Michael Stephen Hahn reviews Idina Menzel’s powerful Edinburgh performance
On Tuesday 16th October, Broadway superstar Idina Menzel finished her UK tour with a night at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. Idina rose to fame by initiating the role of Maureen in Jonathan Larson’s RENT, and went on to also play this character in the film adaptation. However she is best-known for originating the role of green-skinned Elphaba in Wicked on both Broadway and The West End – and is featured in the only studio recording for the production. She more recently featured in two stints as Shelby Corcoran, Rachel Berry’s biological mother, on hit TV series Glee – largely due to her uncanny resemblance to Lea Michele who portrays Berry.
Last year, Menzel finished her North American tour with a one night gig at London’s Royal Albert Hall, but this year decided to return to the UK for just over a week: four performances in London, one in Manchester, and one final show in Edinburgh. After spending a few hours in the pub across the road from the concert hall, my friend and I made our way, excitedly, into the one hundred year old stunning hall, eagerly anticipating the arrival of Menzel, as the orchestra warmed up with some verses from Wicked.
The lights dimmed and the orchestra started playing the familiar melody as an off-stage Menzel started to softly sing the July Garland standard “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, eventually belting a few of the lines in her classic fashion. The curtains opened as Idina made her way to the front of the stage, welcomed with loud applause and cheering, as she made her way into “The Wizard Of I” – a fitting choice, giving that in Wicked it is Elphaba’s first song. What was to follow was amazing vocals, instrumental masterpieces and both hilarious and heart-felt anecdotes about Menzel’s pre-career wedding singing, as well as tributes to RENT writer Jonathan Larson, who died the night before the show’s dress rehearsal, and the recently deceased Marvin Hamlisch, who has accompanied Menzel on her tour last year as both conductor and pianist.
Whilst all songs were exceptional, the early standout was, for me, the cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” as well as unrecorded (hopefully not for long) song “God Save My Soul”. Menzel then sung her half of the duet “Take Me or Leave Me” before inviting various audience members to help her finish the duet, before going on to singing a very emotive version of “No Day But Today”, also from Rent. The audience was then silenced as Idina took her ear-pieces out, the orchestra put down their instruments and Menzel’s microphone was unplugged. She took centre-stage and sung an a-cappella and unplugged version of “For Good” – one of Wicked’s most famous songs. The audience were stunned as her voice, with no audio help, were able to reach every ear in the vast concert hall.
My friend wept as Menzel’s vocals proved to be every bit as powerful and clear as the recorded version, with a new depth of emotion being reached. The audience seemed reluctant to stop their standing ovation after this number, until the orchestra started with Menzel’s most famous song “Defying Gravity”. A slightly less Broadway style version of the song, more similar to Menzel’s solo version or Lea Michele’s version featured on Glee, followed, as Idina’s vocals smoothly worked through the song culminating in her traditional belting of the high-E at the end of the ballad. The crowd were on their feet once more as she jokingly waved to go off stage before returning for her encore.
An emotive version of Broadway composers Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s new song “Learn To Live Without” was followed by West Side Story’s “Somewhere”, which Menzel had covered in a duet with Lea Michele in Glee (Season 3, Episode 2). This felt like a good culmination of the night’s events, as she combined emotive elements with extremely powerful notes, resulting in one final standing ovation.
I had been looking forward to finally seeing Idina Menzel live since purchasing my tickets a few months ago, but the night far surpassed the already high expectations which I previously held. Her humour, the breadth of which I had previously not realised, was the glue which stuck her flawless performances and anecdotes together.
Michael Stephen Hahn
Images by tempusfugate