A new generation of fans got to know Idina Menzel through her work on the blockbuster movie “Frozen” and the song “Let It Go,” which became a huge crossover hit.
But as much as she appreciates what that song in particular did for her career, Menzel -- appearing on Oct. 1 at the UCCU Center in Orem -- also values what the message of the song (about the character embracing her ability to create and control ice and snow) taught her.
“It’s wonderful to have a song that’s obviously heightened my profile and helps people get to know me better professionally on a deeper level and gives me more opportunities and all that,” Menzel said in a teleconference interview with reporters. “The beautiful thing about it is that it’s, as much as it speaks to young people, it also speaks to me as a woman and as a reminder for myself, about the things that I think are important and things I need to learn. For instance, the idea of really not hiding those things that make us really powerful. Those things that might set us apart or make us a little different are those things that really make us extraordinary and set us apart in the world. I think that’s something we grapple with, especially strong, fierce women. We can somehow suppress that or take a step back because we’re afraid of seeming threatening or being disliked, being different.”
Menzel is quite familiar with that feeling of playing a role or being part of a project that resonates strongly with audiences.
Long before she sang “Let It Go” and voiced the character Queen Elsa in “Frozen,” Menzel had originated roles in a pair of Broadway’s most popular recent productions.
She came into prominence playing the role of Maureen Johnson in the Broadway musical “Rent,” earning a Tony nomination in 1996. Over the next six years, she took on roles in productions of “Summer of ’42,” “Hair,” “Aida” and “The Vagina Monologues,” with “Aida” being the only one of those productions to go to Broadway.
Then came her next landmark role, originating the character Elphaba in “Wicked” in 2003. That role won her the 2004 Tony award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical and established Menzel as one of Broadway’s leading stars.
In between acting roles, Menzel began to build her singing career. She released three solo albums -- “Still I Can’t Be Still,” on Hollywood Records in 1998, “Here,” on the indie label Zel Records in 2004, and “I Stand,” in 2008 on Warner Bros./Reprise Records.
Despite all of that activity and the notoriety for her roles in “Rent” and “Wicked,” Menzel only saw her profile really begin to rise when she landed a recurring role on the hit television series “Glee,” appearing in 12 episodes from 2010 and 2013.
She returned to Broadway in 2013, starring as Elizabeth in “If/Then,” and earned her second Tony nomination for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. She lost out to Jessie Mueller, who played the lead role in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”
But in terms of popularity and visibility, all of that was a prelude to her role as Queen Elsa in the "Frozen" blockbuster. The film earned more than $1.3 billion at box offices worldwide and has racked up more than 18 million home media sales since it went to DVD. A critical hit, “Frozen” won the 2014 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and “Let It Go” took the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Menzel performed the song at the Oscars in 2014.
Sales of “Let It Go” have topped 5 million in the United States alone, and the song topped off its run by winning the Grammy for Best Song Written for Visual Media.
Menzel is still riding the wave of success that came with “Frozen,” and launched a worldwide concert tour in May. Even though she is now playing large amphitheaters and arenas, Menzel said he is trying to give the feeling of a performance in a smaller venue on the tour.
“The thing that I’m most proud of in the past with all of my touring is my ability to give a very intimate performance, and for people to feel they really get to know me when they leave the venue,” she said. “So it’s very important to me that even though I’m perhaps on a different level and my profile has gotten bigger because of things like ‘Frozen,’ I’m still able to connect with every single person in that audience. That’s challenging to do the bigger the venues get, but I think it’s possible. I think as I continue to try to just be really honest and authentic and allow for spontaneity and stay in the moment, I can still achieve that.”
Fans, of course, can expect Menzel to perform songs from “Frozen” and her Broadway roles, but she said she might pull out a few surprises in her shows.
“I make sure to include those songs that I think people would really want to hear, and then I challenge myself,” she said. “I pick other songs I always wanted to sing or do a new interpretation of. I might even try a different original song here and there in different cities. I’ve been working on a new album, so I might run that by an audience here or there. But most of the songs (are) from shows I’ve been in and other music that I want to explore.”
The new album Menzel mentioned is still in its early stages.
“I’m in that process of just being in the writing stages and recording with producers and songwriters that really inspire me,” Menzel said. “So there’s not much to say other than I feel creative and I’m just sort of putting my heart out there and exploring different sounds and things like that. I’m not limiting myself. I’m just doing what I feel in my heart, and then I’ll kind of see if there’s somewhat of a theme or a trend going on and put the songs that kind of tell that story (together). I’m not there yet.”
Whenever that album arrives, it will be the follow-up to “Holiday Wishes,” the Christmas album Menzel released last fall and saw reach No. 6 on Billboard magazine’s album chart. During the teleconference, Menzel had a ready response when asked why she wanted to do a Christmas album.
“Because I’m Jewish and every Jewish person wishes they could celebrate Christmas,” she joked. “It’s more fun, isn’t it?”
Then she gave a more serious explanation, saying that her 5-year-old son (from her former marriage to actor Taye Diggs) figured into her motivation for making “Holiday Wishes.”
“It is the most beautiful music and the most beautiful melodies ever written,” Menzel said, explaining the appeal of doing a Christmas album. “You grow up hearing that music and as a singer, I always loved to sing those songs. …The holidays, having come from a divorced family, the holidays were always a weird thing for me, and ever since I’ve had my son, it’s been a much more joyful time. So I guess I wanted to celebrate that. And I’ve been discovering it through his eyes. So it’s just another extension of that.”
Menzel's appearance at the UCCU Center is a benefit in support of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation and Operation Underground Railroad Charity.