Idina Menzel marked her Columbus debut last night, with the Columbus Symphony's Picnic with the Pop's series at the new Bicentennial Pavilion. Opening to a crowd of over 7,000 people on a perfect summer night, Menzel began off-stage with a beautiful rendition of "Over the Rainbow". Minutes later, the Tony Award-winner bounded onto the stage in a stunning vintage Bob Mackie fuchsia dress, ponytailed, and with her now trademark bare feet, to the thunderous applause of her fans.
Energetic to the point of giddiness, Menzel lead with a tune familiar to her Wicked fans, "The Wizard and I", a delightful new addition to the summer tour. Having not been able to see her during her run as Elphaba, the green witch , for which she won her Tony Award on Broadway, my daughter and I were delighted to see this number live on our Columbus stage, and many fans around us were equally enthralled with her selection choice.
Following this song, Menzel began playing with her audience in a manner which seemed a little ADD, and almost shockingly, nervous, as she asked if the masses on the rear of the lawn seating could still hear her, claiming, "I'm a control freak. If I don't feel like I have command of the whole Commons…" , and shouted at a loud motorcyclist going past the outdoor stage for interrupting, all good-hearted randomness that the crowd ate up. Quite funny, but a hard segue, to the somber Cole Porter's "Love forSale", even with her story about originally selecting this song to impress a class instructor she had a crush on back in her early theater days. More interesting, was the classic Porter tune's morphing into the Police's "Roxanne", an arrangement Menzel credited to fabulous composer Rob Mounsey, who is also touring with her. Menzel had performed his combo on her previous tour, and while it is vocally gorgeous and a beautiful arrangement, I again thought it seemed out of place in her set line up.
Then, Menzel added the classic Joni Mitchell song, "Both Sides Now", another new addition to her summer tour. She delivered a hautingly beautiful, slow, and almost lullaby-like version of the song and I was again reminded of what a powerhouse Menzel is. It came through loudly and clearly on this slow ballad, as her vocal control and emotional connection seemed to ground the frenetic lead off numbers and made it clear that Menzel had found her home on the Columbus stage.
She followed with another fan favorite, "Don't Rain on My Parade", a tribute to one of her own idols, Barbra Streisand. She has performed this number on previous tours, and it came along with the pretty funny story about performing for Ms. Streisand at the Kennedy Center Honors, in which she was so nervous, "I threw up, like three times". Meanwhile, Ms. Streisand, seated at the same table as Menzel after the performance, nearly failed to recognize the performer who had just sung for her. "Don't Rain on My Parade" was a super-polished Menzel number, making me wonder how many times she had sung this song since she was a child to deliver such a stunning performance so effortlessly-one her fans won't forget.
Another surprise came in the form of a new addition that Menzel had written herself. She did not give the title, but I am guessing it was called, "It Was I/God Save My Soul". Perhaps because I really enjoy her self-written work, or because she is phenomenal with a slow ballad, this number was classic Menzel, and simply exquisite. It made me hope that a new self-written CD would be forthcoming, and left me wanting more of her own compositions.
Next came a super-cool arrangement of U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" (Menzel has repeatedly stated in interviews that she'd love to sing with Bono someday.) and Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes", which Menzel completely rocked. It was wonderful to see her command the stage equally well as a cover artist or as a Broadway queen. These two songs were vintage Idina at her best, a throwback to her Joe's Pub days, with Rich Mercurio on drums.
In that same fashion, she began her fan-favorite, "Take Me or Leave Me" from her turn as Maureen in Broadway's Rent, only to interrupt herself, take off through the crowds in her security mandated flip flops, and seek out three members of the audience herself, to join her on stage to finish the song. Kudos to Meg, Josh, and Brian, concert-goers who won the Idina lottery, and then joined Menzel on stage to sing the remaining verses. It was so refreshing to see Menzel make such a display of humility, and she, as well as the audience, seemed to thoroughly enjoy the interaction. It was pretty amazing to see Menzel manage to make 7,000 plus people feel like they had an intimate performance, something she prides herself on. This song was followed by another fan-favorite and perennial tour inclusion, Rent's "No Day but Today". This was Menzel's tribute to Rent creator Jonathan Larson who passed away shortly before the opening of his musical, which is largely credited with catapulting Menzel to fame, as well as her meeting husband, actor Taye Diggs, also cast in the show. This is one of those songs that is always unforgettable, but sung by Menzel, sheer perfection.