Elphaba, aka "the green one," the role that earned her a Tony Award in 2004.
Menzel's vocal control and commanding range were showcased brilliantly in the emotion-dripping "Funny Girl" and the jaw-dropping "Don't Rain on My Parade," which she once sang as part of a tribute to Barbra Streisand at Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. (Ms. Streisand gave her a possibly affirming, "You were good.")
The most poignant moment came when she spoke about her experience with Rent, her first big break after years of working as a wedding singer. It was there she met her husband, actor Taye Diggs. On the night of the final dress rehearsal, as many recall, Jonathan Larson, the author and composer of the soon-to-be smash Broadway hit, died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm. Menzel told the tragic story, and shared how Larson taught the cast "how to live in the moment."
As she sang the opening lines of the Rent anthem "No Day But Today"--"There's only us/ There's only this/ Forget regret/ Or life is yours to miss"--a woman in front of me broke into sobs.
After the song, she immediately lightened the mood by talking about Glee. When the 40-year-old performer heard she'd be playing the mother of the show's star, Lea Michele, who in real-life is 25, she said "it wasn't the best day."
Menzel performed an original rendition of Lady Gaga's "Poker Face," which was awesome with the full symphony accompaniment. After singing the lyrics "'Cause I'm bluffin' with my muffin/ I'm not lying I'm just stunnin' with my love-glue-gunning," she mouthed the words, "What the fuck?"--which was even more awesome.
She later sang a few adorable tunes she made up for her 2-year-old son, Walker ("Why you making that face at me? Is it 'cause you're a little gassy?"), and then performed the classic ballads, "I Feel So Smoochie" and "Heaven Help My Heart."
To the crowd's delight, she chose two Wicked favorites for her final songs--an a capella "For Good" (an audience member made her laugh by shouting "You've changed us!") and, of course, the wildly powerful "Defying Gravity." She sang the Broadway version, complete with the roaring run at the end that brought people to their feet.
As the audience stood cheering, Menzel came back for two encores, "The Way We Were," written by Hamlisch himself, and a song she dedicated to her parents, "Tomorrow" from Annie. Earlier, she had explained that her mom and dad always made her sing that song when guests came over.
As she gave her thank-yous, Menzel gave a special nod to her hubby Taye. "LA crowds--they can be iffy, but this is like the warmest crowd ever," she said. "They must be so fucking high!"
As we left the theater, we most certainly were.
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Personal Bias: The Wicked soundtrack played on repeat in my car for an embarrassing amount of time.
The Crowd: Broadway geeks and Gleeks--all who were unabashedly thrilled to be there.
"Life Of The Party"
"I'm Not That Girl"
"Love For Sale"/"Roxanne" medley
"Don't Rain on My Parade"
"Asleep on the Wind"
"No Day But Today"
"Look To The Rainbow"
Baby songs she wrote
"I Feel So Smoochie"
"Heaven Help My Heart"
"The Way We Were"