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Idina Menzel charms at Symphony Hall

During her sold-out concert with the Phoenix Symphony on Saturday night, the appeal of Idina Menzel was instantly clear. She is a striking 42-year-old woman with a powerful, if thin, soprano that she pushes to Streisand-like heights. Combine that with a personality in which her quirks are endearingly magnified to the delight of the audience. Or, as Menzel accurately described herself, she’s “a girl from Long Island who comes from a family with truck drivers’ mouths.”

She proved the latter part quickly, dropping an F-bomb on stage and discussing whether “pit stains” could be seen on her white silk blouse. She appeared without shoes, a gimmick that inspires the title of her latest album, “Live Barefoot at the Symphony.” And she cracked up the crowd by pointing out the typical Broadway diva’s fan base: “A straight guy would never get tickets in the first row to this show,” she said, as she chatted with fans near the front of the stage.

If her patter was dizzy and slightly disconnected, it also made her appear more real and down-to-earth. She wasn’t arch and overly rehearsed in her stage patter. Instead, she would tilt her head and constantly push her dark hair"" back from her face during moments in which she got emotional, such as a touching reflection about the late Marvin Hamlisch, whom she dubbed a mentor. To Menzel, nervous tics are nothing of which to be ashamed.

That in-your-face style was also one of her musical strengths during the 100-minute show. She approached her material with a cutting intensity and intelligence that she layered with a sense of theatricality. There was an introspective take on Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” that was lovely but also quite dramatic, as she spoke a couple of the lyrics rather than singing them.

Even on material that was overly familiar, Menzel managed to get a fresh spin. After being covered by seemingly every easy-listening vocalist in the 1970s, you’d imagine you’d never need to hear “What I Did for Love” again. But Menzel rescued the tune from lounge purgatory and revealed a torchy desperation in the lyrics that most singers overlook.

The crowd was wildly enthusiastic throughout, but things reached ear-piercing levels when she performed material from “Rent” and “Wicked,” the two shows that have defined Menzel’s Broadway career. From the former, she turned “Take Me or Leave Me” into a fun bit of audience participation in which she sang with three delighted members of the crowd. One of the duet partners gushed about Menzel’s role on TV’s “Glee” by declaring “You’re Rachel’s mom!” Menzel turned to the audience, deadpan, and said, “I hate being known as Rachel’s mom.” It was hilarious.

Menzel’s signature tune, “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked,” was used to close the show before she returned for an encore. It didn’t matter that her voice ventured into shrillness during the Stephen Schwartz song; the audience’s response was rapturous and she was rewarded with a standing ovation.

The orchestra was capably conducted by Randall Fleischer. In a neat bit of serendipity, Menzel talked about working with him on her first album, 1998’s “Still I Can’t Be Still,” then offered an a capella version of the disc’s “Heart on My Sleeve.” Even without any instruments behind her, the singer had no problem creating a moment that was both lovely and full of fireworks.


“Over the Rainbow”/“The Wizard and I”

“Don’t Rain on My Parade”

“I Stand”

“Heart on My Sleeve”

“Both Sides Now”

“Love for Sale”/“Roxanne”

“At the Ballet”

“What I Did for Love”

“God Save My Soul”

“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”/“In Your Eyes”

“Take Me or Leave Me”

“No Day But Today”

“For Good”

“Defying Gravity”


“You Learn to Live Without”



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