Actress and singer Idina Menzel is about to wrap up an 18-month concert tour - that is, when she's not busy filming episodes of Fox's hit show Glee, bringing the arts to young people, and being a wife to fellow performer Taye Diggs and mom to their 2-year-old son Walker. Somehow she found time to talk to me about her multifaceted career and give a little insight into what's in store for her for the rest of 2011. First on our list? Her big west coast performance with the Pasadena Pops at Los Angeles' Greek Theatre on October 22.
Last time we spoke, it was at legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. Now you're prepping to play The Greek Theatre. What's it like playing these big, prestigious venues?
It's a milestone for me. It's, literally, a dream come true. I know it sounds cliche, but I've been in the audience at The Greek and enjoyed seeing shows there so much that I've always wished I could be on that stage. It's sort of surreal.
You'll be performing with the Pasadena Pops, conducted by Marvin Hamlisch - how is performing with a full symphony orchestra different than a more traditional concert performance? Obviously it's a different end product, but how does it impact you as a performer?
It's interesting. I thought that I would forfeit some of the more intimate, personable moments that I can have when I just sing with my band, and I was afraid that I would lose that by standing in front of a huge symphony. But, actually, I sort of get the best of both worlds. I get this thrilling feeling of standing in front of all these incredible musicians and hearing this glorious sound that they make, and I have to raise my level to their level and it's very theatrical and dramatic, and that feels, obviously, comfortable for me. And then I also feel proud that I've somehow maintained a way of talking to the audience and not letting the orchestra overwhelm me and I can still be myself up there.
If you could invite any person to your concert, who would you ask?
I've met so many of my idols, but the one person that has eluded me is Bono. But because he's done Spider-Man, I keep thinking maybe, through a Broadway connection, somehow our paths will eventually merge.
You have a few more orchestra concerts on the calendar before the end of the year. First up, what are you most looking forward to in London? (October 6, Royal Albert Hall)
I'm looking forward to returning to Royal Albert Hall. I was last there doing the concert version of Chess with Josh Groban and Adam Pascal, and I had a wonderful time doing that project. It's just a beautiful venue and to be headlining it myself is an accomplishment. I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of my friends again from my Wicked days. It also happens to be the 5th anniversary of Wicked in London, so it's a culmination of a lot of great moments for me.
Are there any surprises up your sleeve there?
You know what, there are always surprises in store when I'm working with Marvin [Hamlisch]. If I'm on stage with him, I like to do something from his songbook, so you can probably expect that. And maybe something else!
And then you're on to Houston. (October 14, 15 & 16, Jones Hall)
It's a three-day sit-down concert, and whenever I'm there for three days, I'm always the most relaxed and really spontaneous things arise and you can really get comfortable and discover new things. I'm a creature of eight shows a week, so the more shows you give me, where I can get it under my belt, the more I come alive, so that's what I'm looking forward to in Houston. And I'm really thankful to them for giving me all that time there. And also, the sky! The sky in Texas is the most amazing sky in the whole country I think, like you can see more sky in Texas than you can see anywhere else in the world.
And finally Miami. (December 3, Arsht Center for the Performing Arts)
Miami's going to be a very emotional show for me because it's going to be my last concert with this program that I've been doing. This whole symphony tour that I've done the past year and a half has really taught me a lot and has been so gratifying and rewarding for me. I really learned a lot about myself as a performer and played with the most incredible musicians all over the country, and so Miami is going to be more of a symbolic show for me in that it's kind of my finale with this particular program. I'll say goodbye to some of these songs and start to record some new things.
Are you still considering a live album for your next solo release?
Yes! I'm going to release a live album from one of my symphony concerts, and then I plan on getting in the studio and doing a studio album.
What has been your favorite moment of your tour?
Depending on what time zone we were playing in, if it was the east coast, my son could come and stay up late for the show and occasionally I would look to the side and see my mom holding him and he'd be dancing to the music on the side of the stage. Those are some of the best memories.
The Internet is a-buzz that you've been working on a new musical very recently, so I must ask: is there anything you'd like to share?
It's really still too early to talk about it, but I'm working on a reading of a new musical. It's something I'm really excited about and I think has a lot of promise, but that's all I'll say about it for now!
Last night marked your return to GLEE. What's in store for Shelby Corcoran this season?
Shelby's returning to explore her relationship with her daughter and to confront some of the issues she has with Puck and Quinn, because, as people might remember, I adopted their little girl. I really work hard at regaining Rachel's trust and also want to give Quinn and Puck a chance to be a part of their daughter's life. And I get to sing great duets with Lea [Michele] obviously.
What do you hope to see happen?
I hope that Shelby gets her own Broadway show! They do Gypsy and I play Rose and Lea can play Louise. We both go to New York and get cast in Gypsy together. I'm totally making this up, I have no idea.
If you could sing any song on GLEE, what would you choose?
I'd love to sing some Whitney Houston! I'd like to do some classic Whitney.
This year marked the inaugural Camp BroaderWay, the performing arts camp run by A BroaderWay Foundation. How did it go?
Camp BroaderWay was a huge, resounding success. We brought thirty girls up to camp that wouldn't normally have the chance to go. They were in the middle of the trees in bunks and playing tennis and volleyball and swimming and dancing with my husband [Taye Diggs] and singing with Jeanine Tesori. We had dance night, we did a counselor talent show, and on top of all that we used their own lyrics and poetry in order to help them write a concert for themselves that they performed the last night of camp back in Manhattan at Columbia. It was just terrific, and none of them wanted to go home, just like how I was when I left summer camp. They made friends that they'll have forever and they learned so much about themselves. More than they learned about themselves, they taught us so much. I'm really proud of it, I have to say. We put it in the calendar and we said we're going to make it happen, and we were really scared a bunch of times that we weren't going to raise money or make the deadline and we did it, and we're already talking about how to do it again for next year.
You have so many irons in the fire - GLEE, concerts, A BroaderWay, and more - how do you balance it all, plus your family?
It's hard to explain unless you have kids. I used to be someone that needed nine hours of sleep otherwise I didn't think I was going to sound good when I sang and I was very disciplined and anal about my preparation. When you become a parent, there just isn't that time, you know? Your son's going to wake up in the middle of the night before you have to shoot Glee at 6:00 in the morning and you're only going to have three hours of sleep and you're going to have bags under your eyes and you're not going to be able to memorize your lines completely and you're going to show up and you do it anyway. And it just proves how much you can do, it makes you feel that much stronger. I also think that having a kid really makes you compartmentalize your time and really plan your time better and therefore you use your time more efficiently and so anytime I have to be away from my family I try to do something with it, so I feel more productive which makes me feel better about myself and in turn makes me feel better about being a wife and a mom. And then you just take off and disappear for three days and we went to the beach, the three of us, and just played in the sand and ran after Walker running after seagulls for three hours! And you do that and you don't answer your messages and everybody yells at you that you're not good at returning calls, but whaddya do?